KNEPP NEWS- UPDATES FOR STAFF AND NEIGHBOURS
Shipley Parish AGM 12th April 2021
Knepp Estate – Headline stats from 2019 & 2020
Jason Emrich – Estate Manager
The Knepp Estate is a busy multi-faceted business owned and run by the Burrell family that employs about 45 permanent people and provides homes and business premises for many more. It is also a landholding of some 3500 acres in Shipley & West Grinstead parishes.
The overriding ethos on the estate is environmental, and as with other organisations, we strive to make better decisions than we have in the past, as we understand more about the climate and nature crisis.
Since the publication of Isabella Tree’s (Lady Burrell) book, Wilding part way through 2018, interest in the Knepp Estate’s rewilding project has escalated. Visitor numbers grew throughout 2019 and 2020, and of course along with most other areas in the country, we have seen significant extra footfall as people discovered the countryside whilst shops and normal recreation were closed. Happily we have been overwhelmed with positive feedback and behaviour from visitors and are proud to have played our part in providing informal recreation during a difficult time, albeit there have been problems, and none of us foresaw the numbers of people that would come.
• Employment – as at April 2021, we have 35 FTE (about 45 people) employees and contractors engaged in property maintenance, farming, tourism, conservation, administration, gardens and housekeeping, an increase of 5 people in the past 24 months. This excludes the dozen ecologists who help out with our safaris, seasonal baristas, campsite and car parking staff and all the wonderful volunteers and interns who get involved here too. In the height of summer about 100 different people work for us in one capacity or another.
• Another 200 people work on the estate in lots of fantastic local businesses (we have 55,000 sqft of let offices and light industrial space + equestrian yards)
• Wildlife –some highlights as follows:
o Knepp has been part of the Back from the Brink ‘Ancients of the Future’ project, working with Buglife and Bat Conservation Trust – deadwood invertebrate surveys identified us as the eleventh best site in the UK for this unique group of insects that rely on dead and dying trees as part of their life cycle. Knepp is the second best site in Sussex!
o In 2020: a bumper year for nightingales with 28 singing males & 23 singing turtle doves – both red list birds that are bucking the trend at Knepp
o A nationally scarce moth called the sloe carpet was recorded at Knepp, in the wonderful mature stands of blackthorn, for the first time in 25 years as has since been confirmed as a breeding species.
o Over 400 different species of fungi has been recorded here, in conjunction with the West Weald Fungus Recording Group
o Radio-tracking bat surveys have shown how the river restoration project has much improved the area for bats. It is an optimal area for foraging soprano pipistrelle bats, and the river is used extensively by the local bat population for feeding and
commuting. Bechstein’s bat (a very rare species) and noctule bat were both confirmed as new breeders on the site, and a Barbastelle roost was discovered in the woodland – this is a bat that is rare on a European level.
o Two golden oriole, a hoopoe and a great white egret were all recorded here last summer. Stonechat were recorded breeding here for the first time.
o 2,430 birds of 41 species were ringed at Knepp in 2020, including 27 nightingales, three barn owl chicks, 128 house martins and hundreds of warblers! The scrubland provides an important breeding ground for many birds and a nationally important autumn migration staging post as birds stop of to feed up before their long journeys south.
o A big milestone for the White Stork Project in 2020 was the success of two White Stork nests which, between them, produced four young. The last time storks nested in the UK is recorded as 1416, the year after the Battle of Agincourt! This year we already have seven nests, with two pairs already sitting on eggs! The first nest that has been built on a building is rather poetically…Knepp Castle!
o The recent Beaver reintroduction project hasn’t been without its challenges, with both Beavers having negotiated their way out of the semi-enclosed area (which was set up as part of a national trial under a Natural England licence). Billie, the female Beaver, was caught up quickly on a local fishing pond having made friends with the anglers there. Bramber, the male Beaver, set off downstream and covered large distances as he got to know the River Adur over several weeks, eventually settling in the upper reaches of the river at Wineham. Sadly, Bramber died from septicaemia shortly after being caught up. Billie has gone off to a nearby National Trust beaver reintroduction and we will be reviewing our fencing here before trying with a new pair of beavers later on this year.
o To hear more about some of the surveys that go on, please tune in to the Knepp Wildland Podcast to experience some of the wildlife wonders encountered, the secrets uncovered and the remarkable people who are part of the Knepp Wildland project. Listen on your usual podcast platform or via our website: https://knepp.co.uk/knepp-wildland-podcast
• Farming – Lawrence sadly left us at Christmas, but Pat is now ably assisted by Toby who is former farm manager John Maidment’s grandson, which is a rather wonderful connection. The team enjoyed their key-worker status during Covid and along with the entire workforce at Knepp, continued working throughout the pandemic.
o The Park – known to us as the Middle Block, is having a slight change in tack henceforth as we will be heavily reducing the grazing pressure to allow more vegetation growth to increase biodiversity.
• Knepp Wild Range was launched in January 2020 with the employment of Ian Mepham. In 2021 all of the ethically reared organic meat produced on Knepp will be retailed through this business, and work is well underway developing our on-site maturation unit and butchery.
• Regenerative Agriculture – as well as our rewilding project, 2021 sees the employment of former PFLA chair Russ Carrington and the launch of a new farming business using the estate’s land around Shipley and Dial Post. This coincided nicely with Helen Butler moving to Wales with her sheep flock.
• Property repairs – our excellent team of 15 lead by Karen continue to be busy & there are usually a dozen projects on the go at any one time. These largely unsung heroes of Knepp do a fabulous job keeping the 200 or so estate buildings functioning.
• Swallows Farm – Work commenced last week converting this former farmyard to a café and shop. We hope to open to the public for Easter 2022. Traditional oak framing specialist John Russell will be repairing the 17th century barn.
• Forestry – Most of our focus is on dealing with ash dieback at the moment, and we intend to pay homage to the ash by using may of the trunks to make furniture and shelving in the café.
• Renewable Energy – we will be adding to our solar arrays in 2021, to produce renewable electricity for the chillers at Pound Farm, and also at Swallows. Our megawatt field array and existing roof panels had another excellent sunny summer in 2020 and plenty of rain in the winters to keep them clean!
• Superfast broadband – our private network is now reaching 77 businesses & residential properties and 2020 tested it to breaking point with massive more demand than ever before as everyone stayed at home. We had to upgrade and replace a lot of hardware, which was testing at times, but the system is robust and delivering vital communication services in an area that isn’t covered adequately by BT Openreach.
• Gardens – work is well underway rewilding the kitchen gardens at Knepp. Moy & Suzi our joint head-gardeners and their team are implementing a complex re-design which will be open for safaris in 2021.
• Charitable initiative – we have set up Knepp Wildland Foundation as a means to attract charitable giving for nature conservation, and hope to “launch” this soon once we have cleared our way through the bureaucracy. The charity will operate an educational training program to be situated in the old Gun Club grounds, which we will trial in 2021.
• Lake dredging – we dredged about a quarter of the lake in 2019 and have the rest to do. Lots of lessons learned and not least is how difficult a substance the Knepp silt is! We ended up not being able to dig it out dry as the lake proved to be bottomless, so we reverted to wet dredging. We will be spreading the rest of the silt on top of the landscape bunds that are being built at Buck Barn.
• Sawmill – the 5000 sqft of new office space that we have consent for has met so many obstacles and the economy is still not revealing whether we should build this or not!
• Visitors to our rewilding project – we had 9826 official visitors in 2019 – an increase of 48% from the previous year. In 2020 official visits were reduced due to Covid keeping us closed for three months, but following the lifting of lockdown, heavenly weather and our much publicised stork nesting, we opened a temporary car park to cope with additional footfall from the general public. This is detailed below with 2019 in brackets & 2020 without brackets:
o Educational access visits: (398) / 0
o Safaris: (4709) / 3513
o Campers: (4389) / 3818
o Landowners and officials: (330) / 72
o Temp car park: (0) / 31,305!
o Overall 40,430 official visitors to Knepp since we started showing visitors around our conservation project in 2002, excluding footpath users. Rachel is now our visitor manager and we are recruiting a fulltime ranger.
o KEP: our subscription riding initiative, which supports our Exmoor pony breeding program run by Amy and Rina, has about 35 members.
Our new car park at Swallows Farm, screened from all nearby housing, will provide free parking for all visitors, and this will hopefully reduce the pressure on our verges.
• Events (excluding the rewilding stuff)
o Weddings: we had just 4 weddings in 2019 & none in 2020. Our promoter and tenant, Beautiful World Tents, was a covid casualty, as are many in the weddings and events industries sadly.
o St Catherine’s gift Fair in September – another covid victim, so no fund raising for this vital charity in 2020, or 2021.
• McDonalds – we are painfully aware of the impact of McDonalds at Buck Barn, and the associated traffic and litter problems. We are working with the head tenant and the occupational tenants to improve the layout at Buck Barn and hope to be able to achieve a good outcome for the site and for our community.
Finally, we are of course working with the West Grinstead Action Group trying to stop the development of 3500 houses north east of Buck Barn. This is a massive challenge and we hope everyone in the parish is motivated to join the fight to stop so many houses being built in the south east.