500 years Sir Charles Burrell’s ancestors
have tilled the land around Knepp Castle in
West Grinstead, near Horsham.
most farmland across the country, its
numerous acres were sub-divided by miles of
fences and hedgerows.
CALL: Old English longhorn cattle have
replaced the herds of dairy cows on the
seven years ago he took the bold step of
tearing down those barriers to allow the
land to return to something resembling its
fields of dairy cows have been replaced by
old English longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies,
Tamworth pigs and fallow deer which are free
to roam the sprawling 3,500-acre estate.
process, known as rewilding, aims to restore
the land to the way it was before the
enclosures and later intensive agriculture
of modern farming.
introducing new animals and letting them
wander naturally, the land, which has no
chemicals or fertilizers spread on it, is
directly affected by them.
STATE: Fallow deer and Exmoor ponies,
below, are free to roam the extensive
the animals go about their lives left to
their own devices, they and the forces of
nature have shaped the land which was
previously worked and regulated by human
flowers and native plants and trees have
thrived. Insects and butterflies and other
small mammals are abundant. Sir Charles
proudly proclaims his estate harbours
buzzards and a host of songbirds he had
never seen on the land before.
said he and his family had also felt the
benefits of the change, experiencing a great
sense of relief at seeing the intensive
farming which had reached right up to their
home replaced by a tranquil scene.
the land is not without commercial purpose.
The cattle, pigs and deer are all farmed for
their meat, which is about as free range as
it can get.
of the former dairy buildings and barns have
been converted and now house small
businesses instead of straw and tractors.
Charles said the ten-year project, which is
being overseen by a team of vets and
scientists, is supported by Natural England,
the Government’s conservation watchdog.
well as an exciting initiative for the land,
the project has been an inspiring personal
keen naturalist, Sir Charles has always been
keen to encourage more wildlife on to his
land since he took over in 1987, aged just
said: “It has been the best thing I have
been involved in during my tenure of the
Knepp Estate. In the next ten years I would
like to see stable populations of all these
interesting species that have turned up.”
rewilding projects across Britain, such as
at Alladale in Sutherland, Scotland, have
advocated the reintroduction of beavers,
lynx, wolves and even bears.
Sir Charles said there were no plans to have
such creatures at Knepp. He said: “Those
proposals are very exciting but what we
couldn’t do is bring in any species that
could be potentially harmful to dog walkers
or anyone else.
have 25km of footpaths running through our
land and are creating more and we have got
to be sensible about these things.
would love to see lynx reintroduced in
England but maybe we could get some white
regard to the long-term future of the
estate, Sir Charles said his dream was a
natural landscape shaped as much as possible
by the forces of nature with minimal
intrusion from human hands.
said: “Ideally I want the estate to become
a Sussex version of the New Forest with
scrubland and woodland encroaching on to it
but being held back by grazing animals. It
would look very different from the way it
many of the project’s aims have already
come to fruition in just seven years, Sir
Charles said it would probably take hundreds
of years for the land to return to its
approach is being advocated and taken up by
the National Trust and many other landowners
across the country.
Charles Burrell has decided to restore the
grounds of Knepp Castle, below, built by