Isabella Tree visits Point Reyes from Knepp Castle in England to discuss her book, Wilding: Returning Nature to Our Farm.
For many years Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell struggled to make a go as farmers, doing everything they could to make the heavy clay soils of their farm at Knepp in West Sussex as productive as possible, while rarely succeeding in making a profit. By 2000, facing bankruptcy, the couple decided they would try something new. They would hand their 3,500 acres, farmed for centuries, even millennia, back to nature. They would let it go wild.
This was no simple matter. What form did the land have before it took on the one that human beings gave it? The answer to that question was controversial and required real, and fascinating, research. The land had once been open to whole hosts of animals that had since been prevented from running wild, if not killed off or made extinct. These animals had been crucial actors in the landscape and its ecology, and how were they, or their likes, to be reintroduced? And finally there were the neighbors, often appalled at the sight of once tidy fields now running riot with what they considered dangerous weeds.
The experiment, however, was a success. With minimal human intervention, and with herds of free-roaming animals stimulating new habitats, Knepp is now full of new life. Rare species such as turtledoves, peregrine falcons, and purple emperor butterflies breed there. The fabled English nightingale, heard less and less in modern times, sings again.
The Knepp project has become a leading light for conservation in the United Kingdom, demonstrating how letting nature take its course can revive both the land and wildlife, reversing the cataclysmic declines in biodiversity that challenge Britain and the world. The story of rewilding Knepp points the way to a richer future—a countryside that benefits farming, nature, and us. Wilding is an inspiring story of hope.
About Isabella Tree
Isabella Tree is an award-winning author and travel writer, and the manager of the Knepp Wildland Project, along with her husband, Charlie. She has contributed to National Geographic, Granta, The Sunday Times, and The Observer, and her articles have been chosen for The Best American Travel Writing and Reader’s Digest Today’s Best Nonfiction. Tree is the author of several books, including The Living Goddess and The Bird Man. She lives in England.