I love a little dip into nature. Knepp was like a mental spa but the treatments comprised
flapjack wars and inflatable mattresses. I felt incredibly connected – to the people I met, the
animals, the land, the plants… I never felt impassioned about the difference between
hawthorn and blackthorn, but since July, I have noticed the differences whenever I walk.
It’s rare to feel genuinely part of something bigger – often, conservation work seems
Sisyphean. I have sunk years of my life into fixing a problem that is so insurmountable to
tackle on my own – A zoology degree, volunteering, going vegetarian, protesting… At Knepp,
hope for the future came back with the purple emperors, the shrubs and the scarlet
pimpernels. It’s what Britain is supposed to be, and I felt at home in a pocket of rewilded
country that you suddenly realise is what has been missing.
Photo by Mimi Habib
Meeting like-minded people is a game-changer, too. I met Dustin at the station before even
reaching Knepp, and I still get my nails done the way we got them in London together after
the trip. I tried Reiki – like she recommended. James and I are planning a conservation trip to
South Africa. I saw Owen in Nottingham – he’s got an ecology job now!
I found a love for small mammals at Knepp, and now I’m planning my master’s project
around Australian rodents. It is another long journey for me that I’m sure will shape my
I’ve been considering applying for a job at Opwall when I’m done – the team seemed so
much like my kind of people. I remember at the end of my first week, Craig ushered me
conspiratorially towards his car and gave me a large packet of snacks that he and Lauren
hadn’t finished while they were there. I was so happy. I remember Fran showing me how to
hold a slow worm – properly, so that I wouldn’t scare it- and not wanting to let it go. I had
never held a slow worm before – they’re so beautiful, and right under our noses!
Photo by Jake Turton
Piglets, asleep, pressed up against their mother. New foals figuring out their legs. A cocoon
that glows under UV light. Rushing to every single ragwort plant to check for cinnabar
caterpillars and being equally thrilled every time. Storks clacking their beaks together, loving
each other, finding each other every year. Evidence of beavers in the still sound of water –
the potential excitement of new kits!
Even sucking flies out of a net was something I’d happily do again. Lenny was so patient
with me, showing me exactly how to do it without getting covered in invertebrates – and then
how to pin the flies carefully afterwards. There’s beauty in all of it, even the terrifying water
creatures we tipped into a white tray. I’ll never go wild swimming again, but I’d never take
back watching the tiny leeches wiggle across the artificial bed we created.
Finally, the bats. The pure joy of realising that the man who came to give the bat talk has a
bat in his bag! Lyssavirus is present in UK bat populations, but I’d risk it for one smooch on a
pipistrelles velvety forehead (just kidding).
Photo by Mimi Habib
There were so many other amazing things I saw and learned, people I met, things I would
love to do again. I couldn’t put it all in one piece of writing. If you get the chance to go to
Knepp with Opwall, then do it – and give the bats a kiss from me!