Isabella Tree on how rewilding took the Knepp Estate from a ruin in the red to a miracle of Nature

Isabella Tree tells the incredible tale of Britain's first rewilding project.

At the turn of the millennium, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell faced a crisis. They were £1.5 million in debt after spending 17 years trying to run a farm that simply wouldn’t grow the crops they needed for it to be sustainable.

With all their efforts to effect change and introduce diversification failing, they took a drastic decision: to return the farm to Nature — a decision which Isabella tells James Fisher all about on the Country Life Podcast.

Rewilding might be a buzzword in the 2020s, but at the time was almost unheard of in Britain. Only a few projects on the Continent showed that there might be a potential alternative that could save the estate. Charlie and Isabella pushed ahead — and were staggered at how, within months, Nature began to recover and restore this heavy clay farmland that simply refused their attempts at agriculture.

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‘Suddenly it felt like the land was breathing a sigh of relief, and everything was coming to live,’ Isabella tells James Fisher on the Country Life Podcast. Even things which scientists had told them could take a century began happening within the first year, and they’ve never looked back.

‘We knew we were on to something,’ she adds, ‘and it’s just got better and better.’

This was a photo I took of a wild deer at the knepp castle estate. Shot on lumix g7 with sigma 150-600mm.

Isabella went on to write a bestselling book about her experiences — a book which has now been turned into a documentary film, out in June 2024 (you can watch the trailer at the Country Life website).

You can find out more about Isabella, Charlie and the Knepp Estate at

Isabella Tree.

Episode credits

  • Host: James Fisher
  • Guest: Isabella Tree
  • Producer and Editor: Toby Keel
  • Music: JuliusH via Pixabay
  • Special thanks: Adam Wilbourn