knepp wildland project
The Beginnings of a New Deer Park

"where natural processes predominate and long term financial stability is achieved outside of a conventional agricultural framework"  

As we write this (Autumn 2008), the deer are coming to the end of the rut in what has been a spectacular display of testosterone-fuelled nature – reminiscent of bygone days when knights sparred for land and lasses. 

This is the spectacle that we who live in the park have enjoyed since 2003 and which we are now rolling out across the estate with our latest 1000 acre enclosure. 

Impressive all year round are the cattle, with their extraordinarily haphazard horns, they appear timeless and befit the wild landscape that they are helping to shape.  As do the pigs – loved for their independence and reminiscent of “Babe”, but hated by those who like tidy lawns! 

Meanwhile the Exmoor ponies – now 20 strong & starting to actually resemble a herd, are rarer than the giant panda – they exude character and look magical in this Narnia-like landscape that we are recreating. 

So what’s news?  

With a new use for the land between Countryman Lane and Dial post, many will be pleased to see our farmland back in production, although perhaps perplexed by what seems to be managed neglect.  This project is all about biodiversity and ensuring that isolated habitats can connect and thrive.  Calling it an experiment sounds like it has the potential to fail – but it cannot fail to completely transform and enhance opportunities for nature on this land, when you think that it’s previous use just 4 years ago was growing cereal crops with tons of chemicals, diesel and carbon. 

We are recreating, quite literally, a 9,000-year-old landscape within modern parameters to encourage a biodiversity that was created before man started tinkering at the edges.  Animals will drive the succession from field to wood and back again, and with that succession will be the associated wildlife.  Our Sussex Wildlife Trust has been doing this for years at Ebernoe and The Mens, but this is the first attempt on such a scale in lowland Britain. 

What about me?  

We appreciate that most people are naturally more interested in themselves and their own opportunities and threats – so here are a few human enhancements:

Footpaths and public access – we have 26km of public rights of way through Knepp.  Until the day comes when there is an official Right to Roam, we shall guard our property rights BUT with this project there is a great opportunity to modernise the network and link routes and create new ones…and we are doing this in conjunction with Dial Post resident & West Sussex County Council Access Ranger Darren Rolfe.  So far we have agreed to several new routes in the Dial Post area and off Countryman Lane, but have plans to review this fully over the winter.  Rest assured there will be more legitimate routes through the estate as part of this project. 

Horse Riding – last year we created 4 miles of Trot riding routes through the estate.  Despite the phenomenal number of horse riders in the area, subscription has been poor with only 7 local riders (13 in all) joining so far.  We have had no feedback from those that continue to ride but won’t subscribe and so will be reviewing this arrangement to decide whether it would be better to convert these routes to permissive bridleways, rather than just subscription only.

Group trips & tours – Since we started this project in 2002, we have hosted over 60 group tours of the estate and that’s over a thousand people.  In the last two years the interest grew to the extent that we trained Julie Alexander in the office to lead school groups through the Countryside Educational Visits Accreditation Scheme, and we built a bespoke personnel carrier that tows behind a tractor. 

We have regular visits from Plumpton College and Southwater Junior School, but most other local schools come every other or third year as it fits in with their curriculum.  

We welcome any interest group or local organisation and aim to do at least 10 group visits a year, including two for the general public – the Horsham Food Festival and LEAF Open Farm Day.  Details and dates for next year will be posted on this site. 

Conservation Volunteers – last year Pauline Chandler of WSCC organised the planting of some floodplain woodland at Tenchford, and this year John Whiting’s River Adur Conservation Society have helped recreate localised areas of nature habitat on the floodplain, and we hope in the future that local residents might like to join in with this group and others that carry out volunteer projects on Knepp.  At present we are co-ordinating these through the parish clerks.

Field Sports – our wild game shoot is evolving and with three local gamekeepers and their team of helpers, it is wonderful to breath life into this timeless sport.  For those that would like to come beating or would be interested in buying a day’s rough shooting, please contact the estate office. 

Is it all safe? Nationally our rights of way network crosses farmers’ fields which they use for livestock production.  Our situation is no different, and there is a risk.  Every year a story is reported in the papers about someone being trampled by cattle, and it is important to behave responsibly and sensibly around livestock. 

All of the animals will avoid you – they have a natural in-built flight distance.  BUT if they are fed then they become more inquisitive and closer – it is essential that no one feeds them because of this fact – they will go to the next walker expecting grub, and might get bolshy if they don’t get it. 

To put this in some perspective, in the first park at Knepp, footpaths come right through as they have always done.  Since we introduced the animals the numbers of walkers has increased enormously.  Most walkers love to stop and admire the piglets and ponies, cattle and deer – it’s unique and special.  No one has been gored by any animals thankfully, including our families and other residents who live in and amongst them. 

But what about riders? We did get rid of a stallion who became aggressive to riders, and will respond to concerns expressed by locals if it is felt that any particular animal is aggressive. 

Interpretation, instruction & advice – we shall do our best to provide information at all footpaths as they enter the areas with livestock, so that members of the public are kept informed.

Fences – sadly this project is dependant on fences to keep the livestock in, and because deer are involved the boundary fencing ideally should be 6’ 3'' high.  But there are options to reduce the spec – we have erected just 5’ high netting in some internal areas within the knepp park and this seems to have worked, and if the topography of the land lends itself to lower fencing then we are happy to do this providing we have the option of raising it if animals don’t respect it.  There are other opportunities for electric fencing also, which we will be discussing with individuals.

Access from my back garden - for those who enjoy unhindered access out of their garden either legitimately or otherwise, in most cases we will be offering neighbours the opportunity to erect a gate in the new fence on the condition that they pay for it and enter into a licence with fee for that gate, so that it’s raison d’etre is not lost in the mist of time.  For those that just want to continue dumping garden waste on our land then I’m afraid those days are over!

Finally - what about all those scruffy weeds? (or as Charlie likes to think of them “Flowering Plants”) - For those that hate to see weeds, or just don’t want them blowing onto their land, we are putting the finishing touches to a new policy that will ensure that we manage our boundaries within the law without compromising our ecological grazing project.  This will be posted on this website soon. 

Click here for the Defra ragwort code of practice  

and 

here for information on ragwort in general

But I hate change! The land use has changed reasonably regularly for hundreds of years.  What has been fallow for the last 4 or 5 years, was growing crops before that, and 20 years ago was small stock farms with – wait for it – cattle…. Talk to any of the people that live in properties on or in the existing parks, and I can assure you they all LOVE having these wonderful animals as their neighbours – and we hope that you will too. 

There is tons more stuff on this and other projects on the estate on this website.  It’s exciting times.  Click here for further reading.

 

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