The 'King' and the 'Maverick' of Rewilding

5th February 2023
BY Eve Cavey, Duncan Louis Stewart Fellow of Natural History

A Natural History and Sustainability Highlight

At the end of January, Winchester College presented an evening with two of the most significant and influential figures involved in nature recovery in the UK. Sir Charles Burrell, (alongside his wife, author Isabella Tree) created Knepp Wildland, a 1,400 hectare estate in Sussex that is synonymous with rewilding and regenerative farming. The success of Knepp’s turtle dove, nightingale and purple emperor butterfly populations has inspired many to think differently about Britain’s wild spaces, and has earned Sir Charles the moniker 'King of Rewilding'. As he noted, “The biggest change that is going to happen in our landscape is regenerative agriculture”.

Derek Gow is an ecologist, reintroduction specialist, farmer, and author of the Bringing Back the Beaver. Mr Gow has reintroduced 25,000 water voles and dozens of beavers to British waterways; “Beavers are the creators of life - without beavers there is no life”. Gow’s determination to win over doubters and cut through bureaucratic red tape has built his reputation as a “rewilding maverick” and an especially inspiring writer and speaker.

The Potential for Winchester College

Prior to the evening’s talks Burrell, Gow and I walked around the College’s nature reserve and the long, clear stretches of the River Itchen discussing the huge potential for a wilder Winchester College, and a wilder Britain overall. Both men are pioneers of wildlife restoration and both their sense of urgency and optimism is infectious.  

New Hall was packed with pupils, staff, students from our partner schools, and Friends of Winchester College. The questions from the audience were well-informed and engaged, particularly in the economic viability of rewilding projects, and the scope for wider, ambitious projects on an international scale.  

A wilder future

Talking to pupils after the talk was enlightening; a feeling of huge potential and hope was evident, which can often be crushed in frank discussions of climate, sustainability and biodiversity. They particularly engaged with Gow’s blunt, observant and determined plans, eschewing “cheap talk” and advocating “getting on and doing things” instead. The evening was a formidable, inspirational rallying cry for rewilding in Britain, and the perfect primer for the College’s field trip to Knepp Estate this summer.

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