Rewilding – Knepp Estate

19 May 2020

In the field of natural history one of the most influential recent books has been Isabella Tree’s book ‘Wilding’.

In it she documents her and her husband Charles Burrell’s efforts to ‘re-wild’ Knepp Estate, their 3500 acres farm in west Sussex. Prior to this experiment in sustainable land management their farm had been a typical arable farm, maintaining herds of dairy cattle, and growing livestock feed, all at a huge financial cost and ultimately after 17 years of farming an aggregated financial loss.

After seeing the pioneering work of Frans Vera in the Netherlands, (a dutch biologist advocating for the inclusion of large grazing mammals in the creation of bio-diverse ecosystems), Isabella and Charles introduced (in lieu of their wilder ancestors) longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies, red, roe and fallow deer, and Tamworth pigs onto their estate, whilst simultaneously removing the infrastructure of the farms previous incarnation, fences, drainage systems etc.

The part these animals play on the landscape is huge, the different grazing habits of these large mammals utterly transforms the ground they graze, moving seeds of flora around, routing the ground allowing new flora and fauna to thrive, breaking through the dense grass cover and changing standing water of lakes and pools.

In the 19 years since they started, this ‘experiment’ has been a largely untold success story, dozens of different species of animal which are in massive decline throughout the rest of the country are living and importantly breeding at Knepp. These include turtle doves, skylarks, white storks (which haven’t successfully bred in the Uk for hundreds of years), bats, purple emperor butterflies, and a multitude of other insect life and dozens of different types of flora.

And not only is the regeneration of the land proven to be a success, (also sequestering large amounts of carbon in the process) but it has been a financial one too. Without the need for any inputs, fertilizer and animal feed to name two, the land takes care of itself whilst providing surplus yields in the form of culled livestock (the numbers of the grazing animals is artificially kept down in the absence of large predators, ((the Burrells would like to put wolves on the land but worry what dog walkers would make of them!)) and the estate also runs safaris and holiday stays.

If we are as an island and a planet to counter the loss of our native species of flora and fauna, improve flood prevention, combat soil degradation and move away from petrochemical fertilisers we should learn the lessons being pioneered at Knepp namely to give nature space to flourish.