A £5 million plan to return bears to ancient woods on the outskirts of Bristol for the first time in hundreds of years has been given the go ahead.
South Gloucestershire planners have approved the ambitious scheme at Wild Place Project, called Bear Wood.
Their decision means Bear Wood is likely to open next summer and will house brown bears, lynx, wolves and wolverine in the woodlands as they were in times gone by.
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.”
When it opens visitors will walk through Bear Wood, which will cover seven and a half acres, on a raised path that will wind its way through the trees.
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.
Bear Wood, which is on course to open next summer, will also include a café, classroom and lots of hands-on activities for guests.
All of the buildings will be constructed to blend in with their surroundings.
Project co-ordinator Rebecca Cole said: “We have made great efforts to ensure that Bear Wood will blend in its surroundings and allow our visitors to see bears, lynx, wolves and wolverine in a natural environment.
“But this is also about telling the story of these woods from centuries ago to the present day.”
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.
Bear Wood, its enclosures, walkways and buildings, will be built without harming the existing woods.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
or Kate Smith at email@example.com