Last week I was at a 3 day National Trust conference on landscape scale conservation hosted at the iconic Knepp Castle in Sussex.
There is a major re-kindling in interest regarding landscape scale conservation following the seminal report by Professor Lawton in 2010 (see here for a copy of the full report ) . In essence Lawton stated that in order to reverse the trends of biodiversity loss we needed to manage habitats better, on a larger scale and to join up existing sites. In the late 1990s I was the architect of the Wicken Fen Vision (see here) which adopted exactly that approach and more recently I have been involved with the acquisition of Fingle Woods with the Woodland Trust which joined 2 large existing areas of ancient woodland in the Teign Valley via the acquisition of 825 acres of conifer and broadleaved woodland (see here).
At Knepp, the charismatic Charlie Burrell has embarked on a land scale project on his 3500 acre family Estate in Sussex.
Just over a decade ago the Knepp Estate was an intensive dairy and arable estate – Charlie at that time decided he would try a very different approach and the project became known as the Knepp Wildland Project – see here.
The land was taken out of intensive agriculture and instead a variety of grazing animals ‘managed the land’. This was not an abandonment project but rather a rewilding project. The light grazing enabled natural processes to occur – scrub began to form in the old fields. In some years the grazing pressure kept the scrub in check, in other years the scrub got away. This created an extensive area of land where nature could take advantage of the conditions and flourish accordingly. There are no targets for species – nature decides what will happen.
There have been some early and quick results – indeed it is amazing how quickly the habitats have recovered and nature has returned. For example the critically endangered turtle dove along with the nightingale and the cuckoo have already benefitted as has the purple emperor butterfly.
The project is replicating the English Countryside at time before agriculture took hold some 5000 years ago.
For my full photoset of images – see here.
This process driven style of conserving and encouraging nature is very similar to the approach taken in the Wicken Fen Vision where Konig ponies mimic the tarpan and highland cattle act as surrogates for the auroch in an environment where the water levels have been raised to create fen wetlands.
The Knepp Wildlands Project has many economic features too – cattle and deer are sold as meat, Knepp safaris and their campsite generate income via tourism and many of the ‘un-needed’ farm buildings are now home to dozens of small businesses.
It is well worth a visit – it is an inspirational place where nature is fighting back – I can thoroughly recommend their campsite and safari – see here on how you can visit too.