The UK is reintroducing Bison to Supercharge Biodiversity | MarketingwithAnoy

The Wilder Blean project, like many of its similarities, is largely inspired by the work of Dutch ecologist Frans Vera. In his influential book Grazing ecology and forest history, published in 2000, Vera questions the prevailing wisdom that vegetation in the lowlands of Central and Western Europe was previously dominated by closed forest. As a result of this assumption, he writes, agriculture has received much credit for increasing biodiversity, as grazing livestock create different types of vegetation. But Vera argues that this theory ignores the impact of wildlife, and especially large herbivores, which could have played a similar role in creating more diverse landscapes.

To put forward his argument (which is not without objections), Vera draws on evidence, including the effects of wildebeest grazing in the Serengeti and prehistoric pollen samples, and concludes that conservationists today need to update their frame of reference. He calls for large areas to be left free of agriculture and forestry, and for the reintroduction of once wild mammals. “Cattle, horses, bison, red deer, elk, roe deer and wild boar must again be able to function as wild animals,” he writes. “Without these ungulates, the survival of natural diversity is impossible in the long run.”

Not all herbivores are made equal when it comes to ecosystem engineering. Bison occupy an intermediate position in terms of feeding habits; they are both grasses, eating grass and browsers that tackle tree growth such as branches. And they eat a lot. “Barking from a tree or shrub over a year or a few years has much more effect than taking some leaves off every now and then,” says Kemp. For this reason, several rewilding projects on the European mainland have introduced bison, including one in the dunes of Kraansvlak on the Dutch coast, which the Wilder Blean team visited in preparation.

While Kunzmann collects vegetation data on the ground, Robbie Still takes a macro picture. As Kent Wildlife Trust’s GIS and remote sensing officer, he is responsible for the technology of the project – a kind of conservative Q. The team plans to get aerial photos of the entire place in a resolution of 20 centimeters by sending a DJI matrix up. drone and methodically fly it over the tree line. “We are not just on the remote and zooming around; it goes up and follows a very pre-planned route, ”says Still.

He will process the images with the open source software OpenDroneMap, using various sensors and tools to collect information about the vegetation. In addition to the overall coverage, he can tell the width of the trees by measuring the diameter of their canopy and their height by measuring the difference between the position of the drone and the objects it registers. Given that the forest was previously home to conifer plantations, much of it now consists of younger, smaller trees arranged in rigid rows – not ideal for biodiversity. “We hope it will level out so that it is much more heterogeneous,” he says.

Using multispectral imaging, which captures ultraviolet and infrared light as well as the visible spectrum, Still can even tell if a tree is deciduous or coniferous based on the color signatures of the leaves: The deeper greens of conifers can be distinguished from the lighter palette of deciduous plants. This imaging could even give a sense of the health of the trees: Chlorophyll, the pigment responsible for photosynthesis, absorbs visible light, while plant cells reflect near-infrared light. Algorithms that calculate the difference between the different reflected wavelengths can give a sense of how much a plant photosynthesizes – an indicator of its general suitability.

Stills team conducted their first drone survey in the spring of 2022, when the trees were in leaves. They will repeat the study a year later (after the bison arrive) to see what has changed. “Monitoring is incredibly important in ecology, but it is often overlooked,” Still says. “Not because of any oversight, just because of time.”

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