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Reform Magazine | June 13, 2024

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Reviews June 2024 - Reform Magazine

Reviews June 2024

Good stewardship

Directed by David Allen
Certificate PG, 75 minutes
Released 14 June

After they inherited Knepp Farm in West Sussex from his parents in the early 1980s, Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree (Lady Burrell) kept it going for some 17 years until the late 1990s, when they were one and a £1.5m in debt. The agro-chemical pesticides and industrial farming practices that they and other UK farmers use were destroying the land. The couple decided to stop running the estate as a farm and to see if there was a way of repairing or regenerating the depleted land.

They brought in Ted Green, an authority on oak trees. Green could see the trees were in a bad way because the topsoil on which they depend was itself in a bad way. He talks about the trees communicating with each other under the ground, and the filmmakers brilliantly reinvent this on the screen with animated visuals. This ecosystem had been severely abused by modern ploughing techniques but after the Burrells talked with him, Green felt something positive might come out of it.

They then looked at Holland’s Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve, which overturned conventional thinking that unmanaged land would uniformly turn into forest. Specially introduced herds of wild horses stopped woodlands from growing in certain areas; instead they remained as grasslands.

Strange things started happening at Knepp. Pigs dug up the grass verge beside the driveway – the one part of the estate that hadn’t been treated with pesticides – in search of nutrients.

One year, a large area of the estate became infested with creeping thistle, an invasive plant so virulent that there are laws requiring farmers to exterminate it. Charlie considered resorting to pesticides to solve the problem; however, nature had something else to teach them, as hundreds of migrant butterflies descended on the land to lay their eggs on the thistle. Their hatched caterpillars subsequently went on to completely devour the creeping thistle.

This inspiring documentary adaptation of Isabella’s 2018 book of the same name is a fascinating story with much to teach us about stewardship of natural resources.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic.


This is an article published in the June 2024 edition of Reform

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