Season 2 • Episode 9
After 17 years of trying to prop up their failing farm outside of London, Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree were stressed, exhausted, and $1.7 million in debt. They decided to stop farming—no more plowing, planting, irrigating, chemicals. They gave away the farm—to nature.
20 years later, their land has one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the UK. These 3500 acres teem with species, many of which are endangered or hadn’t been seen in the UK for centuries. And the twist: Their land now generates more money than it ever did as a farm.
Similar rewilding experiments are under way in 30 countries. They offer protection for nearby farms, corridors of safety for animals—and buffers against climate disasters for us.
In West Sussex, about an hour outside of London, there’s a 3500-acre farm called the Knepp Estate. Well, I should say “former farm”; the owners tried everything to stay afloat.
TREE: [00:06:10] when you’re in that sort of failing business, like we were, and you were going through those / stressful
, you know, sleepless nights, / You’re not really standing back and thinking, “we could be doing this all wrong!”
In the end, they surrendered. They turned over the land to nature—and the most incredible thing happened.
I’m David Pogue, and this is “Unsung Science.”
Season 2, Episode 9: The Rewilded Farm. The story begins in a castle in the English countryside. Knepp castle, spelled K-N-E-P-P. I mean, it’s a smallish castle, but it’s unmistakably a castle. It’s got a tower, and the roof line has those rectangular scalloped cutouts all the way around, where your archers can hide while they’re shooting at marauding neighbors.
BURRELL: It was built in 1806, and it was gutted by fire in 1902. I mean, you would have been standing here in 1902 and looking at the stars. And so then it got completely rebuilt.
This is Charlie Burrell, the current owner. This castle has been in his family for over 220 years.
BURRELL: David. David, come in. Come in. It’s empty because we’re about to have a concert. We’ve got a wilding concert.
We’re in the main gallery, where he’s giving me a tour of the oil portraits of the Burrells going way back.
BURRELL: So, that’s the guy that
built …built the castle. And he married an heiress who brought to the family 30,000 a year. /[00:53:25] You know, that’s a lot of income. / it’s sort of Gates income. So he married really well. /
And look! Here’s the portrait of the heiress herself.
BURRELL: So, Sophie, look at her! I mean, she was an heiress and very beautiful. And there she was, marrying this boring academic with no money. Look!
POGUE: Yeah, I mean, he must have been really witty.
Now, he’d asked us to call him Charlie. But I should point out that Charlie Burrell is technically Sir Charles Burrell.
POGUE: And so if you’re Sir Charles, what—what nobility are you?
Yeah, well, Baronet. The title is sir, but it’s called a baronet. / You haven’t been ennobled because of what you’ve done in your lifetime. You’ve just inherited the baronet-cy.
POGUE: I see.
BURRELL: I’m the 10th baronet.
POGUE: Okay. And does that carry with it certain rights and responsibilities?
BURRELL: Not really, no. / it’s not something that really — I don’t use it.
For much of his career, in fact, Burrell was a farmer. He and his wife Isabella Tree spent 17 years raising crops and livestock on the castle’s 3500 acre estate. That’s right—the naturalist hero of this story is named Isabella Tree.
POGUE: And to be clear, that’s your actual born name.
TREE: Actual born name.
POGUE: Would you mind giving us the story of these 3,500 acres? What was it when you found it?
BURRELL: This was a conventional farm with what’s called mixed farming. So, you’ve got, you’ve got cattle and sheep and arable farming and dairy, and that’s what I inherited.
POGUE: And how long did you succeed as a farmer?
BURRELL: I took over when I was very young, so when I was 21. And so I farmed for about 17 years before it just became clear it wasn’t going to work.
And the reason it wasn’t going to work, in the era of modern, high-volume commercial farms—is that the farm’s soil was mostly heavy clay.
TREE: For six months of the year, in the wet and this kind of soil, you simply can’t get heavy machinery onto the land. So, you can’t do any of the maintenance, you can’t restore your ditches, you can’t sow spring crops. You’re, you’re at a massive disadvantage when it comes to competing in a global, global market with farms on much better soils.
POGUE: What are some of the things you tried?
BURRELL: We sort of modernized the whole thing and made it much more, much more sort of conforming to the then thinking, which was just production, production, production, without thinking really the costs of what that production meant. That whole intensification, the—the spraying, the new technologies, the new crops that were coming on.
TREE: When you’re in that that sort of failing business, and you were going through those stressful, you know, sleepless nights, you’re thinking in a very blinkered tunnel of, “how can we survive to the next week, the next month, the next year?”
BURRELL: It was a very difficult time. When you’re, when you’re making big decisions and big changes, you know, a lot of lives are affected. You know, you have a lot of employees that were tied up with the farming business, and so, you know, it was all pretty stressful, wasn’t it?
TREE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We were £1.5 million in debt by then. So, it was really looking desperate.
They bought themselves some time by selling off their dairy cows, and all the equipment they’d been using to milk them. But Charlie’s father had some practical advice.
BURRELL: He was saying, “If you’ll want to farm, don’t farm here. Go and get some good land and farm. If you want to keep hold of this land because it’s been in the family for 220 years, then do something else.”
That something else was an idea from a Dutch guy they met.
TREE: We met this amazing Dutch ecologist, Frans Vera.
Vera had become famous for his radical plans for a 22-square-mile Dutch nature reserve called the Oostvaardensplassen. Instead of just conserving the land, leaving it as it was, Vera suggested in 1986 that the government introduce cattle, horse, and deer. He predicted that their trampling and tromping around would soon rewind time, restoring the reserve to a thriving, teeming, more biodidiverse era.
TREE If you want to recover biodiversity, the keystone species to that are the, the large herbivores, the big animals that go around the landscape, rootling, trampling, driving, transporting seeds, moving their dung around, everything they do, the vegetation they eat, their preferences all has an impact. It creates niches for other life. So you can re reestablish biodiversity by allowing these animals to be the managers of late nature, letting them have the driving seat and sitting back and just allowing them to perform.
BURRELL: We said, “Well, why don’t we do this at Knepp? Why don’t we look at this grazing ecology idea on our land?”
The core of Vera’s idea is something we now call rewilding, which was a radical new idea in land management. The basic idea is: stop with the land management. Stop farming. Stop plowing, planting, irrigating, spraying chemicals. Sit back and watch what happens.
So in 2000, Burrell and Tree built a fence around their land, and then—quit farming. Today—well, you would not recognize the place. It looks like the Serengeti.
TREE: What has been absolutely astonishing, is how quickly nature has bounced back. So from being one of the most depleted sort of pieces of land you can imagine, we’ve gone from that to being one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the UK. The only animals we have introduced are the free-roaming animals that drive the system, but everything else has found us.
are now have some of the most, the rarest species in Britain: turtle doves, nightingales, purple emperor butterflies. We have peregrine falcons nesting in a tree, which is almost unheard of, lesser spotted woodpeckers, yellow hummers.
But on top of that, it’s the sheer volume of–of species, it’s the biomass that exists here. So in the spring, you go out for a dawn walk, and the sound of birdsong is so overwhelming you can almost hear it, feel it, reverberate in your stomach.
Charlie got into the driver’s seat of this ancient sort of Jeepy safari car thing; Isabella and I sat in the open-sided back.
TREE: These are our safari vehicles. Austrian troop carriers. Pinskauers they’re called.
POGUE: Wow. They still make them, or this is a relic?
TREE: These are all second-hand. I mean, these date back to the sixties.
I have to tell you—you never would have guessed that this place was once a farm. It’s clusters of trees, and then open sunny spots, and lots of brush, all sprouting up according to nature’s rules.
POGUE: Do you still remember, “oh, this used to be corn, and this used to be sprouts…?”
TREE: Yeah, the —every field that we’re going through now would have been, um wheat, or barley, or maize as far as the eye can see. And this is all come up of its own accord.
POGUE: So these trees and stuff, these bushes, you didn’t plant these?
TREE: No. So this is all come up. This is sallow…
And where there’s flora, there’s fauna. There are a lot of critters at Knepp.
BURRELL: What I wanted you to see was the first breeding storks to be back in Britain for 600 years. And there they are. And there they are, and there they are.
TREE: One just here, behind the tree.
This thing was incredible. Just at the very tippy-top of a tree in front of us, standing astride her gigantic six-foot nest, was a stork—a tall, graceful, snowy white stork.
POGUE: Oh, my gosh, that is amazing. So that stork would not have been here when you guys arrived?
TREE: No. So the last time storks nested in the UK successfully was 1416. (laugh) A year after the Battle of Agincourt.
Now, to be clear, it’s not like these storks were just flying along over England, spotted this idyllic sanctuary, and said, “Hey, let’s raise a family here!” Tree and Burrell brought the first storks to Knepp, in hopes that they would begin breeding. They came from Poland, where they’d been injured by collisions with cars and power lines.
TREE: (cont’d)/because they wouldn’t have been able to colonize on their own.
POGUE: And do you get a sense that the numbers are growing?
BURRELL: We know they’re growing. We’ve got all our chicks being produced in these trees. They’ve built all this infrastructure, these storks, and they’re producing 20, 30 chicks a year as well.
POGUE: I don’t mean to horrify you, but why should we care about a stork in Britain?
TREE: Well, as you— as you’ve seen I mean, your exclamation of amazement, when you just saw it just now. It is the most extraordinary, charismatic bird. We’ve had an astonishing sort of relationship with this bird for thousands and thousands of years. The Egyptians talk about them, the ancient Greeks… In Eastern Europe, they still revere these birds as the harbingers of good luck, of good fortune. You know, we have the myth of them being bringing babies in their beaks, they’re a huge part of our cultural identity.
POGUE: Usually when you hear about some creature going extinct in a region, you hear, “because we hunted them to extinction.” We didn’t hunt storks, so…
TREE: Yeah, we did. We ate them. They’re almost on every ancient banqueting menu in medieval times. Yeah.
TREE: So we ate them to extinction.
Now, remember—a key to terraforming a place like this is those big roaming herbivores, that trample and stomp and spread seeds around. So the couple brought in some of those critters—the oldest breeds they could find, in hopes of simulating how this land was tens of thousands of years ago.
It didn’t take us long to find a magnificent family of Old English longhorn cattle. I mean, that word Longhorn isn’t messing around—the horns on some of these guys stuck out almost two feet on each side.
BURRELL: This is Old English longhorn. And we have about 400 of them.
We were standing close enough to touch these cows, but they just glanced over at us and went right back to their munching.
BURRELL: They’re big, hefty animals, and they’re moving through this landscape, smashing through stuff, browsing on the twigs of trees, eating the grasses… the disturbance and the movement of these animals through this landscape.
TREE: I mean, a cow can carry hundreds of different seed species in its gut and its hooves and its fur. So it’s transporting plants around the landscape. And it’s also transporting nutrients. So it’s eating in one place, dunging in another. And then all the microbes and bacteria and the life that is in that dung is taken down very quickly by dung beetles. So restoring your soils as well, so they have a huge effect on the environment.
POGUE: And you’re not just letting them live out their lives here. You will eventually turn them into —
BURRELL: They all go to meat.
POGUE: Those of us who know where our steak comes from are used to knowing that they are medicated and antibioticked and often fed corn, which is not something that cows naturally eat.
TREE: No ivermectins, no wormers, no antibiotics in them.
BURRELL: We’re testing them, for TB, for disease. Otherwise, they’re left alone, they’re left to get on with it. So you will have maybe five or six generations now of, of animals within the herds. So the great, great, great, great grandmother will be there—
POGUE: Excuse me, we’re working here! (laughter)
Burrell All the daughters and so on will be then part of that herd.
TREE: And suddenly you see what domesticated cattle do if they’re given the chance to live a life like this, the way they rub against trees, they’ll plunge into water, they’ll eat aquatic plants, they’ll browse on trees, they’ll self-medicate. That whole herd structure that they’re missing, that multigenerational structure that they’re missing as social animals, is something that was completely new to us.
POGUE: So do you feed them anything?
BURRELL: No supplemental feeding. They’re just finding whatever they need from this landscape.
TREE: The thing we forget is that cows don’t just eat grass. You know, they are browsers as well as grazers. So they eat plants and twigs and leaves.
POGUE: I wonder if that makes a difference in how they taste…
TREE: If we’re going to eat meat, we have to be very, very careful about the meat that we eat. They find it very difficult to metabolize the grains and the improved sort of protein concentrates that we give them in industrial systems, and live with permanent indigestion, essentially, and gives them all sorts of health problems. But once they’re eating what nature intended them to eat, they metabolize much, much better and they put down better fats that they can metabolize, that we can metabolize too.
I wanted to love this operation, I really did. But I mean—they do slaughter and sell these cattle as beef.
And as a well-read citizen of the planet, I can tell you that Cattle. Are. The. WORST. Cows produce more greenhouse gases than any other food. If cattle were a country, they’d be the third biggest greenhouse-gas polluter on the planet, right behind China and the U.S.
See, cows ferment their food in their stomachs. And that process generates enormous gross volumes of gases, which the animals release as burps and farts. A single cow belches up about five gallons of gas an hour. And half of that is methane, which is wayyyyy worse than CO2 at trapping heat.
Cows are also a resource disaster—the amount of land, feed, water, and fertilizer they require—
OK, sorry. You didn’t come here for a lecture. But when I was researching my book, “How to Prepare for Climate Change,” I was so horrified by the climate effects of cattle raising that I stopped eating beef then and there.
So I brought it up.
POGUE: The cattle thing, I have to say, is the one thing that gave me pause when I read about this operation. You know, the amount of methane they burp up. How do you reconcile that problem?
TREE: So when they’re eating things that they can’t digest, much more methane is produced. If they’re eating herbs and particularly —if they’re browsing twigs and eating bark and leaves, it actually suppresses the methane production.
So basically what’s happened here is we’ve gone from being in a farmed landscape where we were massive carbon emitters, to being a really significant carbon sink. And these animals are playing part of that regenerative movement to get the soils back, to get the vegetation back. And so they are part of that bigger carbon cycle, which is —which is a sink overall.
A little further on, we spotted a set of four red deer stags—that is, boy deer—in a shady clump of forest. Their antlers were unbelievable. Huge and branchy and heavy-looking.
TREE: Aren’t they amazing? Their antlers have just exploded. To us they look really outlandish on a red deer, but that is probably naturally what they would grow to if they were allowed to live in their most optimal kind of habitat.
What they love here is hanging out in the rivers. We’re observing them doing things that we’re not used to seeing them doing the rest of the landscape.
So it seems to us that they’re actually riverine species. Quite often we see them just submerged in water or eating water plants.
POGUE: So if I read about a red deer in— a in a book, it might not note that they are river creatures.
TREE: Exactly. Exactly. They…they’d say they’re creatures of the uplands and they like bare, denuded hillsides. Even scientists and ecologists have forgotten that they’re observing species mainly in a kind of very depleted landscape. And it’s only when you allow rewilding for habitats to naturally emerge and express themselves, that then you have species showing their innate natural behaviors.
POGUE: So in some ways, what we’re seeing here is what we might have seen a thousand years ago.
TREE: Absolutely. Maybe 10,000 years ago. You’d have seen creatures like this paddling about in our, in our river areas and our floodplains.
And then we found the pigs. Brown and furry.
BURRELL: We have to be a little bit cautious with them because they can get startled. They got terrible eyesight.
POGUE: Oh, my gosh! …These are hairy pigs.
BURRELL: Here’s a piglet coming out.
POGUE: Oh, my gosh. They’re so cute!
BURRELL: So just where is the mom, is the question. No, that’s not Mom.
They were just hanging out in the middle of a sunny meadow, rooting around and taking naps.
BURRELL: So who would have thought pigs graze like horses or cattle? Look at that. It’s just eating clover. So this time of year, when the ground’s too hard, the pigs have to just graze. They can’t get their snouts into the ground, and they can’t rootle. And they can’t dig up the worms and the roots and so on.
We’d say the pigs are rooting around. But in England, you say “rootle.” I love that.
POGUE: And do you have some sign that they’re now reproducing and breeding on their own?
BURRELL: Oh, well, there’s the piglets!
Oh man…the furry piglets are SO cute!
But the reason the pigs are here isn’t just to overwhelm you with cuteness. It’s to start a chain reaction.
BURRELL: The pig is, by its rootling, and its opening up of the ground, has allowed things like Sallow, which is a food plant for purple emperor butterfly, to then flourish. It’s– it’s broken up the ground so that very rare species, like the turtle dove, can flourish. So, we’re one of the only populations of turtle dove increasing in this part of Europe. We think it’s to do with the pig.
POGUE: So the pig, the pig allows a certain kind of brush to grow, which attracts the butterflies and the birds?
BURRELL: Yeah, it’s all connected.
So far, all of this sounds like it’s a really good deal for the critters. For them, it’s a gorgeous undisturbed nature preserve, going on for miles—no roads, no development, no pollution. That’s why rare species like turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, and purple emperor butterflies are breeding and thriving here, and the populations of more common species are skyrocketing.
Well, great. But what about the species we care most about—us?
How are you supposed to make a living if you’ve given away the farm? How are you supposed to make a dent in the world’s eco-problems if you’re just one dinky farm in England? And above all—what would Sir Burrell’s ancestors think if they knew he’d let their beloved property go to seed?
All of that is coming right up—after the ads. See you in a sec.
So the former Knepp Farm is now the Knepp Wildland, and it’s really something to behold. But I couldn’t help wondering—how are they going to make a living if they’re no longer selling crops? I phrased the question like this:
POGUE: But how are you going to make a living if you’re no longer selling crops?
BURRELL: The changes we’ve made have all been incredibly positive for the estate.
TREE: Rewilding has actually brought in some really significant income streams for us. So, we have eco-tourism, so …very small scale light footprint on a kind of African model, so treehouses, and glamping and camping and African safaris. And that’s now a business that brings in about a million a year.
Oh—somehow I failed to mention treehouses, shepherd’s huts, tents, and yurts you can rent for glamping. That’s short for “glamorous camping,” in case you didn’t know. The treehouses are especially cool—one of ‘em even has a wood-burning hot tub up among the branches. But don’t get your hopes up: the campsites sell out for the year within minutes of going on sale.
TREE: And then we’re selling meat from the animals that we cull here to keep the numbers the right level for biodiversity. We sell beyond-organic meat, so this wonderful sort of, we think the most ethical meat you can buy. And there’s a very big demand for that from food connoisseurs and from, you know, ethical consumers.
The rewilding project also serves its neighbors without their having to lift a finger.
TREE: We’re mitigating against floods, we’re restoring the soil, we’re sequestering carbon, we’re cleaning the air. We’re cleaning the water, so that’s a huge saving for water companies. The water coming onto our land is actually going through a filtration system, and it cleans itself of nitrates and other pollutants. So there are all these huge benefits to the public, including, of course, a place for, you know, enjoyment and recreation.
POGUE: They just come and take hikes for free?
TREE: Yeah. So we have about 18 miles of, of public footpaths. People are welcome to come any time they like to walk through. It’s actually where you can hear birdsong and feel like you’re surrounded with life. We are providers still, but of different things.
And here’s the weird part. The wildlands are even serving the nearby farms that put the Knepp farm out of business in the first place.
TREE: So we know that if you have areas of nature with, you know, wildflowers and beetle banks around
your, your agricultural fields, that actually increases your yield. It provides the— that crop with pollinating insects, it provides natural pest control, but it also helps restore your soils.
So having rewilding as the kind of webbing running throughout your agricultural landscapes is going to help replenish the water tables, it’s going to provide clean water. It’s going to provide physical buffers against extreme weather events, if we can provide these kind of windbreaks, these storm breaks around your, your agricultural land.
Well, it all sounded like a fantastic idea—an everybody-wins sort of idea. So I was surprised to hear that it was originally considered—a terrible idea.
BURRELL: It has taken about 20 years to turn the whole country around to being positive.
TREE: Rewilding in those days was a really dirty word.
We used to get a lot of angry letters in the early days, “yours sincerely, Disgusted” letters. And one woman wrote to us saying, “You’ve turned a beautiful piece of English countryside into an abomination. You know, your grandparents would be rolling in their graves.”
And a few years ago, she wrote a letter of apology and said, “I walk my dog through Knepp every week, and I now see that it is beautiful but in a completely different way. And I was totally wrong.” So, I think it takes a while, but I think we can change
And it’s not just the public that’s come around. Early on, the Knepp estate won some grants from the British government to repurpose the land—a government that’s now very pleased indeed with the wisdom of its investment.
BURRELL: We now have government policy, where 300,000 hectares of this to be created in our countryside.
That’s three-quarters of a million acres.
POGUE: Wait, the government is going to create more things like this?
POGUE: Based on what you did?
POGUE: But you replaced a plot of land that used to produce food. We have to feed people. So isn’t that in the back of your mind saying, “well, there’s a limit to how much this experiment can be recreated?” You can’t replace all the farms.
TREE: We’re certainly not saying we should rewild, you know, the entire country. But these are life-support systems that all species, including our own, depend. So I think the way to look at it is that rewilding is, is farming’s greatest ally. It’s not a competitor. Farming depends on having these areas of nature around it in order to be sustainable for the future.
So rewilding does wonders for the plants, the animals, the people, and the planet. But rewilding one farm outside of London is not going to save the earth. Burrell and Tree speak enthusiastically about corridors of nature, running among the regularly scheduled towns and farms.
But how is that gonna happen? You’d need a whole organization to do that. You’d need some kind of nonprofit. And you’d need someone to run it who had deep connections in the government.
DRIVER: I’m lucky because of my previous role as head of conservation for the Environment Agency nationally. I have lots of senior government contacts, politicians, senior civil servants, etc., who I can talk to about improving funding and policy for rewilding.
Yep, that’s right. Alastair Driver is just the guy. I wish you could see the spot where we had this conversation. It was in a lush, sunny park that Alastair Driver himself created—a one-acre oasis in Sonning, England, near his home. We’re talking wildflowers, gently waving trees, and a pond with lily pads and dragonflies.
DRIVER: So these are water lilies. White water lily. This little spiky thing that’s called Spike Rush with the little tiny flowers on the top of that stems here.
I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place to talk about Rewilding Britain, the nonprofit for which Driver is the director.
DRIVER: I travel the country advising landowners via invitation on rewilding. When I first started, I was kind of knocking on doors a bit, saying, “Anyone know anyone who’s interested?” Now I’m pretty much swamped with opportunities.
POGUE: Why would they be interested? What’s in it for the landowner?
DRIVER: You have to remember that a lot of them are really struggling to make it work financially. A lot of our farmland in this country is very, very marginally productive.
They all talk about, “I’ve tried to farm this land. It’s really difficult. It’s marginal land. But also, I want to make it better for my children, for my grandchildren. I want to leave it in a better state.” You know, people are starting to understand sustainability.
We know that 56% of our species are declining despite decades of conservation effort. We have a biodiversity crisis. We have a climate emergency. We’ve got to do something different. We cannot continue the way we are. And if you can do it on land that’s almost impossible to farm, then why not?
POGUE: And so how would they survive once they had rewilded?
DRIVER: Well, this is where diversification comes in. And that means looking at opportunities for nature, tourism, educational opportunities, health and wellbeing,
producing,—for example…There’s one site that produces amazing gin and spirits from a rewilding landscape. And it is honestly the best gin ever. I drink it, I can tell you.
POGUE: So at this stage, what is the government stance toward rewilding projects? Has any money been promised so far?
DRIVER: At the moment, there’s 50 million over the next two or three years, it’s not a huge amount of money.
That’s about 59 million dollars.
DRIVER: But that’s for some pilots just to demonstrate that rewilding can deliver. So fingers crossed, you know, next couple of years, we will move towards this —this better funded program.
POGUE: Well, if you were in charge, how much rewilding would you do to this country?
DRIVER: Well, we’ve got an ambition in Rewilding Britain of 5% of the country by 2030. If we got to that point, I genuinely believe we would turn around the decline in biodiversity and we would be delivering massive public benefits through reducing flood risk, improving water quality, storing carbon, etc. etc.
POGUE: As a selfish person, why would I care about loss of biodiversity?
DRIVER: It matters to us because the health of nature is inextricably linked to our own health as a species. So if you think, for example, about pollinating insects, the role that they play is enormous, enormous, unfathomable. And we have lost large numbers of insects, you know, potentially 40% decline in the last 30 or 40 years in an insect abundance in this country.
We need pollinators for food, fruit and vegetables, etc… so there are so many ways in where nature is inextricably linked to our own human health.
There’s no reason why people should not embrace rewilding. It really is an essential part of this future picture.
The Knepp project is a big deal in the UK. Isabella Tree wrote a book about it, called “Wilding,” that became a bestseller, that will soon be a movie. Isabella told me that they’ve cast actors who look uncannily like her and Charlie.
Meanwhile, rewilding is catching on. Rewilding projects are under way in 70 countries—including the U.S. There’s a huge rewilding project in Montana called the American Prairie Reserve, or APR, where a nonprofit has been steadily buying up land as it becomes available, in hopes of creating the biggest grassland ecosystem on the planet. A 3.2-million acre wildlife reserve—that’s 50% bigger than Yellowstone National Park! So far, they’ve bought 700 square miles—and reintroduced 800 bison.
FOX: This is a project of national and global importance that we at American Prairie Reserve cannot do alone. And it’s a vital part of what our country will be for generations to come.
As for the Knepp Wildland, the experiment in handing over land management to nature has been a huge success.
BURRELL: It’s surpassed everything that either of us ever thought would happen. We literally would not have dared to anticipate the speed of recovery of nature. Just wouldn’t have crossed our minds.
As we prepared to say our goodbyes back at the castle, we looked up one more time at the oil painting of Charlie Burrell’s ancestor in the gallery.
POGUE: What would he say if he knew that you’d taken the farm he labored to create and let it go to seed?
BURRELL: Actually, we’re very pragmatic in this family.
POGUE: So from the pragmatic standpoint, he might have said, “dude, you doubled the estate’s income.”
BURRELL: I’m not he would— “dude” would come into his sort of 18th century brain, but—you know, I get your meaning. “Dude!” Sorry, David.