Rewilding has been one of the great environmental stories of 2021, with successful reintroductions of species and the return of wildlife thought to be extinct or critically endangered thanks to efforts to restore ecosystems across the world.
In Argentina, as plans to reintroduce sea otters to IberÃ¡ wetlands advanced, a giant river otter appeared nearby. A red wolf reintroduction program has resumed in North Carolina in the United States, and white rhinos have arrived in Rwanda for the first time, while in the United Kingdom, support for the return of the lynx s ‘is increased. Scientists have even announced their intention to bring back the woolly mammoth.
Here are eight new species to watch out for in the British Isles in 2022:
Four bison arrive in northern Kent in the spring of 2022 as part of a 210 hectare (519 acre) rewilding project to create forests richer in wildlife. The bison, which is the largest land mammal in Europe, was driven out of the UK 6,000 years ago through hunting and habitat loss. Prior to their arrival, rangers set up a 1.4 meter electric fence around the site at Blean Woods, which is managed by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust. The founding members of the herd will be a bull from Germany, an older female from the Highlands Wildlife Park in Scotland (who will be the matriarch) and two young females from Fota Wildlife Park in Ireland. These large mammals create vibrant habitats in forests by cutting down trees, removing bark, nibbling vegetation, and bathing in dust. Ranger Donovan Wright described them as “gentle giants” who are like “jet fuel for biodiversity”. Females can produce one calf per year and up to 10 animals are allowed to be on site. Bison were once vulnerable to extinction, but populations are increasing across Europe thanks to a number of reintroduction projects.
The northern frog is finally croaking again on Thompson Common in Norfolk – its last stronghold before its extinction in England some 20 years ago. A batch of 300 tadpoles were released in July, bringing the total to more than 1,000 over the six years of the project. The critically endangered northern frog is England’s rarest amphibian and has been driven to extinction by the destruction of wetland habitats in East Anglia. Environmentalists are convinced that the frogs have formed a self-sustaining population, successfully breeding in several ponds. Retaining vegetation growth and making sure ponds are relatively open will give frogs the best chance of survival. It also benefits other reptiles and amphibians, including the common toad, crested newt, smooth newt, and grass snake.
Beavers are often referred to as âecosystem engineersâ for their ability to benefit other species, help reduce flooding, increase water retention and reduce siltation. This year has been a beaver record, with 17 released to enclosures in England and Wales: two in West Dorset in February by the Dorset Wildlife Trust; three in March in the Cors Dyfi nature reserve in Wales; and in September four adults were released in Derbyshire at Willington Wetlands. In November, eight beavers, including four small ones, were released to an enclosure in Idle Valley Nature Reserve near Retford. The first baby beaver born in Exmoor in 400 years has been named Rashford, after footballer Marcus Rashford, by popular vote, to celebrate England reaching the Euro 2020 final.
Large swamp grasshoppers have been reintroduced to wetlands in Norfolk thanks to work carried out by Citizen Zoo, in partnership with Wildlife Trusts and Natural England. About 1,000 of these elusive green insects were released on two secret swampy sites this summer. Before the transfer, Britain’s largest grasshopper only existed in a few fragmented sites in Dorset and Somerset, fearing the species would become extinct in the next few decades if nothing was done. Following this success, wildlife charities and private landowners contacted Citizen Zoo to return the locusts to sites elsewhere in the UK.
The Dwarf Pansy returned to an uninhabited island in the Isles of Scilly through long-term habitat restoration work, after a 16-year absence. Smaller than a pencil point, this tiny flower is not found anywhere in Britain outside of Scilly. After the Second World War, the abandonment of pastures, as well as the disappearance of the rabbits from the island, made life difficult for the thought, which thrives on well grazed and regularly disturbed meadows. The seeds had been dormant in the soil since 2004 until rangers created a suitable habitat for them to germinate by removing ferns, coarse grasses and brush. Two flowering plants were discovered this spring, but rangers are hoping there will be more.
Native oysters are being restored on the west coast of Scotland after being almost wiped out after decades of overexploitation. Scottish charity the sea reintroduces mollusks, as well as seagrass beds, to Loch Craignish near Argyll to stimulate wider ecological recovery. Native oysters create nursery habitats for fish, improve water quality, remove nitrogen from the water, and sequester carbon. Seawild, which is part of the rewilding network, is said to have released over 300,000 oysters into Loch Craignish while transporting juveniles from the Morecambe Bay hatchery and raising them in a nursery. Seagrass beds are also a vital habitat for marine species and 95% of them have disappeared from British coasts. A quarter of a hectare (0.6 acres) of seagrass was planted by the association this fall. There are now several natives oyster restoration projects around the UK.
The 200th osprey chick took to the skies this year after a successful 25-year reintroduction project in Rutland Water Nature Reserve, which began with the transfer of birds from Scotland. Environmentalists are hoping the fish-eating bird – which went extinct in England over 150 years ago – will soon become a common sight in the countryside again. At the Rutland site, there are believed to be up to 10 breeding pairs. The last full-fledged female chick was ringed with the number 360 to identify her. In September, the birds migrate 3000 miles to the west coast of Africa, where the young usually spend a few years before returning to breed.
Sphagnum mosses are being reintroduced to sites across Manchester to help capture carbon and support other peatland loving species, such as sundews, invertebrates and fungi. These important peatland species create the conditions in which other plants can thrive. Two species of sphagnum moss – papillous sphagnum and red sphagnum moss – were reintroduced to Astley Moss in October. At the same site, the small bladder was reintroduced in 2018 after its extinction on the peatlands of Greater Manchester more than a century ago. From a few initial sprigs, there are now 2.4 million plants, which catch aquatic insects using small “bladders” on their tendrils. Next year, conservationists want to bring a small population of juvenile bog crickets back to Astley Moss and Risley Moss. These efforts are part of the Greater Manchester Wetland Species Reintroduction Project.