Rewild in the country

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It’s not Spring yet, of course it’s not, but yesterday felt like a tiny glimpse of what’s on the way in a few months. Warmer than it’s been forever, a bright blue sky and seven hours of sunshine. A day to dream of spring and summer and trips to the well-mannered countryside. Or, in fact, Knepp Wildland in West Sussex, where the land – once intensively farmed – has been given over to a pioneering rewilding project.

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Rewilding is the restoration of areas of land where nature can take care of itself. The idea is to reinstate nature’s processes and animals and let them shape the landscape. Essentially, it’s encouraging Mother Nature to put right the damage we’ve caused.

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It’s certainly working for wildlife – Knepp is now a breeding hotspot for critically endangered nightingales and turtle doves. Peregrine falcons, ravens, red kites and sparrowhawks all love it. And so do lesser-spotted woodpeckers, lapwings, skylarks, woodlarks, house sparrows, yellowhammers, woodcock and the largest population of purple emperor butterflies in the country. Oh, and all five UK species of owls, and 13 out of the UK’s 17 species of breeding bats.

Knepp accomm

You can stay here you know. It’s amazing. There’s a good looking collection of shepherd’s huts, treehouses, tents and yurts all ready to go. This is nothing like slumming it in the mud at Glastonbury – there are beds! Sofas! Rugs! The Bechstein’s Bell Tent, for example, has a king-size double bed with Egyptian cotton linen, a wood-burning stove, a sofa, a writing desk and a vintage travelling trunk.

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You’ll be sharing the land with some of the other animal success stories of the rewilding project – Longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies and Tamworth pigs all roam free on the estate as well as several herds of deer. There are 16 miles of footpaths within the Knepp rewilding project, five tree viewing-platforms and a bird-hide overlooking  Knepp Lake, so there’s a good chance of running into some of the estate’s inhabitants.

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You’ll be glad to know there are no plans to re-introduce  some of the more hooliganish predators  – wolves and lynx and bears (oh my) will not be joining the peaceable herds and birds. There were originally ideas for bison to be introduced, as they have been very successfully at several European conservation projects, and there may be a beaver or two in the future.

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It’s a great place for small groups with guided wildlife walks, and general restfulness and fitness the key attractions. It’s a family run business and they still live in the castle on the estate. Did I mention there’s a castle? There’s a castle. There are also some glorious cycling routes nearby, lots of excellent pubs and the accommodation looks amazing. I’ll definitely be booking some wild time this spring.  Take a look for yourself…

Knepp Safaris opened again 4th July. Click here for more details on their safety guidelines

Al Barker