Wildlife has been remarkably swift to respond to the new habitats provided by rewilding. Populations of common species have rocketed, and numerous rare species have found us.
Knepp is now a breeding hotspot for critically endangered nightingales and turtle doves. Peregrine falcons, ravens, red kites, sparrowhawks, lesser-spotted woodpeckers, skylarks, house sparrows and yellowhammers are also breeding here.
We have the largest population of purple emperor butterflies in the country. All five of the UK’s resident species of owls can be found here, and 13 out of the UK’s 17 species of breeding bats. Numerous insect species now proliferating at Knepp – such as the violet dor beetle and the scarce chaser dragonfly – are notable or rare.
Occasional visitors, like Montagu’s harrier, hoopoe, golden oriole, and even a black stork in 2016 and 2019 (one of the rarest birds in Western Europe), are on the rise.
The appearance of some species is surprising – like nightjars, usually associated with heathland, and nightingales and purple emperor butterflies, normally considered exclusively ‘woodland’ species. What this shows us, is that, in our depleted landscape, species may not be living where they really want to be. They may be clinging on in habitats that are not really suitable for them. With the emergence of scrub at Knepp, numerous species are showing us where they really thrive. Because this is not a goal-orientated, species-led project, because nature is being allowed to express herself, Knepp is teaching us new things all the time, and this knowledge will help us conserve more effectively for these species in the future.