A regenerative break away from the city – Knepp Wildland Safari is every nature-lovers dream
Updated: Apr 3
This summer I visited Knepp Wildland Safaris in West Sussex – one of the largest rewilding projects in lowland Britain and only a train-ride away from bustling London.
I didn’t really know what to expect, my boyfriend had heard of them earlier in the year and booked us the getaway for our anniversary. We stayed for two nights on their camp side, a big wildflower meadow, buzzing with feeding bees (read about why this is so important here) and other insects and right on the edge of a forest was one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been to on this side of the world.
What is the Knepp Wildland?
The 3,500 acres less than 10 miles away from Horsham and only 30 minutes away from Gatwick Airport used to be intensive farmland, which had been ploughed for decades since the 2nd world war and resulted in completely degraded soil. The owners Isabella Tree & Charlie Burrell eventually decided to “take [their] hands off the steering wheel and let nature take over” and devoted the land in 2001 to this rewilding project.
While conventional nature conservation is usually driven by specific goals and/or target species, the principle at Knepp was and still is to establish a functioning ecosystem without interfering with natural processes in nature. So instead of ridding their land of weeds, for example, which is such a commonality even in our gardens, they let them grow and bloom and watched how beneficial this seemed to be for the entire system. Many bird and insect species depend on the seeds of these ‘weeds’, so naturally all these species returned after a while and thrived.
Some other factors that added to the increase in wildlife and biodiversity were the introduction of free-roaming grazing animals and the restoration of natural water courses. They got rid of the partly inefficient drains that had been in place during the intensive farming practices and “let the water sit where it wanted to be”, creating wetlands in the process.
Species that have been declining globally, such as the Turtledove, are thriving, even with an increase in numbers on the estate.
Rewilding the Knepp estate has also been hugely beneficial in terms of purified air, restored and regenerated soil and removing carbon from our atmosphere (Isabelle Tree wrote the book "Rewilding" about the whole project).
Visiting the Estate
There is both the option of ‘glamping’ in one of their beautiful and unique tree houses, yurts or bell tents or regular camping on the campsite.
There are eco-friendly solar-lighted flushing toilets on the grounds, hot water rain-showers and upcycled fire pits for every pitch.
We bought firewood, kindling and charcoal from their little shop for the evening BBQs and also brought a camping cooker to make breakfast and cook other meals.
There are loads of both half and full day ‘safaris’ on offer to learn more about specific species or rewilding in general.
We just got one of their maps and went on long walks, where we saw huge groups of deer and the free-roaming animals I mentioned earlier.
It had been a long time since I just sat down on grass surrounded by trees, meadows and fields, listening to birds and all kinds of sounds that you never get to hear in cities.
Spending those few days on the Knepp Wildland estate was a break from our London reality and I’d recommend it to anyone that would like to reconnect with nature in a thriving example of extraordinary biodiversity without having to fly around the world.