grazing animals

present and future 


The animals that already graze on the Estate can be divided into two groups – those that occur naturally in the wider landscape – roe deer and rabbits; and those that we have introduced – Old English longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs, Fallow deer and Exmoor ponies. There is a third group of animals that we may consider introducing in the future – red deer, elk and bison. We would also like to have beavers at Knepp, although of course these herbivores are not grazers! If you would like to read more about how these animals are helping to change our land click on wildland project.

Some of these grazers, the longhorn cattle, fallow and roe deer, Tamworth pigs and possibly rabbits, will be harvested for meat. The others will simply be part of the wildland project. But all our animals thrive in as near natural an environment as our bureaucracy will allow.  Those that are destined to be marketed as ‘home produce’ are not a means to make excessive profit but to produce extensively reared, organic meat (we are currently in organic conversion - technically therefore our produce is NOT yet organic). The grazing policy is directed by a steering group consisting of a group of volunteers from a variety backgrounds - both scientific and practical. The welfare of the animals is maintained on a daily basis by the Estate.

Grazing Animals on the Knepp Estate – their background and our management policies

  1. Old English Longhorn Cattle

  2. Tamworth Pigs

  3. Fallow Deer

  4. Exmoor Ponies

  5. Roe Deer

  6. Possible future grazing animals

  7. Knepp Wildland Project

  8. What the press say

  9. Links to useful web sites

  10. Note: If  you are interested in wildland follow this link to further papers and articles.  

  11. Note: Future monitoring strategy for Knepp Castle Estate Wildland Project

The Knepp Old English Longhorn Herd  

Background - The English Longhorn is regarded as the oldest pure breed of cattle in England, originating in northwest and central England and Ireland. It has a long and fascinating history linked to that of the great livestock pioneer of the 1700s, Robert Bakewell. He took and improved the breed in the 1700s, probably crossing local cattle with Lincoln Cattle. English Longhorns have been known at various points in history as Dishley, Lancashire, Warwickshire and Leicestershire. 

The English Longhorn was widely popular until the mid 1800s when the new Shorthorn cattle rose in popularity with farmers and drovers. The breed declined rapidly for nearly 200 years, coming close to extinction in the middle years of the twentieth century, until it was rescued by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.  

The efforts of RBST in 1980 resulted in 255 registered English Longhorns. There are now over 2,500 registered pedigree females.  Now out of danger, this breed has proved have a valuable role to play in the production of quality, healthy beef from grass. 

Policy We originally stocked the Knepp Park in June 2003 with 14 cows belonging to a neighbouring farmer, Chris Cook.  The herd grew naturally and we ended up buying them from Chris and currently have about 320 cattle split into three herds.  Each year the numbers grow as new calves are born and heifers go on to join the breeding stock.  Bulls are run for three months with the herds so calving occurs in the spring.  Last year’s calves remain with their mothers whilst the new year’s calves are born, as would occur in any natural situation.

The animals are inspected daily by Pat and Andy. In the Spring we will catch up all the herds and sort out the Animals that are going to be eaten.  Generally steers will be about 25 – 30 months before they are slaughtered.

We use a local abattoir and butcher to keep our food miles to an absolute minimum, and hope ultimately to market the produce through this website [weblink to home produce].



Tamworth Pigs "ham from acorns"   

Background - Today's Tamworth is thought to be the most typical descendent from the Old English Forest pig. It has maintained this status because at the end of the 18th Century, when many native breeds were 'improved' by crossing them with Chinese and Neapolitan stock, the Tamworth was not deemed fashionable and hence left alone. It is now therefore the oldest pure English breed and, as a result, it is also sometimes crossed with wild boar to produce distinctive gamey pork.

The Tamworth maintained its popularity with people such as farmers and landowners who kept small numbers of pigs for their own use, especially for the production of hams and bacon.  Right up to the first half of the 20th Century, many cottagers kept a single pig to help feed their families. But after World War II, breeding stock numbers fell dramatically - to a point during the 1970's when there were only 17 surviving boars. Stock from Australia was imported and the work of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has helped to ensure its survival. 

The red-gold hair of the Tamworth ensures that it is one of the most easily recognisable of the traditional pig breeds. A typical Tamworth has the longest snout of the present day domestic breeds. The sows are excellent mothers, docile as well as protective. As with all traditional breeds, the Tamworth is hardy and can be kept in environments ranging from rough pasture to meadowland. Of all the native breeds it is particularly resistant to sunburn.

Policy In January 2005 we purchased two sows and their eight female piglets from a Forestry Commission grazing project.  We needed to see how much disturbance 10 pigs would make during the winter months “rootling” for food before introducing any males. We also needed to see whether the pork resulting from these totally free ranging animals, which received no supplementary feed, tasted good - the results have been stunning.

So in December 2006 we introduced a boar to the seven remaining sows.  Pigs farrow in precisely three months, three weeks and three days and in April 2007 our first piglets were born. In an agricultural scenario, these would be weaned from their mothers after a few weeks and artificially fattened and slaughtered within a few months for the pork and bacon market.  We let ours wean naturally from their mothers and slaughtered the males during the summer (before they are sexually mature which can result in tainting the meat), and the females after they fattened on the acorn mast from the thousands of oak trees in the park.  

It’s an experiment which may need fine-tuning, but we certainly hope that it will be successful, and that we will do justice to this most intelligent and charismatic animal. Needless to say our pigs will have an entirely natural diet, choosing when and where to forage, and we hope in future to share with the discerning gourmet probably the most delicious pork available anywhere [weblink to home produce].




Fallow Deer  

Background - Fallow have a fascinating history in Britain. Fossil evidence shows that they were present before the last Ice Age, became extinct during it and were subsequently reintroduced. They are therefore not considered truly native to this country. No one is certain when they were reintroduced; some have stated that it was the Phoenicians, others the Romans who were responsible. 

Written records from the Saxon period do not specifically name the Fallow but Norman records do. It can therefore be assumed that the Norman nobility was probably responsible for their reintroduction from the end of the eleventh century. Fallow deer provided a much-needed source of food as well as being decorative, and were introduced into the estates of the Norman nobility for sport and to boost the owners social standing. Deer parks had their heyday in the early Tudor period. During the reign of Henry VIII it has been estimated that a twentieth of the realm was employed in the cultivation and harvesting of deer and rabbits. 

By the Elizabethan and Stuart period these were in decline and fallow underwent a further decline in the eighteenth century with the increase in popularity of shooting sports. The number of deer parks was reduced  between the World Wars. Releases and escapees from these parks resulted in a fluctuating feral population, and many areas now have fallow deer which have developed their own local characteristics. An excellent example of this phenomenon are the Long Haired Fallow of the Mortimer Forest in Shropshire. These were discovered or documented in 1953 by Gerald Springthorpe, a Forestry Commission Ranger, and they do not occur anywhere else in the world.

Fallow deer were introduced to Knepp on completion of the ring fence in February 2002.  These were purchased from Petworth and Gunton Parks – both known for their magnificent deer.

Policy – We try to emulate the “Hoffman triangle” in our culling policy; taking a selection of all age groups as would a natural predator.  Culling is carried out by professional marksmen and the animals are then sold to a local game dealer, and occasionally retailed direct to the public, local pubs and restaurants [weblink to home produce].


Exmoor Ponies  
Background - Our last wild horse, the Tarpan, became extinct in Britain within 1,000 years of the last Ice Age. Exmoor ponies are generally considered to have descended from  feral domestic horses introduced to Britain in the early Neolithic Age, about 5,000 years ago. As the name indicates, the ponies originate from the rugged expanse of open moorland in the south west of England, Exmoor.

The Exmoor is a very hardy pony, able to survive in its often harsh habitat. It is about 12 hands in height, brown, bay or dun with black points and mealy muzzle. No white markings are accepted. Other characteristics include toad eyes, good bone, a weatherproof coat and a snow chute on the tail. These primitive features suggest very little change since the Stone Age. Sadly, the Exmoor pony is now rarer then the Giant Panda from China, and is one of the United Kingdoms "rare breeds".

Policy - We originally acquired 6 fillies from the annual Exmoor sales in November 2003. As with all the animals our knowledge grew after we got to know them a bit. Heeding warnings of potential laminitis due to unrestricted grazing, we were advised to introduce some sexual tension into the herd – this came in the form of a colt in the summer of 2005, and our first foals were born in the autumn of 2006.

Our long-term policy is yet still undecided.  Exmoor ponies are wonderful creatures but without a role in the food chain their long-term use is limited, and the regulations on keeping horses make it difficult to run a wild herd.  Hopefully we can fulfill a market by selling surplus ponies to other conservation projects in the short term.  


Roe Deer  

Background - Roe deer are one of only two deer species that can be considered native to the British Isles, the other being the red deer. Remains identified as roe have been found dating back to the Cromerian Interglacial period, about 500,000 years ago, along with other species some of which are now extinct in Britain. Although disappearing when the land was covered with ice, roe deer have been continuously resident on the British mainland since the Mesolithic period.  Since then the native roe population has undergone dramatic fluctuations in numbers and distribution, but aided by post-war afforestation, they can now be found across most of England and Scotland and are spreading into Wales. 

Policy – Roe deer occur naturally on the Estate and in the past we traditionally culled roe deer as part of our woodland management.  In 2000 we decided that we wanted to see more of these lovely animals around the Estate, since then only a couple have been shot and numbers have increased steadily as we hoped.  Now you can see them on most excursions out and about on the Estate.

One day when we achieve our food branding goals we will no doubt include a natural harvest of this exquisite meat – but that’s still a few years away.



Possible future grazing animals  

Red Deer The red deer is one of the largest species of deer in the world. It inhabits most of Europe, the Caucasus Mountains region and Asia Minor west of the Caspian Sea. It also occurs in the Atlas Mountains between Algeria and Tunisia, being the only species of deer native to Africa. Red Deer have been introduced to other parts of the world, and the meat from Red Deer is widely used as a food.

Policy – We would very much like to see red deer at Knepp. They are magnificent animals that would be happy in our woodlands and grasslands. However, we do have to ensure that our wildland will be large enough to support another large herbivore in the winter months, and that there will be no conflict with other Knepp activities. Red deer venison would however be a good contribution to our home produce.




European Bison  

The European bison is the largest European mammal. According to some, it is native to southern England, but others maintain that there is no convincing evidence that they returned to Britain after the last Ice Age. In any case, the bison present in the early stages of the last Ice Age was not the same species as the bison native to mainland Europe today. To introduce bison to Knepp could therefore be questionable on ecological grounds. However, there are arguments both for and against their introduction.

The main argument for the introduction of bison would be educational -  informing on the role of the bison in the natural European ecosystem and to strengthen the function of the Knepp wildland project as pioneer for a new more natural approach to nature conservation in the UK. The bison could thus be an important flagship species for the project, but only if future research establishes its claim to being truly native. A small breeding group (1 bull and a few females) could be attractive to the public, in turn helping to generate revenue.

But bison would be the least manageable large herbivore species in the wildland project, and before deciding whether this species would fit in with the overall management of the Estate, the possible drawbacks of introducing such an animal would have to be evaluated carefully. Due to its size and wild character it is an animal that is not easily handled, unlike Exmoor ponies or cattle. Bison would probably require additional infrastructure; catching and handling animals and financing any transport required. In addition, bison are essentially animals of deciduous forest, rather than the more open parkland that is likely to characterise Knepp at the current level of grazing proposed.

Although bison are generally shy of humans, the general public and other users of the Estate will have to be made aware that solitary bulls that do not flee and cows with new-borns should not be approached, although this is also the case with domestic cattle.  Generally bison cows about to give birth (like cattle), will separate from the herd to find a quiet place to give birth and hide the new born calves.  To avoid potential conflicts visitor access should be limited to designated footpaths, and this may not be acceptable to those used to our English system of Public Footpaths and rights of way. Although bison can be kept in large enclosures that are open to visitors on the continent (e.g. Eriksberg, Sweden and Lake Pape Nature Park, Latvia), these large enclosures are not directly comparable to the Knepp Estate with its size restriction and the requirements of all the other activities that flourish here.

Before envisaging the role that bison might play in reserves across the UK, the ground for considering this as a native species should be further clarified. There are few realistic conceptual grounds for re-introducing all those species known to be present in Britain before the last Ice Age. In addition, huge areas of land will be needed if such proposed ‘re-introductions’ were to create little more than large zoos.






Other missing key species  

The Elk The elk, known as the moose in North America, has a greater claim to being considered native to Britain than the bison, occurring after the last Ice Age right into the Iron Age. It is the largest member of the deer family Cervidae, distinguished from the others by the palmate antlers of its males. Elk like wet grassland, and as well as aquatic vegetation also browse on the leaves, shoots and bark of trees and shrubs. After the restoration of the River Adur (web link), it could be argued that the elk would fill an ecological niche on the rewilded floodplain




Moose Gustav in "Grönåsens Älgpark" Kosta, Sweden © C.Schultz

Other missing key species  


Beaver - Some thoughts from Joep Van da Vlasakker of the Large Herbivore Foundation

The beaver only became extinct in Britain in Mediaeval times. Though not a large herbivore, it is nevertheless a key species and the influence it has on the habitat benefits many plant and animal species. The beaver could thus play an essential role in re-wilding the estate as well as being an important tool in helping the rivers and streams to meander, thus reducing the financial investments needed to restore the natural flow of the rivers.

We shall have to await the reintroduction of the beaver in to England and then hopefully we may one day see this wonderful driver of ecology back at Knepp.