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Knepp Rewilding Project

Transforming an unprofitable farm into a biodiverse wilderness area

Knepp is a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, UK covering 3,500 acres (almost six times the size of Heaton Park in Manchester). Farming the heavy clay land was unprofitable so, in 2002, owner Charlie Burrell began a new approach, inspired by rewilding projects in Europe. ‘Rewilding’ at Knepp focuses on restoring lost processes that were created by large grazing animals in the past. Introducing these animals and then taking a ‘hands-off’ approach has dramatically increased wildlife.

This work is only possible by transforming the estate into a profitable business through activities such as safaris. As well as generating income to support the project, these safaris give people unique experiences, from hearing the dawn chorus to seeing large free-roaming animals.

Browsers and grazers

Cattle, deer, horses and pigs churn up the ground and trim back plants, stopping trees from taking over. Their dung restores the soil by adding nutrients. These grazers and browsers create dynamic new habitats for a wide range of plants and animals.

Insect life

Insect life across the UK is in decline. Insects play vital roles in the ecosystem, as pollinators and decomposers, and as food for other wildlife. However at Knepp, the abundance and variety of insects is increasing. Rare species like the purple emperor butterfly and violet dor dung beetle have returned.

A wildlife magnet

Wildlife has been quick to return to Knepp. By creating a range of habitats Knepp has become a breeding hotspot for many of the UK’s rarest creatures. The healthier an ecosystem, the more food there is and the more wildlife it can support.

Wildlife in abundance

As well as supporting rare creatures, Knepp is also home to growing populations of more familiar wildlife. While they were historically common, many are now on the decline in the UK.

A symbol of hope

A lot of places around Sussex are named after storks. They have been reintroduced to Knepp as a symbol of hope. In 2020, Knepp became home to the first wild storks to breed in the UK for over 600 years.

Dividing opinion

Knepp Rewilding Project is an example of using land to help reverse our declining wildlife and restore a healthy ecosystem. However, with 8 billion people living on the planet there is a lot of pressure on the land for food, housing and other uses. Rewilding can therefore divide opinion as it may be seen to prioritise nature over other needs.

Photography credits

All pictures courtesy of Knepp Estate, except purple emperor butterfly, which is courtesy of Neil Hulme/Knepp Estate.