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Brown bears will return to ancient Bristol woodland next summer

An ambitious project to return bears to ancient woods on the outskirts of Bristol has been given the go ahead by South Gloucestershire planners.

The £5 million scheme at Wild Place Project, named Bear Wood, is likely to open next summer and will house brown bears, lynx, wolves and wolverine in the woodlands for the first time in hundreds of years.

Nigel Simpson, head of operations at Wild Place Project, said: “We are thrilled to announce we have been given the go-ahead for this scheme.

“Wild Place Project is continuously growing and the new Bear Wood addition will mean that guests can get closer to these species in a natural setting and see how they once would have lived alongside each other.

“We have been planning Bear Wood for a long time now and it’s really exciting to see it come to fruition.”

Once open, visitors will be able to walk through the seven and a half acre Bear Wood on a raised path that will wind its way through the trees. There will be a café, a classroom and lots of hands-on activities for guests, with all buildings constructed to blend in with their surroundings.

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

Bristol Zoological Society has already received donations from generous benefactors and sponsors towards the cost of the scheme but still needs over £1.5 million. An appeal has been launched to raise that money.

Woods, similar to those at Wild Place Project, covered as much as 75% of Britain about 6500 BC but have since been steadily cut down for building, housing, fuel, growing crops and making paper. Today such woods cover only two per cent of the country.

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

Dr Christoph Schwitzer, director of conservation at Bristol Zoological Society which owns and runs Wild Place Project, said he was delighted that planning approval had been granted.

He said: “Bear Wood will provide an experience like no other in Britain. For the first time in generations, people will be able to see brown bears in England in what would have been their natural habitat.”

Dr Schwitzer said Bear Wood would show not only how woodlands once were but how people and their behaviour have affected them.

If you would like to make a donation to the Bear Wood appeal or to become a Bear Wood Guardian please contact Richard Rollings at  rrollings@bzsociety.org.uk

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