In 2004 Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell took the momentous decision to stop conventional farming on the Knepp Estate. Driven by the economic unsustainability of modern food production on their sub-prime soils they desperately wanted to find a way to manage the land better and maintain its economic and ecological viability.
The timing of their decision was fortuitous. Changes to EU and UK government funding for agriculture were opening up for subsidies to change the use of land. The political and social priorities to address rapidly dwindling wildlife diversity and populations were increasing. And, more specifically, there was growing evidence of the potential for large herbivores to restore the vitality of semi-wild habitats, a model which seemed well-suited to Knepp.
This fascinating story explains the rationale behind the key steps taken over the last 15 years to create one of the most important and impressive land and habitat management projects in the UK and Europe. The results are spectacular; the viability of the project has been achieved and the benefits to wildlife have dramatically exceeded everyone’s expectations. It is an ambitious and far-sighted project that addresses some fundamental questions about land use, food production and environmental protection.
This is an uplifting read for anyone who loves wildlife and worries that the UK fails to adequately protect its natural heritage; Knepp seems to be providing some answers. It is an interesting and perhaps challenging read for landowners, agriculturists and some environmentalists who will not agree with everything that has been done at the project but who work with many of the same issues and may learn something from the Knepp experience.