After 2 years of development, Knepp’s regenerative farm is undergoing a restructure that will see Russ Carrington step back from his role as project manager. This change follows the successful establishment of several new enterprises that now require dedicated management and input as they grow.
Russ has worked closely with the Burrell family and Knepp team to build a regenerative farming business from scratch and deliver a vision for nature across the farm that builds on the Estate’s pioneering rewilding project. The farm, which is next to the rewilding project, is now firmly up and running with a mob-grazed beef enterprise, pastured poultry, a market garden, farm tours and more.
Fundamental to the management of the all-grass farm has been the establishment of a grazing herd of traditional Sussex cattle – buying in cows and calves from 3 different farms to form a foundation herd. The cows have been mated and the first calves are growing well, including a number of heifers that will join the breeding herd as the grazing area increases. The cattle have been rotationally mob-grazed using electric fencing and GPS collars to achieve optimum grass productivity on the farm’s permanent pastures.
Much of the farm’s 350 acres were not fenced at the outset, with some fields unfarmed for 15+ years, so a large task has been and continues to be to establish a ring fence around the perimeter of the farm and prevent livestock from escaping onto the roads. A grant from Natural England is supporting the costs of the fencing and, over time, this will allow all the land to be used by the herd.
Securing grants has been fundamental to ensuring the viability of the farm’s business, most notably through an Environmental Stewardship agreement which is supporting the creation and enhancement of habitat across the land in conjunction with the grazing herd. Grants for capital works, including coppicing, hedge-laying, field reseeding and farmyard infrastructure have also been a great help for bringing about necessary changes.
All remaining non-organic land parcels have been entered into organic conversion so that all enterprises will be producing organically certified produce in time for the opening of Knepp’s farm shop in 2023.
Knepp’s regenerative Market Garden is now up and running next to the farm shop and café site on what was once a compacted two-acre horse paddock. This piece of land has undergone an impressive transformation with rabbit and deer fencing, hedge planting, cultivations and the recruitment of two expert growers, Rosanne and Signe. The Market Garden now supplies a a variety of fresh vegetables to the local community and restaurants.
Egg production began in 2022 after buying three sets of semi-retired chickens to experiment with running birds behind grazing cattle, mimicking the role of wild birds following herbivores in natural grassland ecosystems. This proved a great success and, furthermore, the eggs sold very well.
To evidence improvements to nature and wildlife happening on the regenerative farm, Knepp’s ecologist Penny Green and her team have conducted crucial baseline surveys. They have focused on eight fields, including one control field on a neighbour’s farm. This has shed light on existing species, habitats, soil health and landscape interactions that had not previously been mapped or understood. A particular highlight has been recording 22 species of dung beetle, four of which are notable, that have appeared on the regenerative farm since the cattle arrived.
Volunteers have not only been of great assistance for conducting baseline surveys but also in helping us clear up the farmyard, fields and hedgerows – already they have clocked up over 500 hours of volunteer work and pulled up miles of old barbed wire from hedgerows.
A big part of the project’s aim has been to demonstrate regenerative farming practices in West Sussex and how they can align with areas of rewilding. Nearly 250 visitors in small informal groups (some from as far away as Estonia, the USA and Thailand) have come on farm tours, so far, to learn about the synchronicity of regenerative farming and rewilding. The project has also received coverage in the farming press, national press, podcasts and television.
Knepp’s assistant stockman Toby House will be stepping up to manage the regenerative farm’s herd of Sussex cattle, overseen by head stockman Pat Toe. With ongoing support from Russ they will continue to mob-graze the herd around the farm to further improve soil, pastures and hedgerows – thus producing healthy pasture-fed beef with more opportunities for nature.
Market gardeners Rosanna and Signe will continue managing their own enterprise as part of the Estate’s wider gardens team led by Charlie Harpur. Growing vegetables will remain a fundamental part of the regenerative farm, using compost made from animal bedding and the Estate’s green waste to provide fertility for growing human food.
Megan Meeres and Aaron Europa will be taking on management of the laying hens, and in 2023 switching to organic production and growing the flock in preparation for increased egg sales via the farm shop. The birds will continue to roam a few days behind the grazing cattle when avian flu restrictions are lifted.
Ranger Tom Burns will also be helping out with some of the tasks on the farm such as ongoing hedgerow restoration, and will be teaming up with the farm’s volunteer group to achieve these.
Russ will be moving away early in the new year but returning to Knepp periodically to assist with planning and decision making on a consultancy basis.