Reconstructing the Dutch dunes with the European bison

The Zuid-Kennemerland National Park is now the coastal dune area that is home to the bison in the north of the Netherlands..

Until a few years ago, the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park was largely open to the public, with the exception of an area to the south that was kept closed. The closed area was a dynamic dune system, but in the absence of large herbivores and people, the dunes were becoming increasingly vegetated. The vegetation prevented the sand from moving and the dynamic dunes were made sedentary. This triggered the idea of bringing in large herbivores to remove the vegetation and allow the dunes to move freely again.
The European Bison in a Dutch Dune System project ( started in 2007 as part of the Rewilding Europe projects (https: //, a pan-European initiative working at the forefront of recreating natural habitats on a European scale.

The pilot project consisted of returning the European bison to an area in Western Europe where it could live naturally (i.e. without additional food supply), together with Konik horses, Highland cattle, fallow deer, roe deer and rabbits, which were already species of animals used for natural grazing throughout the Netherlands.
The project was carried out in an area of coastal dunes where forested areas are intertwined with open grassland and shrubland. The habitat types are semi-open grassland, shrubland, broadleaf and coniferous forests.


But why bison?
The rewilding initiative aims to rehabilitate nature: restoring ecosystems and their food chains. European bison are known as keystone species of habitats that engineer great biodiversity.

Noting the invasion of non-native vegetation, the decline of a common food source has been blamed: specialised insects that need patches of open sand to survive. Bison clean the area, scrub the ground, and with this behaviour, throughout the year, create several local sand patches where native pioneer vegetation and insects once again have a chance to proliferate. Dune birds such as the eagle owl, golden oriole and red-backed shrike that were heading for local extinction have now returned.
Since they also bark shrubs and trees and encourage the dispersal of native grasses through their manure, the bison are essentially bringing back the original biodiversity.


The area of the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park where the bison now live is the 330 hectare area that was closed to the public in the past. Now, the area is open to the public, with a footpath that runs through the bison enclosure and is open in the winter months, so tourists can walk and hopefully catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures among the rolling hills and dunes.


The European bison is one of two living species of bison, the other being the North American bison. Established in the wild in the 1920s, the European bison has returned thanks to conservation programmes across the continent, from a herd of 12 animals kept in captivity. The European bison is one of the two living species of bison.

The European bison in a Dutch dune system project, which officially ended in 2012, provided valuable practical and scientific knowledge on the ecological aspects of bison such as diet composition and habitat use, including in comparison to cattle and horses. It also attracted the attention of the press, which in turn informed the public about the species and promoted the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park as a tourist attraction for nature tourists.


Particularly important for European bison conservation programmes is the expansion of the bison area and the natural growth of the herd.
A series of research articles from the Dutch study of a herd of 22 bison living in Kraansvlak, in the 330 hectares of natural dunes and ponds that are part of the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, further casts doubt on the belief that European bison are forest-dwelling creatures, now offering a more optimistic assessment of the bison's chances of survival in new European environments.
In 2016, two more Dutch bison introduction sites followed the project, after gaining experience in Kraansvlak.
Nature organisations in Sweden, Switzerland and the UK are watching with interest and the knowledge gained is being shared with established projects in Spain, France and Germany.

E se il prossimo passo per la riqualificazione auto-sostenibile dei siti dunali di LIFE REDUNE contemplasse anche la creazione di parchi naturali popolati dai bisonti Europei?



PROGETTO Bisonti europei in un sistema dunale olandese: