The Knepp Estate, West Sussex
The Knepp Estate in West Sussex is a pioneering rewilding project. What was once a 3,500 acre working farm that struggled to make ends meet, has been largely unmanaged by humans for almost 20 years. With a small herd of free-roaming cattle, some pigs and deer, the 3,500 acres has become an oasis for wildlife, which photographers can enjoy.
I’ve been to Knepp on three occasions to photograph kingfisher, tawny owl and buzzard. All the hides are operated by wildlife photographer, David Plummer, and because of the unique nature of the environment none of the hides are permanent structures.
David is definitely a naturalist who is also a photographer and like many people who run photography hides, they are the result of years of input and study. You can book a session via David’s own website, although he is also a guide for Knepp’s own Wildlife Safaris. Once booked, David sends an email with all the meeting instructions, which is usually one of the Knepp car parks.
Getting to the hide involves a drive in David’s car over some fairly bumpy terrain into the wilds of the estate. All the hides are two-person pop-ups with just just a couple of chairs inside but perfectly comfortable.
As mentioned I’ve been three times. The kingfisher hide is on the edge of the lake set back about 12-15 ft from the perch. When I first arrived there was a mist over the lake which gave the pictures a white background but as the morning progressed the mist lifted and revealed the green vegetation on the opposite bank. I stayed in the hide for about 5 hrs and had 5 visits from the kingfisher.
My second visit was to the buzzard hide. Again we met early, David baited a large fallen branch and I set up my camera and tripod in the hide, tucked under some trees about 40ft away. The buzzard was down within 15 minutes and remained for about 45 minutes before leaving. These aren’t the sorts of hides that have a multitude of bird feeders to attract as many species as possible so once the buzzard is gone and unlikely to return, that’s probably the end of the session unless something else happens to be in the area.
My last visit was a cold November afternoon to set-up for a tawny owl. We were in the hide, set-up in the woods, by 4.30pm just as it was getting dark and back in the car by 6.30pm. This was the least interesting visit. It’s effectively a night shoot with flash, so setting up and focussing all happened while there was still light. To make it easier David suggested using a remote shutter but because it was so dark I was reliant on David telling me when the bird was on the perch before pressing the button and firing the flash and shutter. I was happy with the shots taken but I didn’t really feel any connection to them.
I’ve enjoyed my visits to Knepp and meeting David but compared to other photography hides it is priced at the premium end of the market, which may deter some.
All of the images were taken using a Lumix GH5 with a Leica 100-400mm lens.
Andrew Cameron. August 2019.