Knepp is a 3,500-acre estate south of Horsham, Sussex. Since 2001, the Estate has changed from intensive farming to pioneering rewilding project. By taking out fences and allowing the cows, pigs, and ponies to roam free, the landscape has been transformed. The movement of grazing animals has restored dynamic, natural watercourses, and created an ever-changing mosaic of habitats. This means that Knepp looks more like an African savannah than a typical English countryside! The impact on biodiversity has been extraordinary, with record numbers of rare species such as turtle doves, nightingales, and purple emperor butterflies breeding on the Estate.
You can read more about the rewilding process at Knepp on their website or the fantastic book about the project – Wilding. Visitors to the site can see a huge range of birds including barn owls, green and great spotted woodpeckers, jays, herons, grebes, and cormorants, and even white storks! If you visit in Autumn you can see the spectacular fallow and red deer stags starting to rut. The difference between Knepp and a typical farm is almost mindblowing and offers an alternative vision for the UK’s landscape. That said, Knepp is not a Tompkins Conservation style project, ultimately it is still a farm and the animals are still killed for meat.
Average rating: 4.0 (very good)
Average cost: you can walk around Knepp for free along the public footpaths – which is a great way to see the wildlife. Camping costs around $27 per person per night and glamping up to $175. A safari costs around $82.
Best time to visit: you can visit Knepp year-round although the campsite is only open from Spring to Autumn. There aren’t really any bad times to visit. Spring is best for the dawn chorus, Summer for the butterflies, and Autumn for the deer rut.
How to get there: Knepp is around 1.5 hours drive from London. Alternatively, you can take a train to the nearby station of Horsham and pick up a taxi or cycle to the Estate.
Typical activities: 4×4 safari, bird watching, camping, walking
Number of reports: 1
Last updated: 2021
WILDLIFE IN Knepp
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the ten most popular species that can be seen here are:
#1 barn owl – 0% OF WILDSIDE USERS (0/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
All five of the UK’s owls – tawny, barn, little, short-eared, and long-eared – have been recorded at Knepp. The abundance of small mammals living in the scrub vegetation, and the large areas of undisturbed hunting grounds, mean that Knepp supports a healthy population of barn owls. In 2016 a total of 18 barn owl chicks were counted on the estate. Look out for them flying low over fields and hedgerows at dawn and dusk. There are some good tips for barn owl spotting here, or you can always join one of the owl safaris across the Estate.
#2 Fallow deer – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The 1,000-acre deer park around Old Knepp castle was once a hunting park where King John used to hunt wild boar and fallow deer in the 13th Century. Today there are still plenty of deer in Knepp which are easily encountered when walking around the public footpaths. The best time to spot them is during the Autumn stag rut (peaking in October) when the males gather at lek sites and battle it out for females by clashing antlers. During this time it’s impossible to miss their roars echoing around the fields. You can even take a guided safari to see the rut from the vantage point of a jeep.
#3 Red deer – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Alongside the fallow deer, Knepp is also home to a large population of red deer. These are impressive, majestic creatures, and can be much larger than the fallow deer. Thanks to the warm and rich environment at Knepp they can grow up to twice the size of Scottish red deer, and sport some seriously impressive antlers. Between September and November, the rut occurs which can be quite fierce as the stags lock horns to best rivals and establish themselves a harem of bucks. You are recommended to keep your distance from the testosterone pumped stags at this time – apparently they forget to eat or sleep so no wonder they are grouchy!
#4 White stork – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The 6th of May 2020 was a landmark day for UK conservation – for the first time in 606 years white storks bred in the UK. This remarkable event happened in an oak tree at Knepp and is the result of the fantastic work of the White Stork Project which is aiming to bring these amazing birds back to the country. Thanks to this project, and the Estate’s wider rewilding work, Knepp is a fantastic place to see white storks.
They can be seen flying around the Estate and are often spotted from the public footpaths. The nest is also within easy reach of the campsite and visitors report being woken up by the clattering of bills in the morning. It’s a great experience to see these birds back in our skies again, but please make sure not to cause any disturbance around the nest areas as this could lead to abandonment of the nests.
#5 Eurasian jay – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Jays are beautifully coloured members of the crow family. They are easily recognised by the brilliant blue feathers on their wings. Unlike crows and magpies, they are shy birds. So look out for a flash of white and blue and a screaming call as they fly between the trees. The best time to see them is Autumn when they move about the trees looking for food. During this time they are easy to spot hunting for acorns which they store in their favourite hiding places to provide a source of food for Winter. They live in both coniferous and deciduous woodland, especially where there are oak trees. Knepp has a lot of large oak trees, making it a great place to spot (or more likely hear) jays!
#6 Great cormorant – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Great cormorants are commonly found around the UK’s rocky coastline – which supports internationally important populations of this species – although they are increasingly being found inland. They are around the size of a goose with large bodies and long thin necks. Adults are black, with white on their faces and thighs. In Knepp, the best place to see them is from the bird hide overlooking Knepp Lake. They are most easily spotted when sitting perched on a log or rock, stretching out their wings out to dry in the sun. You can access the lake and hide from the public footpath.
#7 Great crested grebe – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The great crested grebe is an elegant waterbird with distinctive chestnut and black head plumes (in spring and summer) which are raised during courtship. During this courtship display, they rise out of the water and shake their heads. Young grebes, which are striped black and white (like humbugs!), are often seen riding on their parents’ backs. Grebes are commonly found year-round on lakes and wetlands across the UK. Where they nest on floating platforms made up of waterweed. The hide at Knepp Lake is a good place to spot them. If you visit in early Spring you may get a chance to see their beautiful courtship dance.
#8 Great spotted woodpecker – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Great spotted woodpeckers are beautiful black and white birds with a shock of red on their bellies. The males also have bright red necks. They can be seen on the trunks of large, old trees in the park looking for grubs. Despite their striking colours, woodpeckers can be difficult to spot among the leaves. One way to find them is to stand still and listen out for their distinctive call – a loud ‘click’ or ‘tchick’ sound. You can also listen out for the incredible drumming sound which they make as they peck holes in trees. The presence of good quality habitat and lots of insects mean the population of woodpeckers at Knepp is booming. When we visited in September we saw more woodpeckers in one day than we’d ever seen in our lives!
#9 Green woodpecker – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The European green woodpecker is the largest of the three woodpeckers that breed in Britain. They have a loud call but, unlike other species of woodpecker, they don’t drum to communicate and spend much of their time on the ground feeding. They can be seen in Knepp year-round although can be tricky to spot. While they roost in the woods they tend not to feed there. Instead, green woodpeckers prefer open, grassy areas where they can feed on the ground. Listen out for their distinctive call and you have a great chance of spotting one!
#10 Grey Heron – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Grey herons are large, unmistakeably graceful birds with long slender necks and legs. They are wetland birds and are commonly found in the watercourses in and around Knepp. They overwinter in the UK so you can spot them year-round. Herons are most often seen stood as still as statues in the shallower edges of lakes or ponds, patiently waiting for their next meal to swim by. As with other wetland birds, the hide at Knepp Lake is a good place to spot herons.
In addition to the top ten, Knepp is also home to a range of other species including the greylag goose (100%).
Photo credit: WildSide team member Chris White