Knepp and Hampton Estate: Molly Biddell on the power of the collective

28 February 2024

As part of our Zulu Green Room series, we spoke to Molly Biddell, Head of Natural Capital at Knepp Estate and Public Engagement Lead at Hampton Estate, about the importance of collaborative action and multi-variate thinking to restore land at scale.

Early memories of nature 

I grew up on an English dairy farm and was lucky enough to spend every living moment in nature – to the point that when my sister was born, I was so used to babies being calves that I thought she’d be in the stable.  

"Crisis. I wish I hadn’t grown up at a time of global warming,” I wrote when I was eight. Early on, my teachers instilled a deep concern in the environment, as well as a lifelong passion for nature. 

I’m not an ecologist or biologist, and have never been a scientist. Yet, as I work more and more in this field, I’m learning new ways to see the land that I’ve grown up on. I am now beginning to see it from an ecological lens and understand its dynamics and interconnectedness. 

There is a beauty, tranquillity and perspective so intrinsic to nature. As someone who is eternally curious, this is a world you can never tire of. There are always more questions, and there's always more to learn. 

Nature restoration on the Knepp and Hampton Estates 

I work at both Knepp and Hampton Estates in the Southeast of England, two of the most chimney-potted estates in the country. 

Hampton Estate is just forty miles from London, so close that on a clear day you can see the top of Canary Wharf from the fields. From this vantage point, you can so clearly see the disconnect between the city and countryside, despite these two worlds living side-by-side. I believe so strongly that a thriving and resilient rural sector needs a holistic approach to both rural and urban landscapes – we need to break down the divide between urban and rural. 

A thriving and resilient rural sector needs a holistic approach to both rural and urban landscapes – we need to break down the divide between urban and rural.

Molly Biddell

As Head of Natural Capital at Knepp Estate, I explore ways that we can leverage emerging nature markets for ecosystem services such as biodiversity provision, carbon sequestration, and water regulation, as well as discussing what nature markets could and should look like in practice. Knepp is focused on process-led nature restoration and land regeneration, a demonstration site of hope and data, and Hampton Estate is a blended business of regenerative beef and hop production, nature restoration, and forestry. 

At Knepp Estate, after 25 years of process led restoration practices, our focus now is on measuring them!  

We are currently working alongside universities and ecologists to put numbers against the carbon sequestration, biodiversity uplift, and water quality improvements. It’s exciting to see initiatives that we know work in theory, such as carbon sequestration, and understand their impacts in clear, quantifiable metrics. We are a data-led world and to drive change, any measure must stand up to scrutiny.  

The role of technology 

Advancements in technology, and the ability to analyse at the landscape-scale, makes the entire process so much quicker.  

My mother was one of the first female rural chartered surveyors in the UK and  she’s always had a love of maps. When she sees today’s mapping capabilities, she is inspired by the potential of modern technology! ! Technology is so important for measuring, modelling, and communicating the impact of a nature restoration project: telling its story effectively and engaging people.  

Much of my work at Knepp revolves around education and sharing the estate’s principles of diversity – what ‘messiness’ in land management can look like, the metrics that landowners should strive to measure, and where nature markets can provide invaluable income. 

Managing multitudes 

On any given day, I can be a natural capital consultant, environmentalist, farmer, communicator or conservationist. I constantly ask myself, “in this scenario, who do I need to be to give the most value here?” I think that one of the most interesting and fluid elements of working within nature restoration is the pace of change and a constant degree of uncertainty.  

My work is driven by the belief that we can and will deliver solutions. Nature-based solutions are not pipedreams – we’ve already seen them work at estates like Knepp and Hampton. But to drive change at scale, we need to break down silos and increase shared understanding across the collective. 

And this work needs everyone – we need farmers, we need ecologists, and we need people-people to create these changes across communities. Multiplicities of opinion are key to driving these changes forward. 

The perception of a farmer 

Farming is one of the oldest occupations in the world, and yet I’d argue that society’s perception of farming as an industry is often separate from its reality.  

The roles of ‘farmer’ and ‘environmentalist’ have always been innately linked. I think we, as a collective, must see farmers as the custodians of our natural environment. Farmers manage up to 70% of the UK’s land and have one of the hardest jobs in the country. They are working in all elements, side-by-side with nature and all its brutalities and uncertainties, to make money out of a product that is essential yet undervalued.  

There is so much to learn from every side of the equation, from farmers to city corporates, city corporates to farmers. This learning must be compassionate and cannot be politicised. I get very frustrated by media’s tendency to politicise debate and create an ‘us or them’ division – land use is complex enough in itself. It’s the very thing that sustains society and requires people to listen to others.  

What we’ve seen at Knepp is the curiosity and interest from other organisations wanting to understand nature and their impacts on the natural world. Many have already established science-based targets, signed up to the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework, and want to drive positive change. 

The challenge is often in communication and finding the budget, particularly in the cost-of-living crisis. All too often, investments in offsetting programmes and nature-based initiatives are coming out of marketing teams rather than operational budgets. We need to shift that. 

The power of clusters and collective action 

While clusters (groups of farmers and land managers) can sometimes be difficult to create, they are becoming more and more commonplace. Once they come together over a common identity and purpose, they can be really powerful and have huge potential to create impact.   

There is an ingrained perception that British farmers do not work together because historically, working with the farmer next-door in a highly competitive retailer-led marketplace might have meant getting undercut and losing out on profits.  

Now that businesses, policy makers, and markets are realising the full gambit of value that land can provide, beyond just its calorific potential, that’s changing. Slowly but surely, we are moving away from focusing purely on silos and linear input/output spreadsheets towards landscapes: what value they can create, who are the drivers, and which communities this can benefit, and critically how we can leverage this value to make the investment case for these landscapes.  

We cannot deny that the agricultural policy transition is terrifying for many farmers, with much of their economic support disappearing while new opportunities emerge. There is a lot to stay on top of and to learn, and many farmers are turning to each other, YouTube videos, and even TikTok to share and deepen collective knowledge and learnings. 

Think holistic 

Understanding the ways that new forms of land management can fit into your business in the long-term will be crucial. One thing that I love about nature restoration is that we, as people, are ultimately enabling nature to do the right thing.  

This circles back to curiosity – for others, the city, and nature herself: asking the soil of a place what its ideal habitat might be, understanding what types of business it could fit, the communities it might benefit, and how these layers all come together as a holistic whole. 

Fundamentally, everything comes back to our relationship with nature. In the Western world, nature was once a threat that we saw ourselves as separate from rather than embedded within. It was something that we felt that we had to oppress, use and extract for our own benefit. Now, we know that we have gone too far. We need to go back and create a system that will sustain it, and ourselves in the process. As humans, as businesses, we are a part of nature.  

This belief is integral to our approach at both Knepp and Hampton Estate: letting let nature take the lead, and working with it, rather than against it.  

Contact us 

For more information on Zulu Ecosystems’ approach to landscape regeneration and how we can help you discover the potential of your natural capital, please contact for a no-obligation consultation. 

If you’d like to join our growing team, please visit our open roles here. 

Written by
Molly Biddell
Head of Natural Capital at Knepp Estate
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