Reversing degraded land and incomes through “nature teaching us”
For the owners of Knepp Castle in England, conventional agriculture had rapidly become a liability.
Apart from its poor soil, the team at Knepp had to contend with a further disadvantage – the small field size. The owners hadn’t removed the hedges, ditches and copses as so many other farmers had done. While this was advantageous for wildlife, it meant that they were unable to take advantage of the economies of scale provided by giant fields and big machinery. Fourteen years ago they embarked on a ‘re-wilding’ project across the 3,500-acre estate, dramatically changing their land management.
“We took on board the theory that grazing animals are key drivers of habitat generation and biodiversity in this landscape, and introduced Red deer, Fallow deer, Longhorn cattle, Exmore ponies and Tamworth pigs. These animals are proxies of some of the fauna that would have been present in the landscape. Roaming freely with minimal interference they have brought back biodiversity and we are proud to have 2% of the UKs Nightingale population.”
Culling livestock provides a new income stream. The meat is organic and they sell the ‘wild meat’ for top dollars. Safaris and Glamping (glamorous camping), provide further income. Isabell Tree, one of the managers says “The joy of a project like Knepp is that Nature is teaching us, rather than us imposing our will on Nature and then wondering why it isn’t working”.