Bear Wood near Bristol aims to spark debate about rewilding of ancient woodlands
For the first time in more than 1,000 years native bears and wolves are coming snout to muzzle with each other among towering oaks and ashes in a slice of British woodland.
European brown bears, thought to have become extinct in the British wilds in medieval times, and grey wolves – which roamed free until the 17th century – are to coexist in a project called Bear Wood near Bristol.
The idea of the scheme – which is part of Bristol Zoological Society’s Wild Place Project – is to give visitors a glimpse into life in the woods and forests that used to cover much of the UK.
It is also intended to initiate a debate about rewilding schemes, which could reintroduce animals such as lynxes – and perhaps wolves and bears.
From Thursday 25 July, members of the public will be able to observe bears, wolves, lynxes and wolverines from the safety of a raised walkway as the animals pad and prowl around a large wooded paddock.
For the moment, the four species are being kept apart but the idea is that within weeks or months the four bears and five wolves will be allowed to share one 10,000 sq metre (12,000 sq yard) paddock.
Justin Morris, the chief executive of Bristol Zoological Society, said: “It will be the first time the two species have been together in ancient British woodland for more than 1,000 years. We’re excited to see them together in the same space.”
Over recent weeks the bears have been getting accustomed to the woodland. From Wednesday the wolves will be brought into an adjoining paddock.
It will then be up to the animal keepers to decide when to allow the wolves in with the bears. “The keepers want to be sure the bears are settled,” said Morris. “We’re keen to do it as soon as they can but will wait until the animal team are confident they are ready.
“They should be fine. These animals would coexist in the wild. This is their habitat. You see the bears up the trees and realise how perfectly evolved they are to live here.”…
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