The news of bison coming to Kent in the spring of 2022 was a national headline in mid-July as Kent Wildlife Trust launched its flagship wilding project. Bison, a keystone species missing from the British Isles for thousands of years, will live in the ancient Blean Woods and help to naturally manage and restore an abundance of wildlife.
No bison are heading to Hothfield, but longhorn cattle, another conservation grazer, have been settling in here this summer. These gentle descendants of 16th and 17th century draft animals enjoy the unfertilised and, at times, tough all-year grazing here, controlling the more rampant plants to give space to a wider plant range, including the rare and less vigorous. Their hooves churn the soil creating pools for insects to hatch in and revealing invertebrates for birds to eat. They have a distinctive white line or finching along their back above dappled flanks, and a rosette of curls on their brow. Their spectacular horns, which can grow at quirky angles, used to be used for buttons, beakers, cutlery, and thanks to their translucency, lamps.
Their seemingly aggressive appearance is deceptive; centuries of breeding have produced an animal which, unless worried by dogs or, in the case of a mother, separated from her calf, is very calm. Herds are usually matriarchal. Rearing of the Kent Wildlife Trust calves through winter was supported by crowd-funding.