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Lockdown pause for the environment

Tanya Ferry with international explorer and TV presenter, Paul Rose, who backs the Cleaner Thames campaign aimed at reducing the amount of plastic rubbish in the river.

Tanya Ferry, head of environment at the PLA reflects on World Environment Day and World Oceans Day on the Thames, in a COVID-19 world.

June is a month with two dates highlighted to celebrate the world that supports us, provides us with clean air and wellbeing, provides us water and food. This year World Environment Day on 5 June focuses on biodiversity and World Oceans Day on 8 June promotes protected areas. Although these dates are set some time ago, the topic chimes well today, with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic response on river wildlife.

While lockdown has brought challenges, it has enabled many of us to stop, listen and watch the world around us far more closely.  How many of you can say more precisely where the local bird is nesting, or pick out the actual day a plant flowered?

Many have been lucky enough to stop and watch the wildlife of the Thames too, rather than being swept along in a wave of commuters in London, or having to go away from the banks of the river to work.  As we’re all challenged to nurture our wellbeing, the riverside is great place to be; being near the ocean or water is said significantly to reduce your stress levels. 

The impact of lockdown has also meant that the wildlife has used corners of the estuary where we would otherwise be.  They have nested and rested in the back of boats, on piers where over two million people normally pass every year or take to beaches downriver, where hundreds of thousands of day trippers would often come to play.  At the PLA, we had moorhens nest at the stern of one of our launches at Richmond; the nest, which had to be moved, was safely transferred under licence to the adjacent pontoon where the adults are now tending to hatched chicks.

When it comes to the Ocean’s Day theme of protection this comes in many different forms on the Thames.  At the PLA we regulate activities in order to avoid breeding and other key seasons for important species and sensitive areas.  Where greater protection is needed, there are 13 protected areas in the tidal Thames, covered by 21 designations, from Syon Park in the west to the Outer Thames SPA.

Just before lockdown, the RSPB completed habitat enhancements across 21 hectares and 10km of ditches within their protected reserve land on the north and south of the estuary with financial support from the PLA.  They are now able to record the animals and plants that have established, and already some surprising results have been recorded.

What about the future, or ‘new normal’? Well, the animals have been coming back to the Thames as work to improve it continues.  And they will stay, if we all keep improving it and understand too that it will evolve in response to climate changes.

We plan to continue our work on habitat enhancements and promoting greener river edges in projects like Estuary Edges, and we hope to be working with you all shortly for the ongoing ‘blue’ future of the tidal Thames.

In the meantime, as more people have chance to pause, look and see the wildlife in the Thames, we’re keen  hear about what you see so email us at environment@pla.co.uk or tweet the environment team @environmentpla