wildland advisory group
The wildland project has collected many friends on the way and over the years these people have supported and advised the project.
Mr James Seymour South East Regional Land Management Programme Manager, NE
Miss Emma Goldberg Forestry and Woodland Officer, Natural England
Ms Christine Reid Senior Woodlands Specialist, Natural England
Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environment schemes to support the Wildland project at Knepp estate? Natural England is committed to supporting, via the agri-environment agreement, the Wildland project at Knepp because of the biodiversity and other environmental benefits we think that this project will achieve over the next 10 years. At least 22 Biodiversity Action Plan species (such as rare or uncommon bats, fungi, and plants) are already present on the Knepp estate. We believe that the land management approach agreed between Natural England and Knepp will better protect these species in the future, and has the potential to create suitable conditions for a variety of other native wildlife. 

We are also supporting the project because it is trialing a new “low carbon” approach to farming and land management. Previously, the limited fertility and dense soil structure of the Wealden clays at Knepp have meant that arable farming had only been possible with high inputs of artificial fertilizers.

Earlier this year the Government set out its new direction for nature and the environment in the Natural Environment White Paper 2011. The Government recognises the critical role that the environment has in underpinning all of our lives, in terms of the services and benefits we derive from nature. The Paper also concludes that nature and the natural environment is not currently being adequately protected, particularly in light of climate change. As habitat conditions change over time wildlife will need to respond by moving through the landscape. The White Paper therefore supports the strengthening and creation of ‘ecological networks’ – these are large tracts of countryside where existing wildlife habitats are  better managed, made bigger, joined up to other wildlife habitats, and new wildlife habitats are created. The essence of what needs to be done to enhance the resilience and coherence of England’s ecological network can therefore be summarised in four words: better, bigger, more and joined more and joined

The Knepp Wildland project achieves the aims of creating more new habitats and bigger by extending existing habitats, and also enhances by joining connections between existing wildlife sites such as the 2 Sites of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI) present on the estate. It has the potential to support many species of conservation interest many of which have had their range and abundance reduced. The objectives set out in the Environmental Stewardship Agreement with Knepp (see below) will, we believe, help to deliver these ambitions and provide evidence to support the development of other similar projects.

Objectives of the Environmental Stewardship Agreement with Knepp:  

·       To improve the biodiversity of the land by enabling natural processes to take place, encouraging the return of native wildflowers and grasses, trees and shrubs, insects and butterflies, birds and small mammals, and all the other components of the ecosystem that once prevailed in this region of the British countryside. 

·       To implement as near-natural grazing regime as possible, within the limits required by animal welfare law and the production of top-quality meat for human consumption.

·       To monitor the changes to landscape and biodiversity as the land slowly reverts to a more varied patchwork of habitats, away from the strict regime of arable fields and commercial plantation.

·       To contribute to the scientific research on naturalistic and conservation grazing, and to inform habitat restoration projects.

-          To carry out a major river restoration program to restore a section of the Adur as part of the overall re-wilding project.

Further details on the operation of the Environmental Stewardship agreement at Knepp 

Knepp has referred to the project as “Re-wilding or Wildland” which is not a precisely defined term, but has come to be used to cover an approach whereby conventional agricultural and forestry management is reduced to varying degrees.  The vegetation and associated fauna would be allowed to respond to low intensity management involving large grazing/browsing animals which will be monitored.

Knepp is a unique project and Natural England is supporting both the practical work through grants (Environmental Stewardship), contributing to the annual running of the project through the independent advisory group, and by investing in the infrastructure needed. Monitoring activity and outcomes is a requirement of this agreement.  The monitoring program will assess the impact of the re-wilding project on the 22 currently known UK important (BAP) species present on the estate at the start of the project.  We expect winners and losers but overall there is an expectation that the project will support a greater number and variety of important (BAP) species. The project will enable the creation of pasture woodland, fen, marshy/dry grassland and riverside habitats.  The re-building of a diverse wood-pasture ecosystem though low intensity management with a reliance of grazing animals will also lead to “emergent properties” -i.e. the delivery of added benefits that were not planned or perhaps predicted but become apparent as the ecosystem evolves (An example of this is the appearance of barbastelle bat on the estate since the project started, one of Europe’s rarest mammals). The agreement also incorporates restoring part of the river Adur toward a more naturalized floodplain, to  reduce downstream flooding, whilst benefitting natural movement of fish and restoring wetland habitats/river landscapes.

Environmental Stewardship is a national scheme which is targeted in 110 areas across England. The current commitment through the Higher tier scheme (HLS) within Sussex equates £5.5 million (2011 figures) annually. These target areas are where Natural England are seeking the most environmental benefits from HLS agreements for wildlife, landscape, the historic environment and resource protection.  Natural England will offer HLS funds outside these target areas where the proposals satisfy key objectives. The key theme that was considered when Natural England offered the scheme at Knepp was the potential of this project to help support the recovery of Nationally Important (UK Biodiversity Action Plan) Species. Earlier evidence supported this, for example the benefits to species such as barbastelle bats.

The Environmental Stewardship agreement with Knepp runs until 1st January 2020.  The agreement requires Knepp estate to control injurious weeds within a zone to prevent the spread onto neighbouring properties. The policy established by the estate is based on national evidence and is considered fit for purpose unless new evidence suggests additional measure/s may be needed to prevent the spread of ragwort. Any neighbour with evidence that an injurious weed (such as ragwort) is spreading from the estate should submit a formal complaint  (detail on Defra website) and this will be investigated.

The need to consider animal welfare issues is covered within the agreement and Knepp estate are responsible for taking the necessary measures to ensure high standards are maintained.  An annual review is completed by a qualified Vet to support the ongoing commitment form the estate to maintain welfare conditions whilst delivering the objective of the project.

Natural England will work with the Knepp Estate to continue to enhance the accessibility of the estate, through ensuring the upkeep of the permissive footpaths and provision of interpretation material. Public rights of way issues should be reported to the West Sussex County Council access team.

James Seymour, Emma Goldberg, Christen Reid, Nov 2011  

Mr Jonathan Spencer Principal Adviser Natural Environment, Forestry Commission England
Jonathan Spencer was for many years the Senior Ecologist for the Forestry Commission in England before recently being appointed as Principal Adviser, Natural Environment. In both roles he has been involved with many habitat restoration projects across England involving woodland and wood pasture, deer, livestock and grazing issues. “I became involved with the Knepp project about ten years ago when Charlie Burrell and Jason Emrich visited the New Forest where I was then working as the FC Ecologist. The visit, arranged by Ted Green, was set up to see first hand the complex ecology of woods and heaths of the New Forest, shaped through centuries of grazing by deer, ponies and cattle. It was also an opportunity to explore some of the livestock management issues such extensive situations present.  Following an invitation to see Knepp first hand I have remained involved ever since. It has been a delight to see this world-leading project unfold.  It presents us with  a large, ecosystem-scale example, on challenging soils, of how working with natural processes might deliver environmental, wildlife and business benefits. Now after several years of watching for signs of change, things are rapidly beginning to happen. Knepp is also situated on heavy clays that are typical of large tracts of lowland England, where they are underperforming agriculturally and ready to play a much greater role in the restoration of wildlife to the landscape and contribute, via trees of course! to the future low carbon economy we are all working towards. While Knepp is exceptional in its wildlife and wildland aspirations it is undoubtedly paving the way for other models of woodland creation, afforestation and low impact beef production that will be follow elsewhere. While the economic and practical lessons afforded by engagement with the Knepp project have already proven invaluable in my work across the FC, it is the social role of the project, as a centre for discussion and ideas on the new environmentalism, that holds its greatest personal appeal. The extensive network of contacts made by the estate with the conservation, landowning and academic communities have proven their worth many times over in my own and others work across the country and Knepp is rapidly becoming the centre of a veritable “Bloomsbury Group” of ecological and environmental ideas about land use change”. 

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? The recently published Natural Environment White Paper paves the way in securing the delivery of ecosystem services via extensive land use change. The recently launched England Biodiversity Strategy (Biodiversity2020) requires us to pursue policies of land use change on a similarly significant scale. Knepp leads the way on both and presents us with essential experience to tailor our activity to gain the best results for wildlife, the environment and sustainable business. It presents a working case for such policy development and for collaborative delivery between Govt agencies such as the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission. Studies of real change on such a scale are also few and far between and the Knepp project, and its emphasis on science, recording and monitoring, will fill a major part of that knowledge gap.

The Knepp project will tell us a great deal about both the delivery and interaction between:

  • The carbon sequestration and carbon flow in farmland, woodland and wood pasture landscapes;
  • The role of semi-natural vegetation (particularly woodland and forest) in ecosystem services such as flood control and soil conservation;
  • Provisioning services such as food production, woodfuel, timber and pollination support;
  • The support of native biodiversity in landscapes simultaneously generating these benefits.

 …and the social issues associated with the challenge of extensive and comprehensive change.  

All the above are of considerable importance to the Forestry Commission in its advocacy of the role of trees woods and forests in supporting the transition to a low carbon economy. It will be of considerable value to the Forestry Commission as it pursues its role in shaping the future landscape to address the new challenges of a low carbon future.

The Knepp Wildlands Project operates on a scale that will make a visible and measurable difference. It will do so under the same or similar constraints to many other land owning institutions across the country. It lends credibility to lessons learnt, ensuring they are feasible to deliver and affordable. Given the large sums that the FC, Natural England and the Environment Agency will be deploying in pursuit of similar environmental aims across the country, the investment in evidence and understanding would appear to be excellent value for money. And for a project on this scale and with the courage to face the challenges of tomorrow by addressing them today the support from NE is cracking good value.

 JWS 9th December 2011

Dr Tony Whitbread Chief Executive Sussex Wildlife Trust

Tony Whitbread: I have been involved with the Knepp project for over a decade, as Chief Executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust now and before that as Conservation Director.  This is a fascinating, world-leading project that we are fortunate to have here in Sussex .  It provides a large, ecosystem-scale example of how working with natural processes can deliver environmental benefits and the extensive contacts made by the estate with the academic community have enabled good surveillance and monitoring of the changes that take place.  One of the greatest pleasures in the project, apart from seeing the practical repercussions on the ground, has been the opportunity to engage in fascinating discussion with some of the greatest thinkers on the subject.

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? The Knepp re-wilding project is a major, nationally leading ecological initiative.  Its approach of encouraging natural processes to enhance a whole ecosystem is almost unique in the English lowlands. 

The potential benefits from the project in terms of biodiversity could be large.  It could deliver major progress towards biodiversity targets for habitats including pasture woodland, fen, marshy grassland and rivers, and for species such as water vole, otter, black poplar and many others.  The re-building of an ecosystem in this way also leads to “emergent properties” - the delivery of added benefits that were not planned or predicted but become apparent as the ecosystem evolves.  (An example of this is the appearance of barbastelle bat on the estate, one of Europe ’s rarest mammals).

Alongside the biodiversity gains from restored ecosystems will come enhancements to ecosystem services.  The project provides a rare opportunity to study how large-scale ecosystem restoration can provide these benefits.  Ecosystem services are essential for human well-being yet very few (probably just food) deliver any economic benefit to the landowner.  It is vital that we find ways of providing financial encouragement to landowners to deliver the essential, yet non-market benefits that we get from ecosystem services. Through this project, the Knepp estate is in an almost unique position in the discussion regarding the nature and extent of ecosystem services that can be provided by de-intensified agricultural land, and how this can be reflected in financial mechanisms to the landowner.  Provision of agri-environment scheme support should be seen in this light.  

Tony Whitbread, Nov 2011

Dr Frans Vera
Frans Vera is very much involved in developing ideas to restore natural processes, especially in relation to the grazing impact by the indigenous herbivores wild cattle, wild horse, red deer, moose, European bison and wild boar. 

He developed his ideas on the Oostvaardersplassen , an area of 6.000 ha in the polder South Flevoland, where wild cattle, red deer and wild horses together with Greylag geese create the habitats for all kind of wild species, especially birds, without hardly any human management. Species that disappeared from the Netherlands returned there as breeding birds, like the White tailed Eagle, the Great white egret and the Greylag goose. 

It inspired him to restore on more places such more natural functioning ecosystems, because there are so much opportunities to do so all over Europe. With five colleagues he developed the Plan Stork, to restore the natural flooding and grazing of the floodplains of the large rivers in the Netherland. 

This has resulted in the return of many species of insects and plant species that disappeared or became very rare because of intensification of agriculture. Finally based on the knowledge and experience he collected with these projects, he challenged the classical theory that Europe once in her natural state was covered with a closed canopy forest, because the large indigenous herbivores were considered as non-functional elements in nature. In 1997 he wrote his PH.D. Thesis about this subject. 

It was translated and published in 2000 in English in the book Grazing Ecology and Forest History. His ideas are known as the so-called wood-pasture theory. Together with Fred Baerselman he developed in 1988 the concept of the Ecological Main Structure EHS, that is connecting nature reserves within a network.  In January he will change his job from Staatsbosbeheer to the Foundation Natural Processes.

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? The Knepp estate project offers Natural England a unique opportunity to acquire knowledge, data and experience in practice in transforming on a large scaled formerly intensive used agricultural land into a more natural functioning, more biodiverse ecosystems. It yields knowledge about the development of a more extensive production system of meat and it gives also a vista to an even more natural functioning system in areas that can or may be taken out of production totally. It shows the role of grazing, browsing and grubbing by the large herbivores in more natural functioning ecosystems , an aspect that is important for future developments and management of large natural areas with relatively low costs for the management.  As an example project  it shows for what ecological quality and natural values can be realized on intensive agricultural land. In this respect, the importance of the rewilding project on the Knepp Castle estate cannot be overstated. It is still in humans: Seeing is believing. An aspect I want to mention in particularly, is the abolishment on the estate of the barrier between woods on the one side and grassland and herbivores on the other. It shows how grazing in former agricultural land creates the future ancient trees. It are the ancient trees in the United Kingdom that are in my opinion an unique phenomenon in Europe.

Because the natural developments on the estate started almost from scratch it enlarges the number of strategies that can be applied to preserve biodiversity in the United Kingdom, especially for the realization of the ecological network, because agricultural land has to become more natural  in order to be able to function as such. In this respect the importance of this project goes far beyond the border of the estate. Last but not least I want to emphasize the importance that it is a private enterprise. As such it has the advantage that risks are taken in decisions making, which probably would not be taken in a more public domain, because of the need to compromise between many different opinions. It is this private enterprise that offers an ideal  context  for innovation in nature conservation.

Finally I want to emphasize the importance for the people to enjoy these new developing landscapes because of the large animals, the birds, the plants, the scenery and the opportunity  to see how nature works and how fast results can be achieved. It will make the public aware of all the sleeping beauties that are everywhere in the agricultural landscape, waiting for the prince to awake them by a kiss. 

Frans Vera, 7 December 2011  

Miss Jill Butler Conservation Adviser (Ancient Trees) Woodland Trust

Jill Butler has had a long career of working in countryside management in the UK and has had a lifelong interest in natural history and conservation.

For the past 15 years she has worked for The Woodland Trust, a non government organisation, initially as a Woodland Officer and more recently as a Conservation Officer with a special focus on ancient trees. She works on behalf of the Woodland Trust with the Ancient Tree Forum – the NGO of which Ted Green is a founder member. She campaigns on behalf of the two organisations to raise the profile of ancient trees to different audiences, but especially to owners to help secure a future for ancient trees in their care. 

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate?  Opportunities for the re-creation of priority habitat wood pastures and restoration of parkland by ‘wild’ regeneration of trees and shrubs are extremely rare and very special. The Knepp Estate therefore provides an unparalleled chance to study the establishment of self-sown trees on 1400 ha of ancient parkland and former arable farmland where free-roaming grazing animals (deer, ponies, cattle and pigs) are the principal drivers of habitat structure.

Wood-pasture and parkland are priority habitats valued for their trees, especially veteran and ancient trees, and the plants and animals that they support.  Individual, open grown trees, some of which may be of great size and age, are key elements of the mosaic habitat. The trees have to establish in the open and grow their long lives without competition. Grazing animals are therefore fundamental to the structure of the habitat because browsing by livestock helps to control the establishment, species composition and development of trees and shrubs and, crucially, prevent too much regeneration. Without sufficient grazing of the right type, too many trees may regenerate resulting in closed canopy woodland. This project will give us invaluable knowledge and insight into the natural processes involved in such a dynamic mosaic habitat.

Ancient Forests, wood pastures and parkland are often characterised by open crowned, ancient trees that are highly light demanding – oak, pine, hawthorn and other blossom bearing trees and shrubs. The Knepp project will provide essential information on how much browsing by surrogate wild animals and domesticated stock is required to keep landscapes sufficiently open and allow the regeneration and persistence of a sustainable continuity of light demanding trees plus their associated habitats.

Knepp’s ancient parkland is important for its free standing special trees in its own right. There are sufficient ancient, veteran and large girth (>4.71m girth) trees to identify it as being within the top 205 sites (High and High Medium only) in the UK according to Ancient Tree Hunt data analysis, August 2011, based on the JNCC veteran tree site assessment protocol. 

Some of the trees are host to species of fungi that demonstrate long continuity of habitat on this site eg Podoscypha multizonata, Phellinus robustus, Ganoderma resinaceum. These fungi are associated with the ancient oaks in particular and hence understanding how to manage the landscape for the regeneration and continuity of open grown oaks and habitat associated with old trees in the future is a major priority in its own right.

Jill Butler Jan 2012

Mrs Alison Field FC Regional Director for South East 
Alison Field is the Forestry Commission's Area Director in southeast England (from Jan 2012).  She is a forester with some 30 years experience working largely in Southern England both in private woodlands and across the public forest estate.  The next decade is likely to see us facing huge change as we grasp the carbon agenda, move to more integrated landuse systems (farmers more engaged in woodland management for fuel/on-farm timber for local use/fencing), move away from high input agricultural production and seek land use that safeguards water quality and other ecosystem services.  Being involved in the Knepp project challenges one's conventional thinking and it is very encouraging to see that woodlands and trees are increasingly being seen as part of future solutions.
Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? The Knepp Wildland project is a vital example of much needed effort to secure alternatives to intensive agriculture.  As has been found in executing the Knepp project these alternatives need to be measured against their ability to generate a balance of both economically viable output for the landowner and environmentally acceptable  gains for society.  An innovative project on the scale of Knepp is bound to test the conventions of current thinking around landuse and therefore will be regularly questioned.  What is particularly commendable about the Knepp project is the outstanding courage and commitment shown by the estate in testing new ways of working, whilst at the same time investing in detailed monitoring and widespread exposure to the views and advice of numerous experts and critics.  Only by pursuing an innovative project of this nature in an iterative and inclusive manner can one ensure that the project continually evolves and takes advantage of the latest science and thinking on how to optimise future landuse for future need.

Alison Field, Nov 2011

Dr Rob Fuller  Science Director at the British Trust for Ornithology
Rob Fuller is Science Director at the British Trust for Ornithology where he leads research on land management issues affecting biodiversity.  In the coming decades we face many challenges about the best ways to manage our land.  How can we balance the needs of climate change adaptation, food production, energy generation, biodiversity and the maintenance of critical ecosystem services?  Integrated approaches to land management will be needed and this will require exploring diverse and novel approaches. 

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? The Knepp project is unique and visionary.  By de-intensifying farmland and introducing a non-intensive meat production regime, conditions are being created at Knepp that are very rarely encountered in the British countryside.  The large extent and long-term nature of the project offer exceptional opportunities to understand how low intensity systems can bring future environmental benefits.   It is essential that we learn as much as possible from Knepp about how ecosystem services can be enhanced and biodiversity enriched through working more closely with natural processes.  The potential gains to society of reducing the intensity of farming systems are so large that agri-environment support is entirely justified.   What we learn from the Knepp project can make an important contribution to future policy development at both national and international scales.

Rob Fuller    January 2012

Mr Paul Goriup Fieldfare International Ecological Development plc

Paul Goriup is Managing Director of Fieldfare International Ecological Development plc, one of Britain’s first pro-biodiversity businesses. It uses capital from social investors to invest in ecologically sustainable enterprises in Eastern Europe, especially in the Lower Danube Region. Paul also has over 20 years experience of managing large donor-funded multi-disciplinary environmental protection projects in Central and Eastern Europe.

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? Paul supports the Knepp project because it provides an outstanding British example of how land management is developing across Europe as a more sophisticated integrated approach is adopted to deliver high quality food, maintain ecosystem services, reduce carbon emissions from agriculture, and generally increase human health and welfare. The research and results from Knepp will not only inform needed changes in the Common Agricultural Policy, but also in the evolving fields of the Green Economy and Green Infrastructures as well as contributing to the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020.

Paul Goriup, Nov 2011

Mr Ted Green Ancient Tree Forum

Ted Green is the founding member of the ancient tree forum and works ceaselessly for the protection and greater awareness of our ancient trees. From 1988 to 2003 Ted was the English Nature Conservation Consultant to the Crown estate at Windsor. He continues as Conservation Consultant to this day and has been awarded an MBE for his services to ancient trees and conservation. He has been involved with the Knepp project since its inception when Charlie Burrell and Frans Vera stood in the polders at Oostvaardersplassen. To quote Ted “Knepp is an Open University where learning and science are not standing still”. 

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? Down the centuries across Europe in various climatic regions there are good examples of man abandoning primarily marginal land.

In many cases the history and culture is well documented and reasons for the agricultural abandonment well understood.  Usually with the cessation of farming, man's influence with his plough and grazing animals playing no further part and ‘the land left to nature’.  That is re-Wilding.

Therefore at Knepp on its marginal land the re-Wilding project is in many ways unique, especially introducing grazing and browsing animals as an analogue of their wild relatives to benefit wildlife and provide a sustainable income as the project develops. The project could be seen as an insight into farming marginal land with minimal oil usage, especially in regions with low-grade soils which require high inputs of oil-based chemicals such as fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, costs of which are continuing their inevitable rise.

Therefore Knepp can be an example to policy makers, landowners and other farmers into low input farming with the subsequent benefits to wildlife, low carbon input and virtually no pollution of aquifers and watercourses, even in the present day.

Monitoring the change in wildlife especially the effects of grazing browsing on the vegetation and the subsequent responses of wildlife are showing some interesting outcomes. Breeding skylark and lapwing numbers continue to increase, little owl, barn owl and kestrel all accepted as being dependent on small mammals and some invertebrates such as dung beetles appear to succeed in rearing young even in poor mammal years.

Several species of summer and winter migrants including warblers, Nightingale's and turtle doves are increasing with the increasing height and expanding width of the several kilometers of unmanaged hedgerows. Equally, during the winter months these uncut hedgerows also provide far larger amounts of seed and berries especially for the migrant thrushes. In winter the rough mosaic and scrub vegetation in the fields are also proving to be very interesting with at least 15 stonechats in residence and up to a hundred snipe and several woodcock roosting and feeding in the wetter patches.

Whilst Knepps’ Veteran and Ancient oaks scattered across the park and in hedgerows are indicators of post-management they have also remained very important reservoirs of biodiversity. Due to their considerable age they have provided an exceptional biological continuity above and below ground unparalleled outside the UK in northern Europe. The fungus Podocypha zonata the ’Zoned rosette’ a BAP habitat priority species is associated with two old oaks. The Red data book (RDB) fungus bracket Phellinus robustus has been found on two older oaks which means Knepp is the third most important site outside Windsor Great Park and the New Forest in the UK. Yet another RDB bracket fungus just as rare (only seven records for the UK) is Phellinus populicola present on five trees of Populus cyanescens, making Knepp the most important site for the species in the UK.

One has to remark on the significance that would be placed on these three extreme rarities in the natural world if they were flowers, birds or other mammals.

‘Science does not stand still’ and obviously our knowledge of the natural and farming world are included.  But science will always require examples and models to experiment and test theories on these marginal lands for the future.  The project holds a unique position in giving politicians and scientists an insight into a vast array of situations and conditions that might present themselves sometime in the future.

Ted Green, Jan 2012

Mrs Theresa Greenaway Retired Survey & Research Officer Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre

Theresa Greenaway: I have been involved with the Knepp Wildland Project since 2004, formerly as Survey and Research Officer, Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, and since retirement as an independent consultant. It has been immensely rewarding to watch the gradual changes away from an intensively farmed management strategy towards meat production in a richer and more sustainable environment. I am pleased that by co-ordinating the first years of the surveillance and monitoring effort I have been able to contribute to this outstanding and multi-disciplinary project that I hope will continue well into the future.

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? The re-wilding project underway at Knepp is an unprecedented opportunity to explore and evaluate the benefits of the strategy of non-intensive meat-production for wildlife and ecosystem services on a considerable area of land. Situated as this land is in southern England, it is also an opportunity to engage neighbouring landowners and the wider public in an appreciation of the importance of ecosystem services, of which a healthy and diverse flora and fauna is an important component. Large-scale, less intensively managed schemes such as this Wildland Project are relatively slow to reveal many of the benefits – indeed, some of the disadvantages may be the most apparent in the short term, but this does not mean that the Wildland project is failing.

Although the concept of ‘ecosystem services’ may at present seem irrelevant to many people, it is vitally important that our dependence on such services is recognised and understood. The Knepp project has the potential to make a major contribution to this understanding, by providing a real-life model that, properly interpreted and presented, can be accessible to everyone. Our human dependence, ultimately, on the maintenance of the environment into which we evolved is so great that NE support for the Knepp project through agri-environment funding schemes is more than justified.

Theresa Greenaway, Nov 2011

Mr Neil Hulme Chair of Butterfly Conservation in Sussex

Neil Hulme is the outgoing Chair of Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch, a charity dedicated to ‘saving butterflies, moths and our environment’. He will continue to assist BC as Conservation Advisor, working closely with organisations such as the South Downs National Park Authority, landowners across West Sussex and even individuals wishing to attract more butterflies into their back garden. While growing up in the area he spent much time on the river at Knepp, watching nesting kingfishers and landing sea trout to 8lbs 12oz.

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? Throughout history we have periodically made fundamental changes to the way we manage agricultural land and during the later half of the last century we learnt that intensive farming, with the sole aim of achieving high yields, comes at too high a price to the natural environment and ultimately our own wellbeing. We are only now attempting to quantify the value of the diverse benefits provided by a healthy environment (Ecosystem Services) beyond food production alone. The use of agri-environmental schemes to encourage farmers to employ features such as set-aside, conservation headlands, grass buffer strips, beetle banks and to more sensitively manage hedgerows and ditches has brought tangible and measurable benefits to wildlife. However, if we are to have any chance of more fully restoring ecosystems across the landscape, and better connecting those areas which are still rich in wildlife, we need to act on a much larger scale in the future. We must endeavour to achieve a better balance between the production of food and other Ecosystem Services including carbon sequestration, the provision of clean water and elements of biodiversity ranging from pollination to our spiritual connection with nature.

The Knepp Wildland Project provides a unique opportunity to investigate, on a sufficiently large scale, the effects of de-intensification, by encouraging natural processes to reshape a previously highly managed area; central to this is the use of free-roaming herds of large grazing and browsing herbivores. By design the project lacks strictly defined targets and as such it errs from the norm. However, it is only by venturing to observe and monitor these processes that we will be able to assess the potential benefits of a step change in the way we might manage the land in future. This project provides an important test bed for such an innovative and adventurous approach and must surely be seen as worthy of support through agri-environmental and/or other grant schemes.

Neil Hulme, Nov 2011

Mr Hans Kampf Executive Director Large Herbivore Foundation 

Hans Kampf: It was in 1992 that Ted Green asked me to meet Charlie and his cousin Julian Smith to introduce them to the policy on large scaled nature development, ecological networks and the Oostvaardersplassen, with the free roaming cattle, horses and red deer. Not long after that dinner meeting at Lunenburg Castle in the Netherlands I was invited with a few other Dutch friends to meet Charlie at Knepp castle. We directly had a click about our thoughts on natural processes versus small scaled habitat management. One of the topics of our discussion was: why is the river Adur so regulated, what a challenge to make this “ditch” much more natural, using the ecological potentials of the river. But also: what role can the large animals, such as horses, cattle, pigs and deer play in the management of this Windsor like estate, where the century old trees are the determining landscape factors? While under the current intensive agriculture huge oaks could die within a few years. What can we learn from these processes in this landscape, how can these experiences be used in other areas and how could the relation between private landowners and self-sustaining nature be?

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? Not only national, but also internationally it is unique that a private landowner on this scale (circa 1400 ha) voluntary changes the management of his estate from very intensive agriculture to a zero input land-use to produce high quality of meat and high quality “biodiversity”. This goes beyond the private interest and private responsibility. Therefore it is a sound decision and worthwhile to support such private owners with public money to keep this way of management possible, also in the long term.

It is not only the production of meat, it is much more. We can learn from the natural processes and use these experiences for new ways of nature management in future in the UK and it is an example for landowners in other countries in Europe too. Nature management without the use of machines and the use of fossil fuels. And, public can enjoy nature in a vast area almost without internal fences, where they can freely roam around, between the animals: cattle, horses, pigs and many deer, both fallow and roe, together with the foxes, the birds, the raven, the beautiful trees (no longer harmed by ploughing of the fields) and all the other beauties of nature and landscape.

Hans Kampf, Nov 2011

Mr Jason Lavender Co-Director, High Weald AONB Unit & Trustee of the Bellhurst Trust

Jason Lavender: I have been involved with the Wildland Project at Knepp Estate for ten years and my interest in this particular project is twofold.  Firstly I have a professional interest in rural land-use as a consequence of my role at the High Weald AONB Unit and secondly, as a Trustee of the Bellhurst Trust, which owns approximately 1,500 acres in Kent and Sussex, I am particularly keen to learn more about the practicalities associated with an alternative form of land management should we wish to imitate Knepp Estate’s pioneering and visionary work and introduce some or all of their philosophy to our own land.

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? The High Weald AONB Unit is a small multidisciplinary team charged with increasing the understanding of the High Weald landscape’s special qualities and providing information and advice on action and policy to conserve and manage it. We are, among other things, particularly interested in exploring how exactly the landscapes of the UK can contribute to society, given that landscapes play a vital role in all our lives – they are quite literally our ‘life-support’ systems - and are expected to fulfil many functions at the same time.  Responsibly used landscapes provide us with a range of services – provisioning services such as food, fuel and pollination; regulating services such as flood control and soil conservation; and cultural services – inspiration, recreation and wonderful scenery. Moreover, landscapes are likely to be of unprecedented importance mitigating climate change and supporting the transition to a secure low carbon economy. 

The idea that a landscapes is well placed to contribute to many aspects of life allow us to draw some important conclusions of direct relevance to the management of the countryside today and into the future and the urgent challenge now is to ensure that rural land can once again provide multiple services within environmental limits.  And although it seems likely that agriculture in various forms is likely to remain the dominant land-use in the UK, it cannot be the only use of land.  Re-wilding, along with more conventional forms of land management, may offer an alternative range of measures that not only allow and support landowners and farmers to make a living growing food but also to provide a wider range of services, many of which are highly valued by society; services such as landscape conservation and enhancement, renewable energy, bio-diversity, water quality, water availability, soil conservation, carbon storage, air quality, and resilience to flooding. 

The vision at the heart of the innovative and large-scale Knepp Wildland Project is of great interest to us as it aims to explore and articulate an alternative form of land-use.  And although the work at Knepp Estate is of obvious intrinsic interest in its own right, Natural England’s on-going commitment to this project ensures that, as a society, we are better placed to understand and debate whether re-wilding as a form of land-use can play an important role as part of an integrated but varied land-use policy and also allows us to judge the effects this project and approach will have on both bio-diversity and the provision of ecosystem services. 

Jason Lavender, Nov 2011

Dr Pascale Nicolet Senior Freshwater Ecologist National Coordinator of the Million Ponds Project

Pascale Nicolet is Senior Freshwater Ecologist at Pond Conservation, the national charity dedicated to the protection of life in freshwaters. Pascale has worked with Pond Conservation for the last 15 years both researching freshwater habitats and ensuring that new knowledge is used to make a difference on the ground. She currently coordinates the Million Ponds Project, a long-term national initiative to create networks of clean water ponds for freshwater wildlife.

Pond Conservation see The Wildland Project as a visionary project that provides a unique opportunity to gather much needed information on the consequences of landuse changes, and in particular de-intensification, on aquatic biodiversity. The potential to restore the freshwater landscape to its pre-industrial state by creating clean water ponds is particularly exciting. 

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wild Land) project at Knepp Estate? The Wildland project meets the aims of the agri-environment schemes by protecting natural resources and providing a demonstration site where other landowners and the public can learn and be inspired by alternative ways to manage land. In addition, the project provides a near-unique opportunity to assess the impact of de-intensification on food production, the local economy, biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services. The Wildland project is large scale and has a long timeframe, a very rare quality for conservation projects. This makes this project particularly useful to assess the response of ecosystem to environmental change – an area which is poorly understood. The Knepp Estate’s commitment to the Wildland project provides a sound base to deliver the project’s objectives in the long-term.

Pascale Nicolet, Nov 2011

Mr Jason Emrich Knepp Estate Land Agent

Jason Emrich represents Savills, a leading land management consultancy, who are engaged as the Knepp Estate's land agents.  Jason manages the estate; assisting with the long term planning and day to day running of the business, employees, natural & built heritage.  Jason has been on the Advisory Group managing the fiscal and regulatory aspects of the project; Jason also lives and works on the estate and is totally committed to the environmental aspirations of the owner.

The Wildland Project offers a unique alternative to conventional food production and land use in the lowlands that provokes fascinating debate on the intertwined interests of food security, climate change, ecological stewardship and animal husbandry.  The project produces ethically raised meat alongside a habitat that is without doubt delivering high environmental outputs and sequestering large amounts of carbon.

Mr Maarten Boers Livestock Partnership Veterinary Practice

Maarten Boers: I really enjoy being involved with the project. I find it very interesting to see how quickly the animals have adapted to the situation they were in pre domestication. I see it as my duty to closely monitor the health of the cattle and to advice Knepp Estate on ways how to improve the animals health and well being and how to optimize beef production while not compromising the principles of the rewilding project. We experience very few health issues in the animals and the issues that we do see are often very different to those seen in conventional farming which makes it very fascinating to deal with.

Joep van de Vlasakker Director/owner of Flaxfield Nature Consultancy (FNC),

Joep van de Vlasakker FNC is an international and independent consultancy in nature management, nature restoration (re-wilding), protected area development and management, sustainable and community based nature conservation and ecology.

Flaxfield is specialized in practical field conservation, integrating species conservation into habitat and ecosystem conservation and has a long time experience in large carnivore and large herbivore conservation. Assignments, from various customers, have brought Flaxlield throughout the Northern hemisphere (Eurasia and North America). It has given Flaxfield the opportunity to work in different habitats and ecosystems and working with people from different cultures.  

Flaxfield promotes the conservation and restoration of large-scale, connected wilderness areas, the return of the natural role of large herbivores (like bison and Przewalski horses) and large carnivores (like wolves and lynxes) in close harmony with, and benefiting, local communities.

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate? For several years Joep has consulted Charlie Burrell and his team at Knepp castle, as member of the advisory council. Joep believes the Knepp castle re-wilding project is a great innovative project for a new way to manage estates in a sustainable, environmental friendly way and guarding and developing its biodiversity values. Knepp could be an example for other landowners both in the UK and abroad. Joep sees his task in the advisory council to keep the project focused on the right re-wilding track, and not give in directly to compromises; focus on opportunities and not just on obstacles and help overcome the idea that full re-wilding is therefore not possible in the UK. Joep has a long time experience with large herbivores and their ecological role. He also sees it as his role to advice on a grazing management that resembles as much as possible a natural grazing process typical of this region and climate zone.

The project has already shown that through re-wilding an attractive landscape with high biodiversity can be developed. The management of the Knepp estate should be focused on guiding ecological processes like natural river dynamics, natural grazing, natural succession etc. and not fight against nature by setting fixed management targets but go with/follow nature and be surprised by what nature offers. However under the limited circumstances at Knepp castle (limited scale, full full natural grazing is not possible (migration, missing species, no predation etc.) therefore re-wilding at Knepp castle does not mean “doing nothing”, it means guiding the natural processes in a way that they function and create sufficient variation in niches, habitats and succession stages flexible over time and place to not loose biodiversity but increase biodiversity. Good monitoring the results of these natural processes is therefore essential so Knepp can truly function as a pilot project for other potential re-wiling projects in the UK.

January 2012

Prof Paul Buckland Environmental Archaeology academic

Paul Buckland has taught variously in the universities of Birmingham , Sheffield , Bournemouth and Bristol before becoming an independent consultant, working largely with fossil insect remains from archaeological sites. His interests in Knepp stem largely from work for Natural England on the nature of postglacial woodland and its fossil record. In addition the need for comparative assemblages from modern landscapes led to an extensive pitfall trapping exercise (by CB in 2005), the material from which he is still working on…..  With Dr Phil Buckland (Umea University, Sweden), he is co-author of the database BugsCEP, which provides habitat and distribution data on much of the north European Coleopterous fauna, as well as the Quaternary fossil insect record. This is intended to provide tools in conservation as well as palaeontology.

Why has Natural England committed money through agri-environmental schemes to support the rewilding (Wildland) project at Knepp estate?  From the rather narrow research-orientated entomological viewpoint, the ‘re-wilding’ of the Knepp landscape offers opportunities to examine the re-immigration of species into a previously wholly arable landscape in which the fauna of unimproved grassland had been progressively restricted to field edges, corners and riverine localities judged too wet to drain, plough and fertilise effectively. At Knepp these refuges had been few and far between and the re-establishment of an old grassland fauna is likely to be a slow process requiring detailed monitoring. Sampling of the insect fauna in 2005 by pitfalling a year after reseeding with a wild flower and native grass mix shows that the beetle assemblage remained an essentially arable one and that some of the more interesting grassland species remained restricted to the less disturbed areas; a repeat of this study after several more years may produce a more widespread and diverse assemblage.  

Whilst the bulk of extinctions noted in the Holocene fossil record of the British beetle fauna concerns wood and parkland taxa (see www.bugscep.com), there have been significant declines in the grassland biota, particularly those species associated with animal dung, a decline which has been exacerbated by the widespread use of helminthicides in cattle, sheep and horses. Beyond this susceptibility to veterinary medicines, the distribution of much of the dung fauna is controlled by the microclimate of the place of deposition rather than the herbivore of origin and a return to a more varied landscape ranging from wood pasture to wet floodplain grazing may provide much expanded habitats for species, which in England may be hanging on by the tips of their tarsi. This clearly has important implications for the maintenance and expansion of biodiversity and Knepp remains an island, albeit a relatively large one, in a sea of heavily fertilised and ploughed and reseeded or cropped land.

One other habitat which is virtually lacking in lowland England is the natural course of rivers, with their associated intermittently inundated floodplains. Again recourse to the fossil record shows that prior to extensive forest clearance and ploughing up of grasslands, by way of example, the riffle beetle (Elminthidae) faunas, were once more diverse and widespread. Returning the Adur to something like its former condition offers similar opportunities for a return to greater biodiversity.

Paul Buckland Nov 2011