Monday, 28 September 2015

On safari in the South Downs: the 'rewilding' of Knepp

A daring experiment to 'rewild’ an estate in Sussex and other vast tracts of Britain is allowing native species to thrive once more, says Julia Llewellyn Smith

By Julia Llewellyn Smith

7:00AM BST 26 Sep 2015

It’s just gone noon at the Knepp estate in West Sussex and from a platform attached to an oak tree, Sir Charles Burrell and I are admiring his 3,500 acres.

Beyond its boundaries are the manicured, sprayed fields of the South Downs, but here we could be in Africa, looking down over endless scrub, criss-crossed with animal tracks.

“In just a couple of weeks it’ll be the deer rut, the craziest time of year at Knepp,” says Burrell happily. “There’ll be red deer stags and fallow bucks charging around the place full of testosterone, clashing antlers and fighting gladiatorial battles. The woods will be ringing with primeval roars, and the air is full of the pungent smell of pheromones. When you’re living in the middle of it you can hardly sleep at night.”

It’s difficult to believe that just 15 years ago, this unfettered scenery was all tidy wheat fields and pasture. In 1987, when Burrell, 53, took over the management of the estate that had been in his family for 200 years, every inch of the land had been ploughed up for intensive farming, with ryegrass growing right up to the front door of his Nash castle.

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