Ahead of World Ranger Day, (31 July 2021), the first-ever Bison Rangers in the UK have been revealed by British wildlife charities Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust, and funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
After beating off stiff competition from more than a thousand applicants worldwide, the newly appointed pair have started work in one of the largest areas of ancient woodland in the country ahead of bison arriving into the area in 2022.
Tom Gibbs and Donovan Wright will spend their time looking after and managing the UK's first conservation herd of European bison within approximately 200ha of Blean Woods, near Canterbury in Kent.
The announcement comes just days before World Ranger Day, a global celebration of the work rangers do to protect the planet’s natural treasures and cultural heritage.
Mark Habben, Head of Living Collections at Wildwood Trust said:
“We’re really fortunate to have welcomed Tom and Don, who are both so passionate about conservation and nature. In addition to working with the bison in the Blean woods, the rangers will work closely with the team at Wildwood Trust, whose expertise will be drawn on for a whole host of tasks, including bison health checks, as part of managing the bison at their new home in the Blean.
“We look forward to the positive impact that the bison will have when they move into the Blean woods next Spring.”
The Bison Ranger role, which has been created by Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust is part of a major conservation project; Wilder Blean. Gaining international exposure when it launched last year, the initiative aims to restore the ecosystem of the area’s ancient woodlands through nature-based solutions by introducing a variety of animals including four bison, longhorn cattle, Iron-age pigs and six Exmoor ponies into a fenced area in West Blean Woods.
Stan Smith, Wilder Landscapes Manager at Kent Wildlife Trust said:
“The Wilder Blean project, thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, is a first step to European bison becoming more frequently introduced for the restoration of ecosystems in Britain. The species is known as an “ecosystem engineer” because of their ability to fell trees by rubbing up against them and eating the bark, creating space for a wide range of other species to thrive. No other species can perform this job in quite the same way.
“Tom and Don will be getting to know these animals like no other, managing a wild herd of Europe’s largest living land mammal and developing an entirely new skill set which will enable the success of this and future wilding projects.
“We hope Tom and Donovan will be the pioneers for similar new roles across other conservation bodies, leading the way in using bison as ecosystem engineers in the UK.”
Despite the unusual job description, around 1,200 people applied for the job with some even offering songs and drawings to support their applications. After completing the interviews, group activities and livestock assessments, Tom and Don were chosen for the job due to their experience in conservation and with wild roaming animals.
Tom Gibbs, who previously worked as Conservation Officer for Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, said:
“I’m so pleased to have been chosen for the job - it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Unfortunately, sometimes traditional conservation practices haven’t been able to halt these losses, so wilding and using species like bison offer a sustainable approach where nature can take the lead and restore degraded ecosystems and lost species. This in turn creates a healthier environment that provides us all with water, food and air, while helping us reconnect with these wild and natural landscapes.”
Joining Tom, Donovan Wright, has more than 20 years’ experience conducting walking safaris and drives in some of Africa’s most prestigious reserves:
“As well as dealing with the ‘Big 5’ - lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo, I have experience working in some extremely remote locations and thinking on my feet.
“I can’t wait to use these skills to help visitors to the Blean experience wild European bison on foot in the UK and show them how they restore nature and increase biodiversity, while working towards the ultimate goal of seeing bison restoring woodlands across the UK.”
The project has been made possible thanks to funding of £1,575,000 raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The Dream Fund, which distributes funds via the Postcode Dream Trust, was created to give charities and good causes the opportunity to deliver their dream project over a two-year period.
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