Twitters visit Knepp
Shoreham District Ornithological Society News Letter 

by Brianne Reeve

Dear Charlie,
Thank you once again for giving us so much of your time on Wednesday. It was a fascinating and memorable day. I don't think I have ever had so many people say how interested they were and how delighted they were to have been able to see what you are doing on the estate.
I am forwarding my report on the outing but it is very long and I don't expect you to plough through it all!
I am really pleased to have met you and hope we shall be able to visit in the future.
Regards,
Brianne

(This is a very long report but those who came on the outing will understand that I wanted to do justice to what we were shown).

The outing to Knepp Castle proved to be very popular as 27 members parked at The Bothy to meet Charlie Burrell on Wednesday morning. He was our host for the morning and was immediately most welcoming, though slightly surprised at such a large gathering! He started by showing us a large map of the 3,500 acre estate which had been intensively farmed, ploughed up year after year and hedges damaged by chemical spraying. Charlie decided he wanted to try a new approach and 'put his ideas on a sheet of A4' in 2001. The result was that the EU was very interested, also Natural England , the Environment Agency, the RSPB and SWT. The estate was divided and ring-fenced into three areas: north of the A272, the main area around the Castle and the southern area. His aim was to return the land to its original wild state, to bring in animals and allow them to run free: Exmoor ponies, Longhorn cattle and Tamworth pigs, but at the same time it had to be a commercial exercise. The deer are regularly culled, the cattle provide beef and the Tamworths' end product is Serrano ham. 

When I asked how the animals reacted to each other he said there were difficulties when he introduced the Tamworths, the Exmoor ponies took an immediate dislike to the sow and her piglets and tried to kill them, there was a great deal of noise, pigs squealing, horses neighing and then the cattle came to see what all the fuss was about! New ideas are not always straightforward. Then there is the very large herd of Roe deer, they looked so beautiful in the morning sun and when a huge number bounded in front of us as we moved through the park it was a spectacular sight.

We had been standing by the Bothy whilst we listened to Charlie, surrounded by tall trees which held Coal, Great and Blue Tits busily calling above us and a Nuthatch. We moved off in five cars to go and look at the western end of the largest lake in the park. Here we saw a heronry with nests dangerously low over the water, just two Grey Herons were seen. Below a pair of Great-crested Grebes were displaying and there were a small group of Gadwall on the water and a Tufted Duck. A Reed Bunting's tuneless song was heard and then it was spotted amongst the Reed Mace on the edge of the lake a few yards away from us. Two Nuthatches were trying to outcall each other and two Common Buzzards circled high in the blue sky. Charlie pointed out a tall conifer in which Ravens had nested, they have two pairs nesting in trees, (an interesting coincidence following Chris Wright's comments in his talk on Tuesday evening: 'soon we shall have tree nesting Ravens near here'). Before we left this area we were shown an eel-trap, below the level of the lake, where masses of eels were seen in years past.

We drove out of the estate to get to the southern block and were led through very rough ground, heavy clay soil, much rootled up by the cattle and pigs. We were encouraged to spread out so that we might disturb Snipe, at least two were seen and one which was probably a Jack as it rose without calling and dropped to the ground very quickly. The area we were walking through: wild rose, Blackthorn and Sallow, was grazed by cattle to just above waist height. Huge Oaks bounded the fields on which were a number of Barrie Watson's and John Crix's Barn Owl A-boxes (that is the shape 'A') which have proved to be very successful. Oaks and Sallows are the requirements for the elusive Purple Emperor which are found here  and Purple Hairstreak is probably the commonest butterfly. We heard Great spotted and Green Woodpeckers but neither were seen. Lesser is known to be here but sadly was neither heard or seen!



 

When asked about an area that seemed a perfect habitat for Nightingales we were told there were at least four pairs there and Turtle Doves too. We came to an place where the Blackthorn hedges were deeply thick (home to Brown Hairstreak butterflies) and went through to find some large ant-hills. These are no doubt used by the blue butterflies which we were told were common in the area and there was evidence that Badgers were digging them out to get at the grubs inside. We even found the tough, white hairs belonging to Badger nearby, (it's always nice to prove a point)! We were entertained by the antics of a Goldcrest and a Long-tailed Tit in the same tree as they searched for food.  A small party of Redwings were seen low down feeding on the ground.

We had already met four of the distinctive Longhorn cattle which surveyed us with interest and then we came on two Tamworth sows with two piglets. They are very attractive ginger pigs with light coloured hairs emphasising their ears. They were quite tame and rootled about pushing the turf up, doing exactly what they are there for, encouraging seeds to grow in the disturbed soil.  They can grow to an enormous size which made us think we might not want to meet them unexpectedly!  A Raven gronked overhead but could not be seen.  There was an old bank running along the field edge on which Primroses were showing and Charlie told us that Early Purple, Marsh and Common Spotted Orchids grow in profusion on the estate.

 

Suddenly, probably the birds of the day were seen - two Woodlarks flew into rough grass just ahead of us. We did spend a long time getting the best views of them in the telescopes, their plumage was superb, wonderfully streaked with the creamy supercilia  over the eye and round the head. We should have noted the short tail but that was difficult in the vegetation. They were very obliging and stayed feeding before we moved on. The 'jchack' call of Fieldfare was heard and about 40 flew up into Oak trees ahead of us.

We were nearly at the end of our tour and added a party of Long-tailed Tits and Treecreeper as Charlie was telling us about Ragwort which they only control when it may affect neighbours' gardens. It is too vast an area to hope to get rid of it all anyway.

 

It was after 1pm when we reached the Bothy again. We had been privileged to be shown part of this vast, even, formidable estate by the owner. It had been fascinating to hear what he hoped to achieve. He did not try to convert us to his approach but gave us the information in a relaxed and 

easy manner. There is no doubt we should like to return perhaps a little later in the year to hear the Nightingales and Turtle Doves and more!

Thank you to everyone who supported this impromptu outing and for the appreciation given to Charlie Burrell. An outstanding memory!

Brianne