Knepp Case Study

Once conventionally farmed, the Knepp Castle Estate embarked on a pioneering rewilding project in 2001. The rewilding project is based on the ideas of Frans Vera, who argued that the natural vegetation of northern Europe would have been a semi-open mosaic of grasslands, scrub and woodland, rather than closed canopy forest. To create this mosaic of habitats a mixture of large herbivores were introduced: red deer, fallow deer, old English longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs, and Exmoor ponies.

By grazing and browsing in different ways, as well as wallowing, rootling, scratching, debarking shrubs and transporting nutrients and seeds around the site, these herbivores maintain a diverse vegetation structure which provides a huge variety of niches for smaller wildlife species. Beavers would once have been equally important shapers of such vegetation. By coppicing trees, opening up woodland canopies along streams and building dams, beavers create mosaics of complex wetland vegetation.

Before much of England’s land was drained for agriculture, wetlands would have covered huge areas of valleys and lowlands, making a significant contribution to the semi-open habitats which Vera describes.

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