Updated: Sep 9
Being an ecologist in a world that is largely depleted and is threatened further everyday, it can be depressing and unrelenting.
Look closely to spot the White Storks!
Going for a walk in nature should normally be a time to rest and relax. Unfortunately through the eyes of an ecologist, this is normally quite the opposite. At risk of sounding like an environmental vampire, scared of visiting nature and bitter about the state of the environment, but it's hard to miss. In The UK, we have extremely depleted ecosystems. We have new developments popping up in previously protected areas, most conservation projects are micro managed (without many net positive results) and there is intensive agriculture everywhere.. It's honestly quite exhausting and it's rare I can stick on my blinkers enough to go for an ignorant ramble. This can be especially hard when I need to escape to nature for my mental wellbeing.
But these things change when visiting Knepp Estate.
Knepp Castle Estate is a 3500 acre estate in Sussex and a flagship rewilding programme, that is changing the conservation game. The owners Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree are true innovators, turning their farm into a rewilding project before it was "fashionable" or even an established theory.
Many years ago, I was very lucky to have a private tour of Knepp, with the team at Rewilding Sussex. We had a tour and then had tea and cake with Isabella in their castle kitchen. I have also been on a mossy ramble with the Bryophyte Society on Knepp and seen on a micro scale how incredible Knepp is. It's become a wildlife hotspot with amazing reintroduction programmes like The Stork Project and their approval for Beaver reintroduction on the estate.
Why is Knepp so special to me?
Relishing the tree top views on one of Knepp's treehouses
Photo by the incredible Faye Vogely.
In June, we decided to go for a private, quiet evening wander through Knepp's walking tracks recently once lockdown opened up. We saw Storks, Kites, Wild Pigs, Foxes, Squirrels, and much more! It sparks inspiration and excitement that change is a foot but also, seeing the action happening also gives me a quiet moment to rest. To take a big deep breath. It represents hope, restoration, action and rest at once.
It gives me space to be in a positive, progressive environment. To not be constantly bombarded with environmental failures, problems and the need for work. It's time to see action. But it isn't just the career joy, that Knepp brings. The natural chaos is therapeutic, it represents life. And sometimes we need to step away from work, from the humdrum, organisation of our urban landscapes and relish wildness. I visited again with Faye Vogely and we lost count of the species we encountered.
And if you'd like to feel inspired and full of joy, I really recommend you visit too. They have a number of ways you can support and visit. They run epic camping, safaris, they have a stork cafe and a farm shop too. You can also visit Knepp via public footpaths. They have a dedicated car park for walkers, just don't forget to donate to their honesty boxes.
But if you'd like to get involved don't live close by there are two big ways to learn more: Isabella Tree's book- Wilding. It will fill you with hope. Penny Green, the resident ecologist at Knepp has bought out a podcast- The Knepp Wildland Podcast. Have a listen!
So although the hope that Knepp brings for species, ecosystems and societal change, it isn't just restoring the environment, it is restoring me too.