Rewilding has turned around Knepp Estate – a 3,500-acre estate in West Sussex – in to a haven for rare species including turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies.
Almost twenty years ago, husband and wife team Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell set about transitioning Knepp Estate from economically unsustainable intensive farming on heavy clay soil to stepping back and letting nature take over.
Farmed intensively since WW2, the farm rarely made a profit. But now with the couple’s focus on rewilding, Knepp Estate has not only become a profitable farm but it is nurturing and developing biodiversity too.
Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer – proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain – the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade.
According to Knepp Estate, these animals need minimal intervention and at low cost, they provide wild-range, slow-grown, pasture-fed organic meat for which there is a growing market.
The farm is also now a breeding hotspot for purple emperor butterflies, turtle doves and two per cent of the UK’s population of nightingales.
Extremely rare species, including turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies, are now breeding at Knepp, and populations of other species are rocketing.
Isabella Tree, who is also an author and journalist in addition to managing Knepp farm with her husband, chronicles the couple’s journey in to rewilding in her latest book, Wilding, which was published last month by Picador.
Personal and inspirational, Wilding is an astonishing account of the beauty and strength of nature, when it is given as much freedom as possible.
Speaking about the Knepp rewilding project, Isabella Tree said: “It was a spectacular leap of faith. We began the project out of a love for wildlife, and because we would have lost an impossible amount of money if we had continued to farm.
“If it can happen here, on our depleted patch of land in the over-developed, densely populated south-east of England, it can happen anywhere – if only we have the will to try.”
The Knepp Estate is also home to a camping and glamping site. Situated in a wildflower meadow on the edge of an ancient wood, the camp site is surrounded by the Knepp rewilding project in all its glory.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea