knepp wildland project

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


If you would like to read the Annual Newsletter on the Wildland please click on the following link for  2011 (2.27MB) or  2010 (5.56MB)

tamworth pigs are in the system to disturb the grass swards - allowing annual and biannual plants to colonize bare ground as well as providing habitat for certain insect species

the longhorn cattle use the sallow as a scratching posts - they browse the sallow tips in the spring and winter

Exmoor pony is a direct descendant of the European prehistoric horse and is at the very basis of all the European  horses - Research on bones, measurements of skeletons, comparison of jaw and teeth (Steed et al), blood type research (Steed et al), ancient mitochondrial DNA (Jansen et al, 2002, *, 1998, Professor Gothran, 2010 (personal correspondence, 2010)), history of color from DNA research (Ludwig et al, 2009), comparison with complete frozen prehistoric horses, historical sources and archaeological sources all point to the above assertion.

browsing and tree damage are all part of the natural system

1000 of Oaks are appearing in the grass swards in the northern block

the creation of woodland glades by the animals has started - a couple of years ago this pig would have been hidden by a meter and a half high vegetation

ant hills and wildflowers are just a small part of the changes that we are seeing

If you would like to read a short article on the creation of a new park click on New Park below

Text Box: article on a creation 
of a Park

Knepp Wildland Project

Year 10 for the re-wilding project

A paper published for a Ted Green Lecture at Sheffield Hallam 2011 


Written by Theresa Greenaway November 2011.

See a YouTube video on the Camargue Horses Also a YouTube video on Tree Hay by Ted Green


Welcome to the Knepp Castle Estate Wildland Project.

Our re-wilding project uses large herbivores to drive habitat changes across the Estate. The various herbivores cows, deer, horses and pigs - affect the vegetation in different ways helping to create a mosaic of habitats including open grassland, regenerating scrub, bare ground and forested groves. The Longhorn cattle create paths through scrub, spread seeds and create a distinct browse line, while the Tamworth pigs rootle up the ground looking for food. Exmoor ponies and deer also browse the sallow and other tree species, particularly the young saplings and seedlings, and strip bark, especially when food is scarce in winter.
Stocking rates are critical as the animals live outside all year round without supplimentary feeding - too many animals will revert the area to open plain; and too few will result in dense woodland.

Did You Know? Although the use of grazing animals as conservation management tools is seen elsewhere in the UK it is less common for a mixture of animals to be used in this way. Here, cows, deer, ponies and pigs all roam freely with minimal intervention, free from the constraints and disturbance of intensive livestock production.

Why are we doing this? Unlike other parts of the country with soils more suited to the vital role of food production, the land at Knepp, with its heavy clay and small fields, is not ideal for intensive agriculture. This underlying issue, coupled with a desire to respond to the urgent need for nature conservation in Britain and to engage with Government initiatives encouraging landscape restoration, were the catalysts for the project.

Numbers of native species of flora and fauna, especially farmland birds, have plummeted over the past decades - it is thought largely due to intensive farming practices and loss of natural habitat. Our insect populations are also in crisis – and the loss of pollinators in particular, we’re beginning to realise, may have a wider effect on the fertility of all sorts of crops nationwide.

‘Rewilding’ is a low-carbon way of returning former arable land to a state of natural productivity with obvious benefits to wildlife, the soil, local water supplies, and, not least, human enjoyment. Scientists are now evaluating the natural environment not only for its direct economic benefits but also in terms of its effect on human psychological and physical well-being. This is known as ‘Ecosystem Services’.

The Knepp Rewilding Project is, largely, an open-ended experiment exploring the processes of farmland reversion and natural regeneration. We are still producing food but in a more extensive way, without dependence on oil - rather like ranching. The grazing animals that act as the ‘movers’ of regeneration provide us with a source of premium, slow-grown, organic, free-ranging, wild-foraging meat – something that is much in demand amongst both food connoisseurs and ethical consumers.

Another consideration for us is ‘connectivity’. Nationwide, and across Europe too, ecologists are concerned about the isolation of habitats. In order to protect biodiversity and numbers, species need to be able to move from one area to another if they are going to be able to respond to adverse factors such as pollution and climate change. At 1,000 hectares the Knepp Project is of a scale that can give small ‘hot spots’ of biodiversity the chance to move out and colonise other areas, building up populations overall. Monitoring will prove if our project is successful in this respect and if so, Knepp may provide a model for the rewilding of other areas of marginal land in Britain, linking up diversity hotspots with larger areas and creating what ecologists call a ‘Living Landscape’.

Another key aspect of the project is carbon sequestration. Recent scientific studies point to the vitally important role permanent grassland and vegetation plays in capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere.



The rationale of the Knepp Wildland Project is to restore most of our 3,500 acres of land to the state it enjoyed before intensive agriculture took its toll, and to allow the grazing animals to drive habitat changes by letting them roam as freely as possible with minimal human intervention. 

Our aims are:

·       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 advise our other Knepp Castle Estate projects such as Field sports, recreation and forestry, so that any adverse impacts on wildlife are avoided or kept to a minimum.

The Knepp Wildland project, although still in its infancy, has attracted considerable interest from scientists, wildlife experts, journalists [see "what the press say"] and members of the public. It is an exciting project, and one that we feel will inspire an interest in nature to present generations, particularly in our local area, that have had less contact with the natural environment than our forebears.  Its potential to explore the ways by which British farmland can be returned to a natural or ‘wild’ state for the benefit of flora and fauna. [read "Creating Naturalistic Grazing in Lowland England" a Research Note by Kernon Countryside Consultants and Land Use Consultants] this makes the project important from a national and scientific point of view. A steering group has been set up to provide guidance on a number of issues [see web page steering group]  

The first stage

To begin with, we started the ‘re-wilding’ of Knepp by ceasing to put fertilisers or chemicals on the land and also we ceased ploughing and intensive grazing by sheep and cattle. This stimulated the revival of many species of grass and wildflowers from the seedbank that had lain dormant in the soil for decades. 

Of course we could not put all our plans into practice at once.  We began this project in 2001, in the immediate parkland area around the castle [Historic Park Restoration]. As well as allowing seeds already in the seedbank to flourish, we re-seeded some areas with a grass and wildflower mix. In just six years, the grassland is now teeming with insect life – beetles, flies, grasshoppers, spiders, butterflies and moths - which has provided food for many kinds of birds, including house martins, green woodpeckers and little owls. We have seen the return of, for example, the common blue butterfly – sadly no longer common in Britain despite its name. The increased numbers of voles and field mice has meant that there is plenty of food for predators such as barn owls [see the excellent 2007 results on barn owls].  We have also seen the return of sparrow hawks, kestrels, hobbies and have recently had sightings of a red kite – the first in the area for decades [see the survey work].

Planned Progress

Much of the rest of the land outside the historic park has been taken out of intensive farming in stages. To date, we have about 3000 acres in the wildland project area in three enclosures, two of which will be connected by culverts which feed the river Adur under Tenchford bridge.  For details of this, please read (Knepp Feasibility Assessment (this is a PDF file 2670 KB). It is our hope that by 2010, the project area will cover some 3600 acres (including some neighbours). Over this land, large herbivores will roam as freely as possible.

Grazing animals

Large grazing animals of many kinds occur naturally in most parts of the world. Britain before humans made their presence felt was no exception. Of course we cannot turn back the clock to that remote time, but we can at least to some extent restore a more natural balance by the introduction of low numbers of traditional grazing animals [Grazing Animals].  These deer, ponies, cattle and pigs are vital to our aim of healing the ecosystem.  In the absence of old predators such as bear, lynx and wolves, we must inevitably take up this role of controlling the population of grazing herds so that there is no overgrazing or excessive encroachment into sensitive areas – and also, of course, to give us a sustainable yield of quality meat [see Home Produce].


Water has always been an important feature of the Sussex Weald and the Knepp Mill pond attracts large numbers of resident and migrating birds, as well as being home to one of Britain’s largest heronries.  But many of our natural ponds and wetlands have, in the past, been sacrificed for farming.  We are restoring our old ponds and water meadows and plan to allow the River Adur [River Adur Restoration Project] – which was canalised in the eighteenth century – to return to its natural meander, thereby allowing the return of seasonal flooding.  This will encourage a greater variety of aquatic and marshland plants, insect life and amphibians and, of course, wading birds.  Already we have noticed snipe expanding their territory to restored water-lags – perhaps one day we will even see the return of the bittern to Knepp.

Recording the changes

The value of any contribution this project will make to our knowledge of landscape ecology / other will depend greatly on the careful monitoring of the changes that take place as a result of re-wilding previously arable land. One of the most important aspects of the Knepp Wildland Project was the baseline survey of flora and fauna. This was commissioned by English Nature and Knepp Estate in order to map the vegetation and gather data on key species at the start of the project.  It will provide a reference point from which to gauge changes in population and distribution so that we can trace the effects of our management system on the environment.  We are enormously grateful to both the professionals and volunteers who are undertaking this crucial work for us [see Monitoring Strategy for Knepp Castle Estate Wildland Project].   Monitoring changes in biodiversity is a long-term commitment. A core programme of survey work has been drawn up, but research projects carried out by students and others will make a valuable contribution, as well as fulfilling the researcher’s educational or professional requirements [see weblink to Education].  

Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement - if you would like to read further and look at the higher level scheme agreement click here.

If  you are interested in this subject follow this link to further reading.

Click on the Ant to read a very good document on Ants and Ant Hills by the Royal Parks