I visited Knepp in Sussex in May with colleagues from the National Trust and was really impressed by this iconic ‘re-wilding’ project – see here for my May blog and photos. Last weekend I revisited the place to have a second look and perhaps see the purple emperor butterfly – one of Britain’s largest and most impressive species. I have never seen a purple emperor so I went to Knepp full of expectations having read Matthew Oates’ accounts of the appearance of the species there following the introduction of the re-wilding project a decade ago. 15 years ago Knepp was an intensive arable and dairy farm with little wildlife let alone purple emperors.
I wasn’t disappointed! We saw at least 2 purple emperors circling high above the huge oak trees and one even came down and buzzed over my head. A really special moment. Purple emperors are notoriously difficult to photograph as they rarely come to ground and live high in the tree canopy – so no photographs.
To get an idea of the amazing lifestyle and see a few photos of purple emperors you can do not better than go to these two web sites where there are lots of accounts of them at Knepp and else where – the Purple Empire and Purple Emperor. It has been an amazing year for purple emperors and the National Trust’s Matthew Oates who is an expert on the species and has visited Knepp extensively has concluded that the site is now the best in Britain for the species. Matthew runs field visits there – you have missed this year’s events but you should perhaps plan to visit with him next year – see here for details.
In addition to the purple emperors we also saw lots of purple hairstreaks, a couple of brown hairstreaks and heard the purrings of a number of the massively declining turtle dove – quite a weekend.
The Estate has been taken out of intensive agriculture and instead is now grazed at low density by a number of different species: long horn cattle, Exmoor ponies, deer and Tamworth pigs – an attempt to mimic the pre Bronze age landscapes of Britain – little other management is carried out – thus the term ‘re-wilding’.
Knepp is an amazing place and well worth a visit at any time of the year – see here for details. It is an inspiration to conservationists and a refuge away from the hustle and bustle of life for everyone. It is also a wildlife haven – the work carried out there has not only made the place suitable for the purple emperor as described above but also for nightingales (2% of the UK population live there), cuckoos, turtle doves etc etc. It is only 15 years old and in many respects is a huge experiment and a model for the rest of us – the coming years will no doubt bring new surprises.
Here is a link to my extended photoset showing pictures from the May and July visits.
A big thank you to Charlie and Isabella for making us feel so welcome.