A £5 million plan has been unveiled to return bears to ancient woods on the outskirts of Bristol for the first time in thousands of years.
The ambitious scheme, called Bear Wood, will be developed at Wild Place Project and will see European brown bears, lynx, wolves and wolverine back in the woodlands as they were in times gone by.
Visitors will walk through Bear Wood, which will cover seven and a half acres, on a 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 with the European brown bears.
The scheme is due to go before South Gloucestershire Council planners later this month and work is expected to begin in the summer.
Bristol Zoological Society has already received donations from generous benefactors and sponsors towards the cost of the scheme but still needs £2 million. Today an appeal has been launched to raise that money.
Bear Wood will also include a café, classroom and interpretation space and will hopefully open at Easter next year.
All of the buildings will be constructed to blend in with their surroundings.
Nigel Simpson, head of operations at Wild Place Project, said: “We are literally making history with this amazing project and giving our visitors a chance to step back in time.
“We will transport people back in time to when the woodland was inhabited by bears, lynx, wolves and wolverine and take people through time showing the effects of woodland loss on our native animals.
“Bear Wood is about conservation of woodland. It is a story of what was, where we are now and what is still at stake.”
Woods, similar to those at Wild Place Project, covered Britain in the first millennium AD but have 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 threatened species and the forest floor is dense with bluebells, snowdrops, orchids, wild garlic and foxgloves.
Nigel said Bear Wood, its enclosures, walkways and buildings would be built without harming the existing woods.
He said: “Where possible the walkways will follow existing paths and go through clearings within the canopy. We intend to alter the landscape as little as possible.”
Christoph Schwitzer, director of conservation at Bristol Zoological Society, said: “We are hoping that people will be really excited by Bear Wood and want to support us. 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.
“It will highlight the consequences of woodland habitat loss, showcasing animals that are no longer found within British woodlands.
“It will also raise awareness of important conservation projects close to home and inspire people to get involved with local conservation and change their behaviour in order to protect our woodlands.”