“It looks like they need a strimmer!” visiting Knepp with a Kentish farmer

Photo of 3rd Gen farmer in a blue shirt and glasses looking across Knepp. He stands behind a group.

“If you want to make small changes, change the way you do things; but if you want to make major changes, change the way you see things.”

This epithet is at the heart of many re-wilders’ and regenerative farmers’ transformational journeys.

It is why Knepp focussed on the reintroduction of the White Stork when it has little bearing on natural eco-systems. Instead it evokes a deep sense of something lost and re-found – a connection to times past as you see the magnificent  birds circling overhead. This bird beacon united local owners around Knepp in their support for the UK’s flagship re-wilding programme attracting the attention of media, politicians and visitors who book out full the site’s camping and glamping year on year.

Although much of the species re-introduction is planned and deliberated carefully in re-wilding, this process of natural restoration is fundamentally about losing a fixed mindset around what should be there and instead moving to a more nature led stance of seeing what evolves. This this natural process extends into my coaching of executives and business leaders as a powerful metaphor as many businesses are facing market changes that are causing them to adopt a more ‘re-wilded mindset’ about what they as individuals and businesses can evolve to do.

It is also a mindset that a farmer called Mike West, local to Wilder.Work’s base in Kent, has become increasingly open to. The soil in his beautiful parcel of land nestled against the chalk North Downs is tired. West’s grandfather ripped out many miles of ancient hedgerows in the 1970s bid for ‘peak yield’ and much of the crop grown in the part clay, part stoney ground is ravaged by deer.

West has farmed much of the land surrounding him and is a highly skilled and respected farmer locally. He speaks mindfully of traditional farming whilst being very open to considering more natural approaches.

We were both a little apprehensive about what the course at Knepp might entail – West had taken a full day off farming at a very busy time of year and I had bought us both tickets through Wilder.Work in the hope West’s land could form part of a local network of re-wilding landscapes we can bring businesses into.

Driving into Knepp and seeing the overgrown banks and swathes of nettles clearly rattled West and he joked about giving the place a good strim. It wasn’t until we came upon the White Stalk nest that Mike started to look more curious about what the day-long course might entail.

Watching West’s reaction to the re-wilding landscape throughout the day was such a privilege. He described feeling a little underwhelmed at the aesthetics of the site, reflecting that his grandfather’s land looked very similar to it before they worked hard to transform it into agricultural fields. 

But the course had the impact Knepp desired. Its simple dairy farm land, lacking the greater views of West’s land in the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, inspired Mike that if Knepp could achieve what it has, with its re-wilding impact and visitor attraction figures, he stood a decent chance with his much smaller but beautifully placed parcel of land at the foot of the stunning Devil’s Kneading Trough.

And, after hearing about the diversity of flora and fauna returning to Knepp, and the carbon the land was proven to be sequestering, Mike’s drive to strim the overgrown banks as we drove out of the site didn’t seem quite as fervent. How he saw it had changed.