Knepp Castle Estate comprises 1,400-hectares (3,500 acres) in the Low Weald in West Sussex in the southeast of England. The estate originated in the Middle Ages as one of King John’s hunting parks. It had been intensively farmed since the Second World War, with increasing chemical inputs since the 1970s. Its traditional small hedged fields and heavy clay, however, made it particularly unsuited to modern intensive farming practices.
In 2001, the present owner, Sir Charles Burrell (Charlie), decided to give up intensive farming and switch to a new land-use regime based on management principles. Gradually, over a period of six years, 1,100 ha of the land have been taken out of production and left to free development, influenced only by free roaming grazing animals: fallow, red and roe deer, Exmoor ponies, old English longhorn cattle and Tamworth pigs.
Ongoing long-term monitoring, such as botanical quadrats, and butterfly and bird transects, begun in 2001, continues to record how nature is responding to the project. For example, scientists from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have set up a long-term monitoring project looking at changes in soil, invertebrate populations, and vegetation.
The project is supported by Natural England and the Environment Agency. Numerous NGOs and conservation bodies have a close relationship with the Knepp Wildland project, notably the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Butterfly Conservation (UK), The Million Ponds Project, Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission, and the RSPB. The National Trust has held numerous conferences and workshops at Knepp, looking at the project as a potential model for its own conservation efforts.
Schools and other educational groups are invited as part of specific educational programmes, like Forest Schools and the national school curriculum. Knepp hosts MA and PhD students studying topics. Volunteer days engage the local community and other interested parties in data collection and recording. Thus there are numerous opportunities available to support the conservation efforts at Knepp.
The Conservation Management Plan has been in place since 2007. The audit of this plan took place in late 2016 and the area was listed as a Registered VCA. The annual ecological surveys provide the basis for on-going, yearly performance reports.