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Letter from the estate.......

April 2013

The whole country is talking about the rotten weather that we are experiencing but happily as we write this on the 11 April, the first swallows have been seen at Knepp, so despite the fact that we are well into April and the grass has just started to grow, there is at least some hope that spring is around the corner!

Staff News – We have a fairly static workforce, which on the whole has been growing steadily over the past few years.  Except for two ghastly tragedies in the last five years, normally the “staff news” section reports on the arrival of babies, so it comes with great sadness that we report on the following staff changes:

Mark Bateman who has looked after Charlie’s polo ponies for the last 14 years is calling it a day, but at least he will be staying on at the Estate.  Mark has recently had some pretty major heart surgery, albeit you wouldn’t know it as he is making a remarkable recovery.

Simon Hillery took over from his brother six years ago as gardener, and has overseen the transformation of the walled garden from a derelict state to something that we are now opening to the public. 

We wish them both our best wishes for their future roles.

Kathy Baker who also assisted in the Castle for many years has retired.  In fairness she has been trying to retire for the last decade, but we had a lovely farewell celebration with her in the Castle in March.

Adrian Weller who has managed the deer park superbly for the last decade is handing over to Daniel Readfern.  Daniel inherits the deer herds in a fabulous state with some of the best bucks recorded anywhere so there will be quite a lot of pressure on him to maintain Adrian’s good work in selecting the breeding to ensure that the reputation of our fallow deer continues.

Meanwhile, Hannah has come and gone again, having spent the winter with us she has now disappeared back to Scotland.  John and Amy have taken up her work on GIS and other wildland related projects and we hope very soon to have the Estate’s vegetation fully recorded by aerial photography and GIS mapping.

Polo Club – is it or isn’t it?  We closed the Polo Club at the end of last season only to have interest expressed by a third party to take it on again.  With great fanfare they announced in the polo press that they were revitalising the club only to withdraw their interest again last month.  However in the last few weeks Sarah Wiseman of Aspect Polo has taken on the running of a polo club and will be using the Knepp Castle Polo Club brand.  So we are pleased to say that once again a Polo Club will be functioning in the vicinity, albeit nor really based at Knepp anymore.  Meanwhile most of our polo fields have been turned back into agriculture and our polo equipment and horses have been sold so it is somewhat the end of an era.

River Project – this is now 90% complete.  The Environment Agency are due to return any day, weather permitting, to complete the stretch between Knepp Mill Cottages and the A24, but otherwise the realignment of the channel and the creation of the new bridge over the flood plain is finished and we will be having an open day (with more fanfare!) in the weeks or months ahead.  A part of this project is the creation of a new permissive footpath along our farm track from Pound Farm into the Park.  This has been resurfaced now and over the weeks ahead new access furniture will be installed to ensure that walkers wishing to view the river project but keep their feet dry can easily use it.

Viewing platforms – for those who keep a close eye on what we are doing, they will have seen that one of our new viewing platforms has been three quarters completed near Dial Post.  Work has halted due to red tape but will start again soon…hopefully.  A further five viewing structures are to be constructed and two of these will be on the river to enable the public to observe nature etc.

Lake dredging project – we received consent last year to dredge the main lake at Knepp.  This is a vast project and will take several years to come to fruition.  Part of the project is to construct some earth banks along the A24 near Buck Barn Garage, and work on this element of the project is due to start imminently.  A hedgerow has been coppiced from Buck Barn to Pondtail to enable a new access road for the lorries creating the earth banks to come and go from the site in a safe manner.  The next stage is for the electric cables that cross the area to be buried and after that the new access road will be installed and work will commence.

Some History – Richard Symonds has produced a fascinating paper on “The Former Mills of The Knepp Estate”.  Much of this focuses on the lake, and is available to download from this link - Click Me

Broadband for Pondtail Farm As reported last time, the Estate has invested in fibre optic broadband for the offices at Pondtail Farm, and this is going live any day.  The fibre has the ability to deliver 100mb of un-contended broadband to these offices which we hope will enable the companies that are based there to embrace the latest technologies.

Livestock Update – the cold spring and relentless rain has taken a toll on the animals.  The male fallow deer (bucks), which struggle in a good winter because they lose so much of their body weight during the rut, look thoroughly miserable this year.  The cattle in all three parks, which have just started to calve, are in worse condition this year than in any of the previous, even those where we have had lots of snow.  This led us to start to feed them a couple of weeks ago due to the lack of grass growth.  This is the first time that we have had to feed the cattle in a decade, except on the two occasions where thick and prolonged snow led us to putting out some hay.

The pigs have been farrowing away merrily but the weather has also had a big impact on them, and we have decided to reduce our pig numbers going forward and will probably reduce them down to a couple of sows for a few years so that we maintain our bloodline.  Therefore there are sausages for sale in the months ahead! (Contact if you are an interested purchaser!)

The final bit of livestock news is a little bit more exciting in that we have introduced Red Deer - a small herd of females so far (hinds) to the parks and these arrived from Gunton Park on the 11 April.  These wonderful creatures complete the mix of herbivores that manage the vegetation in our wildland project.  A decision to have them was made at the last Advisory Group Meeting when it was agreed that their impact on the emerging scrub would be useful as the very low stocking density of cattle and fallow deer. Ultimately the project needs a few more browsers eating the scrub.

Wildlife – whilst we are sure it has been a dreadful twelve months for our native wildlife throughout the British Isles, looking at the BTO's published figures, Knepp probably has just under 1% all of the nations breeding pairs of nightingales, a staggering statistic and a massive endorsement for our project. 

Elsewhere on the Estate, Ben Rainbow’s Ecological Survey of Crabtree Platt, a remnant wildflower meadow, can be viewed on this link, as you will see, the SNCI is in decline, but thanks to a passionate advocate of wildflower meadows Dave Bangs contacting us a couple of years ago, we are taking steps to restore the meadow to try to reverse the decline.  In line with Ben’s recommendations, a volunteer group successfully laid hedges this winter.

Recording Weekend – the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre and the Knepp Estate are organising a Recording Weekend on 1st & 2nd June with volunteers involved with the Record Centre aiming to add to the wealth of data on species present.

Apple Group – the Shipley Apple Group, which runs the Community Orchard and maintains other orchards around the Parish, have been hampered by the weather.  The pruning day had to be delayed once due to frost and then the tree-planting day had to be further delayed because of the incessant rain and cold weather.  The good news is that this type of weather cycle is generally fairly positive for fruit growers I gather because the cold spring delays early blossoms which subsequently get burnt off, so hopefully as least we can look forward to a bumper fruit crop this year.

Public Events – the Explorers (an arm of the scouts) had a wonderful camping weekend near the Bothy in between showers.  Our first open days of the year have commenced with Plaistow School & Radnorshire Wildlife Trust.  We already have a pretty full calendar for tours this year with our next public event being on 9th June (Open Farm Sunday - please register with if you want to attend).  We will probably also be running some tractor tours during the Floral Fringe Fair weekend on the 1st & 2nd June, albeit these will probably be more like a trip around the park rather than anything specific to look at the wildland project. 

At the Floral Fringe Fair we will be unveiling our new interpretation boards which have taken about ten years to get off the drawing board!  These are going to be located around the wildland project to explain what it is all about for the footpath user.  Some will be specific ie. boards for the River Project, the Knepp Mill Pond and the Norman Castle, whilst the bulk of them will be generic explaining the wildland project.

The Castle – Planting oak trees in pairs in the park might have been a Repton thing at Knepp, or just accidental, but the tradition was continued by Charlie’s forbears so that around the circle in front of the castle, pairs of oaks of differing ages fight with eachother for supremacy.  One of the pair usually wins but causes the other to bend and twist.  Anyway, Charlie and Ned took the chainsaw to this tradition over Easter and now the next generation of oaks in front of the castle will be single trees!

And finally… on the 24th February, with the wind whisking straight from the Urals, Peter Miller’s ashes were laid to rest in the roots of a young Oak tree on Brick Kiln Farm, almost two years after his untimely death.  The smartest tree guard anyone has ever seen will ensure that the tree gets off to a good start, and with views of Chanctonbury Ring, Peter’s final resting place could not have been better.

Finally finally…very best of luck to Nancy Burrell who sits her A levels over the next few weeks


If you would like to read the Annual Newsletter on the Wildland please click on the following link for

  2011 (0.9MB) or  2010 (0.6MB)


MB in water
Mark Bateman - the lonesome Cowboy on his Camargue Horse
Simon Hillary
Simon opening up the walled garden to the puplic
Kathy's farewell celebration
Adrian Weller
Adrian Weller a frosty morning before inspecting the Deer
Foot bridge River Adur
completed footpath bridges over the river Adur
Tree Platform
A further five viewing structures are to be constructed
Gunton Red Stag
Red Deer - Stag from Gunton Park - some of his bloodline has been bought to Knepp
Red Hinds
Gunton hinds arriving at Knepp
Crab tree platt
a volunteer group successfully laying hedges this winter in Crab Tree Platt
Raven nest
in the center of the picture - as predicted by Ted Green a pair of ravens are bringing up a brood in this cedar tree 30 m from Charlie's back door
Steve Darby (Grizzly) and the Explorers (an arm of the scouts) had a wonderful camping weekend near the Bothy
Ted tree hay
Ted Green feeding the Exmoors with "Tree Hay" if you want to lern more about this click on this link to a YouTube Video Tree Hay
Longhoorn Eating Tree Hay
Longhorn eating Ted's Tree Hay in February

If you would like to see past news letters click here