CARO­LINE CRAMPTON NA­TURE

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Wild­ing Is­abella Tree Pi­cador £20

In 1999, Is­abella Tree and her hus­band Sir Charles Bur­rell took a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion. Knepp, the 3,500-acre es­tate in Sus­sex that Bur­rell’s fam­ily had held since the 18th cen­tury, was no longer vi­able as a farm. The prices they could sell their milk and crops for were fall­ing, but the costs of pro­duc­tion were ris­ing. With­out more in­vest­ment to fur­ther raise their pro­duc­tiv­ity – and they had a £1.5mil­lion over­draft – they couldn’t con­tinue. Work­ers were laid off and the trac­tors and har­vesters sold at auc­tion. They were farm­ers no more. But they se­cured fund­ing to re­turn about 350 acres to their pre-ploughed state as a deer park.

Then, af­ter en­coun­ter­ing the ‘rewil­d­ing’ process pi­o­neered by the Dutch ecol­o­gist Frans Vera, they de­cided to try to trans­form the rest of their es­tate back into its pre-cul­ti­va­tion state of wilder­ness. Wild­ing is Tree’s ac­count of the land’s evo­lu­tion from reg­u­lar fields into now-rare habi­tats such as wet­land and scrub. They in­tro­duced his­toric breeds of deer, cows and pigs, al­low­ing them to roam freely and re­shape the land as they grazed. Grad­u­ally, rare species such as nightin­gales, tur­tle doves, cuckoos and painted lady but­ter­flies found their way to Knepp.

Tree writes with the zeal of the con­vert: the sta­tis­tics she cites in sup­port of her ar­gu­ment for fur­ther rewil­d­ing come thick and fast. She can­not un­der­stand why neigh­bour­ing Sus­sex farm­ers might be un­en­thu­si­as­tic about re­plac­ing their cows with boar and elk, and she is rather dis­mis­sive of crit­ics who dis­like the new ‘wild’ ap­pear­ance of the land­scape.

In Wild­ing, she pro­vides an ex­treme vi­sion for the fu­ture of the Bri­tish coun­try­side – some­thing much darker than this green and pleas­ant land.

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