Close this search box.

The month begins with gloomy news: September 2023 was officially the hottest September globally in the data record going back to 1940, the surface air temperature being 16.38°C above the 1991-2020 September average, according to the EU Climate Service. The warmer air caused devastating floods around the world with extreme rainfall events in Libya, Brazil and Greece – the latter country suffering three years of rainfall in two days.  Here, autumn is stalling. The first weekend of October is hot, 25°C, more than 8°C above average. Powder-blue skies and pale swathes of blush pink clouds hang above low mists draping the landscape, and it certainly feels more late summer than the coming of winter.

This is only the second autumn since planting the Rewilded Garden, so continuing to invite safari guests this month was a gamble. But the garden has not disappointed. Amongst swaying white and silver seedheads atop russet, oyster and golden grasses there are still plenty of flowers adding bright notes. The asters are still going strong, as are the indispensable spurges, particularly the Siberian spurge (Euphorbia seguiriana subsp. Niciciana) pictured above with the
hoary evening primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa ssp. incana  ‘Silver Blade’). Many of the other
spring-flowering perennials are blooming again – geraniums, spreading bell flowers, South African thistles, and the stonecrops, to add colour with their deep pink or red heads of tiny star-shaped flowers. One visitor commented she felt as though she were inside a moving painting.

Those diverse grasses that give such flowing motion were on the list for the seed collecting that is tackled at this time of year. Luckily, a visiting group of students from Plumpton College lent their many hands to the task, as well as taking cuttings from some of the more tender species. The grasses are presenting somewhat of a learning curve – they have all been selected for their ability to self-seed so the garden will continue to be a dynamic and unpredictable landscape. We have 29 species of grasses and it’s not always the easiest undertaking to identify young seedlings without their flower heads. By collecting seeds and growing them on we can build a definitive database to work from, enabling us to selectively ‘graze’ dominant species in the garden with certainty. The rest of the seeds collected will be dried and sorted for spring planting, increasing our stock that we can use as back up plants in case of a harsh winter, and for sharing with other gardens. Many of the cuttings from the Mediterranean herbs such as lavender, rosemary, sage and the rock roses were put into our new sand propagating bed and will be grown on to plant in the new herb garden at the Market Garden site in spring.

Students from Plumpton College inserting cuttings into the new sand propagation bed, and sorting seeds collected from the garden.

Students from Plumpton College inserting cuttings into the new sand propagation bed, and sorting seeds collected from the garden.

A hugely exciting, and in the event, quite moving moment came on the 13 October with the arrival of twenty-five sand lizards. The magnificently named Harvey Tweats from Celtic Rewilding Ltd came into the garden toting two plastic boxes full of sand, logs and moss which he proceeded to place in the greenhouse to warm up their inhabitants. Their site in Staffordshire specialises in European herpetological species, running educational workshops and coordinating conservation projects.

                   Sand lizards warming up in the greenhouse in their boxes of logs and moss

Sand lizards are one of only three native species of lizard in the UK, and the rarest. As with so many species in this country, their numbers have declined due to habitat loss, with only isolated populations surviving in the heathlands and dunes of Surrey, Dorset, Hampshire and Merseyside. The consequences for these islanded communities are serious: hybrid vigour diminishes due to in-breeding and diseases become more common. It is easy, perhaps, to have a generalised understanding of the importance of wildlife corridors but seeing these perfectly-formed, delightful creatures with their complex-patterned, verdigris-edged skins brings the issue of free movement of species into sharp focus.

Harvey has tended this lizard group since they hatched from their eggs in late August. They will not reach adulthood until they are three years old but can live up to the age of 15. In the wild, the same lizards would be smaller in size but Harvey ‘feeds up’ the lizards with moth pupae, called waxworms, so they have a greater chance of survival through winter hibernation. A fully-grown adult can be as long as 20cms. As the daylight hours decline, the lizards reduce their food intake and fall into a torpor. By Halloween they will all have buried themselves in shallow holes in the sand to sleep until spring. The females are the first to emerge in late March readying themselves for the breeding season in May and June, when six to twelve eggs are laid just below the surface in a sunny spot to warm the growing embryos.

While the lizards were warming in the greenhouse we toured the Rewilded Garden scouting for suitable locations for our new inhabitants. A male’s territory can be as large as a tennis court but if there is a plentiful supply of food and cover they will confine themselves to an area a quarter that size. They can be predated upon by rats and birds of prey, particularly kestrels, so we plan on introducing some piles of terracotta roof tiles which retain heat and can be used by the lizards to bask upon and hide beneath. Harvey told us how an abandoned crate of tiles shed from a lorry in Dorset quickly becoming populated by lizards. But our sand, the rocks under the olives, the voids created by the larger crushed concrete on ‘Hitchmough Ridge’, and the increasingly dense vegetation in the garden are all good spots for basking, egg laying and hiding. We made a few holes here and there with the end of a pike, requisitioned some existing vole burrows and took advantage of some tiles already positioned in the insect hotel against the south-facing wall. We took turns gently scooping up a lizard from the box and encouraging it to leave our hands and venture into its new home. They are extraordinarily delicate and beautifully formed and seemed to blend into their surroundings almost immediately. Their introduction into the garden is mainly to open up the discussion about the importance of species recovery and habitat provision with our visitors. We can all do our bit, even in small spaces. In this “box of experimentation”, as Tom Stuart- Smith, the gardens designer described the walled garden, we can hopefully build a healthy population.

Harvey Tweats releases a sand lizard into the Rewilded Garden. 

The last days of the month brought repeated bouts of more monsoon rains, with Knepp’s rain gauge repeatedly recording 20mm and 30mm. Great buttresses of dense clouds rose into the sky and the rewilding project footpaths become flooded and impassable. In the garden, it meant the return of the ephemeral pond that has been dry most of the season, reflecting the autumn colours. Luckily, Harvey told us that sand lizards are adept swimmers and, in Bavaria, communities are commonly found in beaver ponds. After he was satisfied the boxes of moss and logs were empty, he turned to survey the garden. “You know,” he said, “if we had to create the perfect habitat for sand lizards, this would be it.”


Moy Fierheller   Deputy Head Gardener   October 2023

Photos courtesy of Karen Finley, Charlie Harpur and Moy Fierheller.

Our 12+ Policy

Knepp Wildland Safaris and campsite are all about the quiet and patient observation of nature.

Some of the species we are likely to encounter are shy or can be frightened by loud noises or sudden movements. Our campsite with open-air fire-pits, wood-burning stoves and an on-site pond is unsuitable for small children.

For this reason, our safaris, holiday cottages and campsite are suitable only for children of 12 and over.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

* indicates required
/ ( mm / dd )