Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


Isabella Tree’s Wilding film is spectacular (Oct23)

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I’ve just been to the launch. Isabella Tree’s ‘Wilding’ book is now a film. We don’t yet know where it will be released for general viewing – but when it comes, I recommend watching it.

One of the most incredible things was seeing the contrast between what the Knepp estate would have looked like if they’d gone on farming it in what has become the traditional way – and what it looks like now. Some time lapse photography and clever use of Google maps showed the transformation from monoculture fields to wildlife haven.

As many readers will know, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell started wilding or Rewilding their Sussex estate over 20 years ago. At the time they were bucking the trend – it was intriguing to see how controversial it was. Apparently their first presentation to local farmers explaining what they were doing was initially met with a stony silence. Then there was fury about letting the ragwort grow, the creeping thistles and of course, the ‘irresponsibility’ of turning their back on modern farming practices.

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Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree at their 3,500 acre estate Knepp where they have pioneered rewilding.
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The film illustrates how the introduction of the wilder species of domesticated animal has been pivotal in changing the land and bringing back the wilder animals.  The ‘rootling’ in the earth by the Tamworth pigs for example were directly responsible for Knepp becoming the most popular place int he UK for Purple Emperor butterflies.  

We also see how the ‘wild’ cows, the exmoor ponies and the beavers have all played a key part in re-shaping the landscape.  It took 7 or 8 years to get permission from the government for the beavers to come – and they’re required to be behind a fence.  But they have taken over re-shaping the river from being little more than a large ditch with soil and nutrients on a fast track to the sea – to a lingering, meandering series of ponds and marshes.  This is crucial to stopping flooding and bringing back a host of other wildlife.

Some of the filming was a rival to Attenborough!  A bird swooping on a dragonfly. An owl savouring a worm. And, most extraordinary of all pigs diving for mussels.  

Pigs may not be able to fly but did you know that pigs can swim?

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I’ll be interviewing Isabella Tree at Bridlit – the Bridport literary festival in November 2023. The focus will be on her recent book – The Book of Rewilding .  It’s a wonderful manual on how to rewild and why it makes sense in so many ways – both on a large scale and in our gardens too.  

However, I won’t be ignoring the burning questions that many people will want to ask.  Is this just a rich person’s folly?  How will we feed the nation? What about being vegetarian?  What difference does this make to climate change and biodiversity loss?  How can we wild in our own gardens? And how are government regulations still holding back what they want to do?

I know Isabella has the answers.  Like me, she’s a campaigner.  The brilliant thing is that she’s no longer dancing on her own (with her husband, of course!).  She has a voice and people are listening.  The film – Wilding – will amplify what she says.  It will reach people who may not read the book or visit the estate.  

Let’s hope it hits our TV screens soon and reaches a mass audience!

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See My previous post about my visit to Knepp in 2022.

Wild About Knepp

Wild about Knepp (May22)

Isabella Tree article – July 2023 – ‘Don’t be scared of rewilding, Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh: it’s a garden revelation’


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