Book chronicles rewilding of Knepp Castle Estate

Author Isabella Tree
Author Isabella Tree

The rewilding of the Knepp Castle Estate has formed the basis of a new book.

‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree chronicles the story of the remarkable experiment.

After picture of Knepp Castle Estate Picture: Charlie Burrell

After picture of Knepp Castle Estate Picture: Charlie Burrell

Knepp’s estate comprises of 3,500 acres of heavy weald clay, though farmed intensively since WW2, the farm rarely made a profit.

“My husband Charlie inherited the farm from his grandparents,” explains author Isabella.

“We thought that the reason why the farm hadn’t made a profit was because they hadn’t invested in new technologies. So when we took over we put in place a new infrastructure but there was one thing we didn’t take into account the clay.

“We just couldn’t compete with other farms where the soil was grade one or two.

“The Inuits have hundreds of words for snow, in the old Sussex dialect there are loads for mud.”

They found that if the weather was particular

wet they were unable to use heavy machinery which meant harvesting or being able to sow crops becomes nearly impossible.

The decision was made in 2000 to do something different to the land and the rewilding process began.

Grazing animals consisting of pigs, cows, deer and ponies freely roam the land.

“It is about restoring the natural processes,” she explains.

“Because of the animals grazing there is a lovely mosaic on the land, it is scrubby and messy and looks how Britain would have looked like years ago.”

Since the project began the Knepp Estate, just south of Horsham, has seen rare species like turtle doves, which haven’t been seen in Sussex for nearly 50 years, nightingales and purple emperor butterflies now breeding on the estate.

“The project is about protecting wildlife,” explains Isabella.

“We aren’t a nature reserve like the RSPB, we see them like the Noah’s Ark with those animals on the verge of extinction and then what we have provides the birds or animals with somewhere to colonise.

“We don’t have targets it is about establishing biodiversity. We just work with what the land gives us and we do little in the way of managing it.”

This in turn helps farmers in other ways as the water is purified, the soil is improved and pollinating insects increase.

“It starts with the big animals, then goes down to the small ones and birds, then the insects, into the soil with the microbes and earth worms bringing them all back to Sussex,” enthuses Isabella.

“It is astonishing what we have achieved, we have a number of different bats some rare species, and we have peregrine falcons nesting in trees. People think they just nest in cathedrals or cliffs but we have them here.”

With the dynamic nature of what they are doing the book was constantly evolving and changing.

“Right up until the book was published I was going back and asking ‘can I add this in’ or ‘this has just happened’,” she enthuses.

“We are always finding new species nearly every week it is very exciting.”

Alongside the book people can also visit Knepp and go on safari to see the animals living there while also glamping in one of the bell tents or shepherds’ huts or camping on the estate.

The book, Isabella explains, is chronicling Charlie’s vision.

“I hope it will inspire others to do the same,” she adds.

“The reaction from people has been overwhelming. You do need a lot of land but we hope we can show people how you can do it.

“We are seeing farmers taking down boundaries and joining up pieces of land to do similar things.

“It is improving the condition of the land, and it just shows if we can do it here, in one of the busiest parts of the UK, then you can do it anywhere.”

The farmland is now profitable and with a number of supporters including Natural England it will be interesting to see what other species will call the Knepp Estate its home.

For more information on Knepp Safaris visit, www.kneppsafaris.co.uk To buy the book Wilding visit amazon.co.uk ISBN: 9781509805099