Locally-extinct brown bears are returning to an ancient forest in Bristol, England

Few of us Americans know that lions used to roam Europe (thus the lion on so much European heraldry). Likewise, few know that bears roamed Endgland until relatively recently. Now European brown bears will be returning, along with other locally-extinct predators: lynx, wolves and wolverines.

Leading celebrities have come out in support of the Wild Place Project‘s £5 million plan to return bears to ancient woods on the outskirts of Bristol, England. Granted, it’s not actual rewilding: they won’t able to amble off to terrify Central London if they wish. The forest is completely fenced.

But, at seven and a half acres, this is no typical zoo enclosure. It will serve to remind Britons of their wildlife heritage, hopefully leading to more support for genuine rewilding.

Woods, similar to those at Wild Place Project, covered Britain in the first millennium AD but have been steadily cut down for building, housing, fuel, growing crops and making paper. Today such forests cover only two per cent of the country.

This beautiful habitat is home to threatened native species, such as lesser-spotted woodpeckers, tawny owls and hedgehogs and the forest floor is dense with bluebells, snowdrops, orchids, wild garlic and foxgloves.

Bear Wood, its enclosures, walkways and buildings, will be built without harming the existing woods.

South Gloucestershire planners approved the scheme for Bear Wood and work is due to start on the site shortly. By summer of 2019, European brown bears, lynx, wolves and wolverine will be back in the woodlands as they were in times gone by.

Visitors will be able to walk through Bear Wood, which will cover seven and a half acres, on a raised path that will wind its way through the trees.

Five European grey wolves, already at Wild Place Project, will be moved to a new home in Bear Wood, which they will share with the European brown bears.

Celebrities like Sir Tony Robinson, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall and wildlife presenters Miranda Krestovnikoff, Alice Roberts and Rhys Jones have all praised the project, which is called Bear Wood, which will be built at Wild Place Project.

Blackadder star and Time Team presenter Sir Tony said: “I love the idea of people seeing these animals in the woods as they would have been hundreds of years ago.”

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was given a special tour of Wild Place Project and came away really impressed. The 53-year-old host of River Cottage said: “Bear Wood looks like a fantastic prospect. I’m delighted to support it and I hope the public appeal is a huge success. I really enjoyed my tour of Wild Place. It’s a great natural setting for looking after wild animals, and it’s reassuring to see that the conservation work of Bristol Zoological Society is so deeply embedded in the project.”

Wildlife expert and TV presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff said: “Bear Wood will enthuse visitors; showcasing the species that have been lost and highlighting what is now at stake.

The Bristol Zoological Society has already received donations from generous benefactors and sponsors towards the cost of the project, but still needs £2 million. An appeal has been launched to raise that money.

Featured image courtesy of Wild Place Project.

Donate to the Bear Wood project here.

See Wild Place Project website.

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