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Tree Planting Marks End of Thames Island Habitat Improvement Project

Wildlife, rowers, riverside residents and walkers are set to benefit after the Port of London Authority (PLA) completed a programme of habitat and other improvements on Oliver’s Ait, an island just 120 metres long and ten metres wide, on the Thames, just downriver of Kew Bridge.

The Ait is a value habitat for wildlife including bats and kingfishers; a survey of the site by London Wildlife Trust also found the rare swollen spire and Thames door snails. The work sets the island up for a long-term management programme of habitat protection and improvement developed by London Wildlife Trust for the PLA, in consultation with the local community. The approach could provide a useful model for the management of other islands in the tidal Thames.

In a programme of work costing over £30,000 and completed over 18 months, PLA-managed teams and contractors undertook extensive tree works including, felling, pollarding and planting. They also reinstated stonework on the upstream end of the Ait, which has to withstand tides running past it in excess of four knots twice a day.

The PLA marked completion of the major works by hosting a tree planting ceremony with local community representatives. The trees were planted by PLA chief executive, Richard Everitt, with Kew residents, Mr and Mrs Dobai who have, for fifty years, gauged the arrival of Spring by trees on the Ait coming into leaf.

“Islands like these a unique feature on the Thames,” explained PLA planning and environment director, James Trimmer. “They provide a natural haven for wildlife and enhance the amenity of the river for those who live locally, or row past whilst training or racing. Doing work like this is part of our goal to sustain a thriving river, both for river users, natural habitats and wildlife. We’ve now established the island habitat ready for long-term management into the future.

“This project had the usual constraints of any project on an island – everything that we used, from cement and gravel to chainsaws and saplings, had to be brought to in by boat. The same applied to the tree planting ceremony, where we had a two-hour tidal window to get our guests on and off the Island. It’s been great to share the completion of the work with local people who enjoy the views of the Ait, but would rarely, if ever, have chance to visit it.”

Joining the small group who visited the island was Strand on the Green Association’s Richard Griffith. He said:

"It’s fantastic finally to have had chance to visit the Ait, Oliver’s Island, a feature of the Thames that we’ve enjoyed looking at for many years. In recent months we’ve watched the PLA team working away to repair and sustain the Ait. They’ve done a great job and Oliver’s Island is now well set for many to see and enjoy in years to come.”

Contact: Martin Garside, Port of London Authority, Tel: 01474 562 366. Email: martin.garside@pla.co.uk

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Port of London Authority (PLA) is responsible for navigational safety and related river operations on 95 miles (150km) of the tidal Thames from Teddington in west London, through the capital, and out to the sea
  2. Oliver’s Ait is named after Oliver Cromwell who, according to legend, made the Bull’s Head on the north bank of the Thames at Strand on the Green his temporary headquarters during the English Civil War of 1642-1651.
  3. A secret tunnel which linked the Bull’s Head and Oliver’s Ait to allow persecuted priests to escape via the river is an added element to this legend.
  4. No evidence to support the headquarters story, or the tunnel, has ever been found.
  5. In 1777 the City of London’s Navigation Committee built a wooden toll booth in the shape of a small castle to levy charges on passing craft to pay for improved navigation.
  6. A barge was moored alongside to take the toll – it gave its name to another Strand on the Green pub, the City Barge.
  7. By 1865 Oliver’s Ait was a place where barges were built and repaired. There was a Smithy on the island until it was demolished in 1990.