Knepp Castle Estate

Pioneering rewilding project that’s turned failing farm land into a profitable site of wildlife abundance
Credit: Knepp Castle Estate

At a glance

Location

West Sussex

Area

2,377 acres

Start date

2001

Scale

Large

Habitats

Lowland, Broadleaved woodland, Wood pasture, Rivers and streams, Lakes and ponds and Grassland and meadow

Key species

Eurasian beaver, Red Deer, Tamworth pigs, Exmoor ponies, Purple emperor butterfly, White stork and Long-horn cattle

Rewilding actions

Extensive grazing, Habitat restoration and Species reintroduction

Engaging people

Volunteering, Tourism, Recreation, Local business gains, Education programme and Wellness programme

Knepp Castle Estate was once intensively farmed, but since 2001 has been devoted to a pioneering rewilding project. The incredible journey they’ve undertaken is chronicled in the best-selling book Wilding by landowner Isabella Tree.

Knepp’s ethos is to enable natural processes instead of aiming for any particular goals or outcomes. Free-roaming grazing animals - cattle, ponies, pigs and deer - drive this process-led regeneration. They act as proxies for herbivores that would have grazed the land thousands of years ago. Their different grazing preferences are creating a mosaic of habitats - from grassland and scrub to open-grown trees and wood pasture.

Knepp has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife since rewilding began. Extremely rare species such as turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies are now breeding here. Populations of more common species are rocketing.

Knepp demonstrates that low-cost methods of ecological restoration can be highly effective, producing dramatic and profitable results for failing or abandoned farmland. It shows that rewilding projects can support established nature reserves and wildlife sites by providing an expansion of habitats and wildlife that will one day connect up on a landscape scale. It also supports new nature based enterprises, such as high quality meat, camping, glamping, safaris, and business rentals to create a resilient rural economy. This has improved business for local pubs, shops & B&Bs. The estate also has an extensive volunteer programme, education programme, and wellness programme including yoga.

KICK-STARTING REWILDING

Sheep and dairy cattle were removed and arable land was taken out of production. Internal fencing was removed to allow extensive grazing across the three blocks that make up the project area by herbivores. River restoration and wetland creation through ditch blocking, removal of land drains and restoring the floodplain across 78 acres. Natural regeneration has been encouraged to create successional habitats.

Images: Knepp Castle Estate

Gallery

Credit: Knepp Estate
Credit: Knepp Estate
Credit: Knepp Estate
Credit: Knepp Estate
Credit: Knepp Estate

Find out more

Future Plans

  1. 1 Introduction of beavers into the southern block in late 2020
  2. 2 Encouraging neighbouring landowners to join the Knepp rewilding network to create a larger wildland area to build on the 37 local farmers that have signed up to become a cluster group.
  3. 3 Encourage the enhancement of ecological connectivity in the surrounding area
  4. 4 Potential reintroduction of wild cat and pine marten as part of any regional initiative

You may also be interested in…