Jason Emrich, Land Agent / Estate Manager
A massive amount has happened in the past nine years since I last wrote the Knepp News! Since then we have used other media to update the team, but back by popular demand is this newsletter, which will be updated on our estate website on a regular basis.
Farewells – recent staff farewells included Kirsty Haydon, our much valued health & safety administrator who for ten years has kept us all safe and we shall miss her, but wish her well with her new business running a cattery(!) Laura our reluctant accountant of just a year also left us in April to head back to her beloved Nottinghamshire, Chris Rolfe aka stork-boy heads to pastures new after many years assisting on the farm, and Christelle who was only with us a short time in the accounts department has also relocated. We also bid a sad farewell to Vicky in the garden, who was one of our WRAGS trainees but since qualifying has stayed on as a much valued part of the team. More about the gardens later.
…and in with the new – And so we welcome Natalya as our new accountant, Susie in the office, Paul on health & safety and another Paul on the farm. We also welcome Karen our new building team leader who started in January, Tegan who is with us for the season on the campsite and Moy & Suzy our new head-gardeners after a very long search which began when Helen left us last autumn. We also welcome Lucy Groves who is leading the stork project in a role funded by the Durrell Foundation.
Castle & Gardens – the amazing gardening team of Kate, Vicky, Eri, Bernard, Anne-Marie, Jarod and others have done a brilliant job over the winter, not just maintaining the gardens, but continuing with the tasks that were set prior to Helen leaving. A massive thank you to you all, no doubt spurred on by Maureen’s baking!
We are now setting in motion a new project to rewild the walled garden! No cattle & pigs this time I’m told, but the gardens will form part of our safari tours in the months ahead. The seeds for this started when our gardener applicants all looked a bit disappointed at the current gardens, hoping that Knepp, with our eco-credentials would be a paradigm in wildlife friendly gardens. Moy and Suzy have taken on the task to rethink the layout, structure, plants & practices, and it will be very exciting to see this develop over the years to come.
Farm – the farm business is a vital component of the estate; the livestock not only produce essential revenue, but also drive the habitat that in turn has caused nature to bounce back to Knepp. Last year’s amazing bit of research which brings all this home to me was a study counting dung-beetles in cow pats on a single day in 2018. It is well known that organic farm’s cow pats have lots more dung beetles than non-organic “conventional” farms (conventional farmers often use residual wormers that kill the bugs that land in the poo). Our cow pats hosted 11,677 dung beetles compared to a nearby organic farm’s 518 … truly staggering. This isn’t just the presence of all year round poo as our animals stay outside for the winter, it is overall that the rewilding project in the Southern Block especially, is burgeoning with life.
With Chris’ departure we are recruiting for a new assistant for Pat. Ex RSPB warden Paul Spiers has stepped into the role temporarily, but long term we are looking for a new fulltime person and have just closed applications and now have 70 CVs to sort through.
MEANWHILE SPRING ON THE FARM = BABIES:
Cattle – Calving is in full swing and I gather all is well so far. We have about 100 cows to calf this year
Deer – the cull is over for a few months and fawning / calving will start very soon, as the antlers grow back on the males. We sell the antlers through our farm shop at Newbarn, so do please help us to stop walkers’ going off with them. Also remember that deer tuck-up their new-born fawns/calves and often leave them for hours. If the new-borns are found & handled by us thinking that we are somehow doing them a service, they will often be rejected by their mothers and will die.
Pigs – our breeding sows have had a hard time with this dry weather, so we hope their “pigging” will not have suffered. Piglets due any day.
Ponies – Roebuck the stallion has done his stuff…one foal so far and a dozen more are due. Amy has recently had to treat one of the mares, but thankfully she has made a recovery and re-joined the herd.
Storks – also on the farm, we have a white stork reintroduction program which will be featuring on Springwatch this year https://knepp.co.uk/reintroductions . The UK’s first tree-nesting storks are currently free-living near their release site sitting on three eggs, and we have moved the polo clubhouse nearby for the inevitable influx of bird watchers.
Campsite – we have an amazing new tree house this year built by Jo Etheridge, which like all of our glamping units is 100% full, which is a new phenomenon to us…the power of Issy’s book launched a year ago. Meanwhile Tegan has joined Rachel for the summer, along with Emma, Leah & Darcy and I still see Ryan mucking-out down there even though he is supposed to have retired!
A special thank you for the un-sung accounts team who do a massive amount behind the scene; Elizabeth has been the stalwart since we started this business and Sharon does the stuff none of us understand.
Meanwhile the wild-swimming pond is nearly open for the brave hearted campers..Paul & Stu are just finishing off the swimming platform.
Safaris – Penny’s safaris are also 100% full, but we are opening up new spaces so if staff & neighbours do want to join a safari then let me know. I joined the dawn walk with Teddy on Sunday at 5am, and it was worth the early alarm; our safari leader Tom was like Doctor Doolittle and had a cuckoo do a close fly-by to see who we were!
Wilding – Issy’s book has sold so many copies that if you haven’t read it yet, you will be in a minority! It is now out in audio for those that are not readers.
Footpaths – we are trying very hard to keep people on them rather than straying everywhere. It’s really difficult but incredibly important especially at this time of year with everything nesting and breeding.
Building projects – I cannot express how delighted and impressed I am with the amazing extension to South Lodge, which will completely change my family’s life. A massive thank you to Charlie for his incredible generosity, and also to the Knepp workforce for this terrific legacy to the estate. The final touches are in progress and we hope to move in very soon (no pressure but it’s Mel’s birthday on 28th May!). For those that have been watching progress, Duncan is now lime rendering the block walls which will soften and complete the exterior appearance, and the scaffolding should be coming down in a couple of weeks.
Elsewhere on the estate we have had a massive lot of work done at the campsite, some of which was supported by a generous LEADER grant. Terry’s new access road has improved the visitor experience, and we have built a Walker’s Car Park to try to keep parking off the village’s verges. Thank you to not only our fantastic team, but also to all those affected by the two-month road closure this winter.
Anthony’s car park at Pondtail is a vast improvement and David and Ben have made the Green People’s/Country Farm Cakes’ building look stunning.
Karen Bridgwater who now runs our building team has taken over from Andy Stewart who ran the team with me & Julie for at least a decade. Andy is loving being back on the tools, and is so good at painting, I’m not sure why we ever took him away from his brush! Karen comes from a local building firm and has settled into the role brilliantly. The team is too many to mention but at least 30 have worked on my house and each one will be invited to the party!
When my house finally finishes, the team will be moving on to fix up a property in Shipley which housed Gladys Tilley for over 60 years. Eddie her late husband worked on the farm and as a chauffeur. Happily Gladys, now in her 90’s has moved to Southwater to be with her son.
Weddings & Events – we were very sad that Horsham DC cancelled the open-air Shakespeare event destined for June and really hoped that this would be the start of something long term. I guess these days we all leave everything too much to the last minute, making event organisers panic about whether they will ever balance the books. Such a shame as I know lots of people had started to talk about it.
Meanwhile our wedding season is about to start and hopefully some rain will fill the lake so we can irrigate the venue as everything is starting to look a little bit dry! Our very own Yasmin is marrying her Doug at Knepp this year so a massive congratulations to them, and also to Chris Rolfe (aka the fox-friendly farmer etc) who is also getting married here in September.
Woods – ash dieback is well and truly on us and what an utter tragedy this is, as well as a vast challenge to fell all of the dead ash trees that might pose a risk when decaying. Happily we use the wood either in our biomass boiler or for sale at the campsite.
The eucalyptus plantation somehow survives despite this the second impossibly dry growing season. This is where we will harvest for our firewood in the future once all of the ash has gone.
Jamie & Graham have been working hard on tree guard repairs in the park and north block and have a summer of felling ahead after bird-nesting.
Renewable Energy – our solar PV farm had a record summer in 2018, and is now beating that this Spring as it is so wonderfully sunny! The pv array was established to offset all of the electricity consumed in all of the property on the estate and has now been operational for five years. Meanwhile our biomass boiler ran all winter on our own wood chip for the first time which was a truly holistic achievement, as the timber came from haloing competing vegetation under our veteran oak trees. Our thanks to Craig for managing this temperamental wood chip boiler which is a far cry from a simple oil boiler.
Swallows Project – we have a new development soon to go before Horsham Planners which will finally see Swallows Farm re-used to form a farm shop and café. We have been trying for a while to find a way to retail our estate produce and will be teaming up with Sussex Produce to make this a reality. I will be presenting the proposal to West Grinstead Parish Council on 5th June and we hope work will commence this autumn for a Spring 2020 launch.
Broadband – our private leased line service has just increased from 200 to 500mb and now supports 60 homes and businesses both on and off the estate. We will be beaming it up to Swallows as part of that development as we do at the campsite and elsewhere, and wish we could extend it further but it has to have line of sight to reach you.
Lake dredging – and finally the long-awaited dredging of the lake is starting. Phase one is a new wetland which is underway as I write (reptile relocation prior to digging). Phase 2 with machines starting to extract silt should start in a month. Lots of pictures to come once we are underway.