Wild Witney is a community run Rewilding group. We are a newly formed group looking for new volunteers. Our aim is to see large areas of UK countryside given back to nature.

Currently Britain is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. There is huge push towards Rewilding areas and we hope to do our bit for West Oxfordshire along with other rewilding groups and conservationists working towards this aim.


Witney is a town on the outskirts of the Cotswolds with a long history of blanket making which has now largely died out. It is bordered by areas of agricultural land, woods and rivers. It is in close proximity to Woodstock and the Blenheim estate and is also a short drive into Oxford. 

Witney has suffered from flooding in the past. Most notably in July 2007 and more recently Christmas 2020. This has caused widespread damage and discomfort with people having to leave their homes while homes are fixed and dried and in one case has led to a young person losing their life from drowning. 

Langel common is an area described as Urban Greenspace. Herons are commonplace and Kingfishers have been spotted there. Children swim, people walk, run, exercise dogs and cycle. School kids visit to look at nature.

This project would involve a newly formed community group called Wild Witney to oversee the management of the area outlined. The area would be rewilded. The following outlines how this would be achieved. 

Existing Organisations

There is  an area of lakes that are formed from disused gravel pits formed by mineral extraction over the last 60 years in the lower Windrush Valley. This area is owned and managed by Witney Town Council and the Lower Windrush Valley Project who have worked to increase biodiversity. 

Since 2001, the LWVP has worked with many environmental organisations, mineral operators, landowners and the local community to coordinate, deliver and help manage a wide range of initiatives. These aim to strengthen and develop the evolving landscape of the valley, protect and enhance the biodiversity it supports, improve opportunities for people to access and enjoy the countryside and raise awareness, understanding and involvement in the diverse issues that influence the environment here.

The Lower Windrush Valley Project outlines a biodiversity action plan for an area to the south east of Witney town centre. With mineral extraction set to continue for many years to come, the Lower Windrush Valley Project (LWVP) was created by Oxfordshire County Council to create and implement an environmental strategy for this area. Conservation targets  include the management, restoration and in some cases, creation of standing waters, lowland meadows, ponds, reedbed, swamp and floodplain grazing marsh of riverside meadowlands and lowland village farmlands. 

The Windrush Catchment Partnership (WCP) is an un-constituted group formed as a result of a Defra initiative to establish catchment partnerships for every catchment in England.. The WCP was set up in 2014 by the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), as the catchment ‘host’ organisation. They have outlined that the Windrush (and other rivers covered by the catchment plan) have suffered a significant and damaging decline in macrophyte diversity and abundance. It states that ‘given that habitat quality has stayed largely unchanged or in some cases has been improved by river restoration projects and the uptake in agri-environment schemes, these declines can reasonably be attributed to the interlinked issues of increased sediment input and nutrient enrichment, and the impact of lower flows due to climatic changes.’

Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) believes that rivers should be safe for everyone – from invertebrates (which are a vital part of the food chain) to fish, birds and mammals, such as ourselves. They want to end the illegal release of untreated sewage into the River Windrush (and her sister rivers) and improve standards so legally discharged waste doesn’t harm the River Windrush (or her sister rivers). They are an organisation which is made up of voluntary members whose aims are to investigate, inform and campaign.

Wild Oxfordshire have begun a five year project to wild the evenlode river nearby and connect it with its floodplains as well as improving biodiversity and water quality. 

Windrush Valley Protection Group is a politically neutral group established to stop Gladman developing in the Windrush Valley on the Burford Road in Witney.  Although the development was eventually passed by Sajid Javid who was Home Secretary at the time, this group helped hugely in the fight which led to planning plans being rejected by both the Town and District Councils even after the first decision to reject was appealed. 

Hardwick Park offers watersports activities, camping and walking.

Cogges farm has struggled to survive in past years and has had to reduce its animal stock and offer accomodation for events in order to adapt and keep running. It is a charity run farm which offers a place for children to learn and play which is valued by the community and nearby the area outlined in this project.


Aside from the positive effects on this area made by these organisations as well as others, it would  seem that the baseline level of wildlife is lower than that which might be possible through rewilding. The remarkable effects on biodiversity have been shown in rewilding projects in the UK and beyond. Wild Oxfordshire have begun a five year project to wild the evenlode river nearby and connect it with its floodplains as well as improving biodiversity and water quality. Most notably the Knepp Estate rewilding project in Surrey has shown that by taking hands off the steering wheel almost entirely, nature can achieve far more than we can hope to achieve through managing the land. This project briefly outlines the way in which this can be achieved in the Witney area.

Defra (June 2021)  says that schemes are in place to allow farmers and other land managers to  enter into agreements to be paid for delivering the following public goods: Clean and plentiful water, clean air, thriving plants and wildlife, reduction in and protection from environmental hazards, adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment. It states that the Landscape Recovery scheme will involve bespoke agreements to support long-term, land use change projects, including rewilding where appropriate by 2024.


  1. To rewild langel common in areas outlined in conservation targets for the Lower Windrush Valley. This would mean leaving the land almost untouched for at least a few years after the preparatory work is carried out.
  2. To allow water from the river which runs through the common to flood the surrounding land as it would naturally by removing steep banks of river and other human additions to the river. To naturalise the flow of the river and reconnect it with floodplains.
  3. To create conditions for the area to rewild itself by allowing for the natural growth of plants and subsequent wildlife.
  4. After 3-5yrs: To introduce megafauna such as Longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs and deer in order to create the conditions for the land to rewild successfully.  To also introduce beavers. These are all animals which live in the wild on the Knepp estate and are stand ins for animals that would have existed in Britain before becoming extinct.
  5. To positively affect the negative impact of flooding around the town.
  6. To improve the quality of river water. This would run parallel with work carried out by WASP and recent new government legislation to curb sewage dumping in the area.
  7. To allow the town to benefit from ecotourism. Possible ways that this could occur would be: campsites, bird watching, animal watching, wild farm produce, art and wildlife projects.
  8. To allow struggling farmers to benefit from diversifying to incorporate ecotourism in farms bordering on the rewilded area.
  9.  To provide a huge benefit to the environment in allowing the natural growth of a biodiverse area and allow for struggling species of animal and plant to thrive. To allow for greater carbon capture and less effects of global warming. 
  10. If successful, to continue rewilding the area along the Windrush river near Crawley and near the gas works or if possible and viable, through into the wider surrounding land in areas outlined in conservation targets for Upper Windrush Valley.
  11. To allow Cogges Farm and Hardwick Park, which are in close proximity to the proposed area to rewild,  to also benefit from ecotourists which the project would hope to attract.

Specifications. Rewilding the land

In order to achieve the goals outlined above there would need to be involvement with Witney Town Council as well as the organisations outlined above,  farm owners, residents and schools. Eventually funding would be needed to: source and purchase the animals; fund fences that would need to be installed to prevent the animals escaping from the larger area and to carry out the work on the river. Decisions would need to be made about viewing areas and how these might be paid for. This of course would need to involve discussion about how far the public can disturb the animals with paths and such like.  Public opposition would need to be handled. Where possible, involvement of those opposed might be offered and would hope to counteract negativity through the possibility of  monetary gain and through positively identifying with the aims of the project through ecotourism, wild farming and such like. Two such examples might be dog owners and teanagers who often frequent this area. It might be necessary to keep dogs on leads or exercise dogs off lead in specific areas. This would need to be discussed as well as the use that teenagers in the area make of the site. The problem of litter would also need to be tackled when speaking to these groups. It might be possible to make a wild swimming and public area like they have in Hardwick Park where this could happen without affecting the wildlife. Speaking to dog owners and to teenagers through school visits to discuss the benefits of rewilding this area might lead to gaining positive support for the project. Once these things are in place, the project would run itself in the large part with private owners running their own related branches.

Rewilding the river. Flood management

In order to gain the most in terms of flood management from the project, there would need to be collaboration with natural wild river experts and organisations such as outlined above,  in order to return the river meanders and reconnect it with its flood plains. Organisations and individuals can also be sourced through literature that exists on rewilding projects that are currently taking place and which are gaining momentum throughout the UK. These have a range of literature available and online availability in order to source help for projects. The Knepp Wildland project offers help to natural flood defence through rewilding as does Rewilding Britain. Involvement of local mineral mining companies and professionals to take out the man made river controls and restore and remodel river banks would also be integral to the start of this project.


  1. Flood Prevention in Witney Town

It is hoped that the project will ensure that the properties in Witney town will not become flooded in years to come. Rewilding river projects have positively changed the flood patterns surrounding towns in other areas

  1. Economic, health and wellbeing benefits to people of Witney. Benefit to planet health and wellbeing.

It cannot be stressed enough how much this project could help local people and the wider environment. Coronavirus has led to there being a need for outside nature projects for children and adults alike. The possibility of who can gain from this project is far reaching. Including all areas such as my own which is the arts as well as nature based leisure, education, and outdoor pursuits.  

  1. To save large areas of our local natural spaces from development

To secure the land between Flogas and New Mill from being developed further and to allow for the same rewilding to occur here in order to further strengthen against flood risk and further increase biodiversity levels. This might occur through land being acquired by Witney Town Council or Oxford District Council and managed by the community in the form of Wild Witney and other groups mentioned above.