Today, one of the top news items has been the post Brexit announcement to offer grants to farmers based on ecological value; shifting the traditional focus towards ‘rewilding’. The challenge will be to ensure sustainability of our food production alongside the very real need to regain a healthy balance in the environment for wildlife.
This is a lovely walk, through the vast Knepp Estate – one of the foremost rewilding sites in the country, and just a 20 minute drive from us.
Thanks to pioneering work of the land’s owners, Sir Charles Burrell and his wife, Isabella Tree, to re-nationalise the land, visiting the vast 3500 acre estate is like taking a step back in time.
Perhaps a glimpse into the future for increasing parts of the UK, too; if we can find that vital balance that will ensure long term security and sustainability in terms of our own food production, and environmental balance.
Efforts to farm the land at Knepp had resulted in a relatively barren environment, stirpped of the natural qualities that would have provided the environment for life as nature intended. It was found, due to the type of land itself, that the yield was not high, and was a constant battle against nature. The Knepp rewilding movement is a fascinating, project, which raises as many questions as it answers; but it has hugely important underlying aims, and is a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year.
Restoration of the land began around 2000, with the introduction of Fallow Deer. Since then, Old Longhorn Cattle, Red & Roe Deer, ponies and huge characterful Tamworth Pigs have joined them, and been naturalised, now roaming free across the estate.
This is the second time we have had a magical Christmas day walking in the Knepp Estate; a day spent in nature, appreciating its peace, strength and seasonal nakedness, is such a rich and positive way to spend that special day.
Follow this link for the Komoot route, which starts in Shipley, where parking is fairly easy (alternatively park in clearly marked areas on the Estate itself). We walked past winter fields, which looked as they were being used as a vast outdoor gallery by Antony Gormley – well rounded sheep stood as still as stone, as though to tease the occasional passer by with a game of ‘are we real’?!
Knepp has a good range of shorter routes, well marked by discretely splashes of different coloured paint on trees along the way, so if you prefer a shorter walk, you can pick a colour to follow from a car park.
The route quickly turns off the Shipley road, and passes by the windmill – known as Kings Mill, or Vincent Mill. Built in 1879, ‘she’ is an 8 sided smock built windmill, and is the youngest and largest mill in Sussex (windmills are always referred to as feminine).
The mill was used regularly until 1922, after which it was managed and refurbished several times by a charitable trust, who opened it to the public for visits, and to see it working. However, it has been closed since July 2009.
More recently, despite having been used as the fictional home for TV sleuth Jonathan Creek, planning permission was denied to convert the mill into a 2 bed residence in early 2021. Hopefully a positive plan will be agreed for it soon, and its future will be secured, as it’s Grade II listing status deserves.
The walk passes through the pretty churchyard of St George’s Church, which dates back to the 11th Century, when the nave was originally built on the site. A tower and south aisle was added in the 13th Century, with a south chapel being added in the next century, and windows and a north porch added in the 15th century. The church and its graveyard is beautifully kept, and a contrast to the naturalised terrain earlier on the route.
Only one tower now remains from the ruins of the 12 century castle, and looking majestically bleak on a grey winter’s day.
The present day ‘castle’; inherited by its present owner, Sir Charles Burrell, from his grandparents in 1987. Renovated extensively by himself and his wife, Isabella Tree in the 1990s, when central heating was installed, turrets restored, the roof repaired, and the interior extensively refurbished. It has been their family home ever since.
The long drive to the grand estate house; set amongst land where animals roam free, as they would have done when the first ‘castle’ was built.
Knepp sells meat reared on the estate. They point out that the animals roam free, eating from the pastures which grow without the addition of fertilizers, chemicals, or the use of heavy farm machinery. The animals, herbivores, are left to graze from pasture that grows naturally, without supplements – neither they, or the pasture, is farmed, and their growth is slower as a result. No protein rich performance foods, thought to foster the ‘bad fat’ that is often associated with red meat.
The ‘wild range meat’ area of Knepp’s website details their claims that this more natural, slowly produced meat is better for the animals, the environment itself, and also better for us. Lower in saturated fats, so better for heart health, high in Omega 3 (beneficial for brain, heart and neurological health), and high in certain vitamins, minerals and conjugated linoleic acid, thereby supporting our immune & inflammatory systems. For those who prefer not to eat meat, there is still much to learn and enjoy about the rebalancing of nature on this vast site. Knepp’s ‘safaris’ are numerous, but get booked up early. They are led by ecology experts and cover a range of subjects, including butterflies, moths, bees, birds, invertebrates, snakes and of course, the vast topic of ‘rewilding’ itself. We have had many guests staying from all over the country, travelling to Sussex to enjoy this very special and unique experience. See here.
Knepp has vast areas of lake – some with animal lookouts, and others offering visitors to their campsite ‘wild swimming’. Kingfishers are regularly seen.
For the route on Komoot, which once downloaded allows you to follow live, with directions – meaning no need to hold maps or ruote instructions, click here
“We have seasons when we flourish, & seasons when the leaves fall from us, leaving bare bones. Given time, they will grow again.”Catherine May, ‘Wintering; the power of rest & retreat in difficult times’