Dorney Pocket Rewilding Vision for Thames Water


The Berkshire village of Dorney lies north of the River Thames, to the southeast of Slough and northwest of Windsor. The village was founded on low gravel islands, surrounded by alluvium, on the historic Thames floodplain. The Dorney Boreholes draw water from the gravel, which is then piped to the Dorney Water Treatment Works. The areas around Dorney were traditionally managed as grazing and hay meadows. The Dorney Boreholes occupy the northern section of an area of horse pasture – however, grazing was stopped in 2015, with Thames Water reacquiring the site in 2020. Without intervention, the site will revert to dense, low biodiversity scrub within 10 to 15 years.

Project brief

In 2020, Ecosulis was commissioned by Thames Water to develop a “pocket rewilding” vision and management plan for the 22-hectare site which had been grazed by horses untill 2015. Grounded in rewilding principles, and inspired by site visits, conversations with local stakeholders and drone imagery, our vision and plans seek to “steer” natural processes to create a rich and dynamic rewilding area that can act as a role model for recovering nature on smaller areas of land. Realisation of the vision will also lead to the creation of a precious natural asset for the local community.

Ecosulis brought a different perspective to the recovery of Dorney, producing a unique management plan that was more visionary and less prescriptive than our regular plans, with decreasing human intervention over time.

Becky Elliot, Biodiversity Manager, Thames Water




manage Biodiversity

Implementing the rewilding vision and assisted rewilding interventions will create varied, structurally diverse habitats. These will support a wide variety of plants, insects, amphibians, small mammals and birds.

Protect Habitats

Rewilding the site, which is located between the River Thames and Jubilee River ecological corridors, would create a natural habitat connecting these two water courses, diversifying vegetation structure and introducing diversity into the landscape.

empower-us-to-act People

The Ecosulis rewilding vision for Dorney will lead to the creation of a precious natural asset, allowing people to engage with wilder nature in different ways, generating a sense of place and social cohesion, and enhancing mental and physical wellbeing.

How we added value

A three-phase rewilding process

The Dorney rewilding vision proposes an innovative, three-phase pocket rewilding process. This would lead to a dynamic and diverse area of groves, meadows and bushy thickets and thereby provide an array of microhabitats for wildlife. Phases one and two would involve “resetting” natural processes – “pushing” areas where the development of scrub is sparse back towards meadow and “steering” areas where scrub is forming – with additional planting designs – towards the establishment of thickets, copse and oak groves.

Using natural grazing to enhance biodiversity

The third, more ambitious phase of the Dorney rewilding vision would involve the introduction of natural grazing to the site (by partnering with a neighbouring landowner). Herbivores can accelerate the upgrading of ecosystems and enhance biodiversity: their grazing and trampling diversifies vegetation structure, their scuffing disturbs the soil, their dung creates nutrient patches and microhabitats, and seeds are dispersed in their coats. On many small sites – such as Dorney – maintaining free-ranging herds at low density is unfeasible. But it is possible to mimic some of their impact with occasional grazing by domestic breeds and through natural regeneration design and management.

A place for people

The Dorney rewilding vision will not only benefit wild nature, but also the local community and visitors. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how important it is that we maintain our connection with nature, which helps to promote both mental and physical health. As the Dorney site becomes progressively wilder it will support an ever-growing range of activities, enhancing wellbeing and generating a sense of place and social cohesion; the mosaic of meadows and thickets will enable informal wandering and relaxation, areas of vegetation will emerge that will be ideal for school and/or therapeutic activities, orchards and berry-generating bushes will support foraging for seasonal activities such as jam and Christmas wreath-making, and the ever-changing nature of the site will create a wonderful asset for nature photography and recording.

Want to learn more about rewilding and nature recovery?

Read more insights or explore our previous work.