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Geographical
www.geographical.co.uk December 2020 • £4.99MAGAZINE OF THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY (WITH IBG)

CAN WE PREDICT

CLIMATE MIGRATION?

TIM MARSHALL

ON BELARUS

EARTH PHOTO:

THE SHORTLIST

WHY ENGLAND’S AGE OLD NORTH–SOUTH
DIVIDE IS GETTING WORSE

A COUNTRY
DIVIDED

Page 2

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Page 42

WILDLIFE

Thames

42 . Geographical

Winding lazily for 95 miles from
the west of London, through the heart of the city and out

past skyscrapers, factories and docks, then on through

the mud fl ats that fringe Kent and Essex until it reaches

the cold North Sea, the tidal Th ames Estuary is one of the

greatest on Earth.

Th is is the world of mists and mudfl ats out beyond the

Th ames Barrier and the Royal Docks that once inspired

and haunted writers such as Charles Dickens and Joseph

Conrad. Yet, despite the estuary’s signifi cance, the 20th

century has seen the slow disappearance of 97 per cent of

its wetland habitat. As London expanded between 1932

and 1984, marshland was drained, either for industrial

development or to create farmland on which to grow

arable crops to feed the growing city. As a result, much of

the wildlife that once called these places home was pushed

back and began to disappear.

Change has come again in recent years. Many of

the huge industrial sites have declined and the scarred

remains handed over to the management of conservation

groups such as the RSPB, with the hope that the land can

be returned to nature. Th e RSPB completed its fi rst land

acquisition on the estuary’s Essex bank in 2000, when 479

hectares of land at Rainham Marshes, previously used as

a fi ring range, were bought from the Ministry of Defence.

The Thames Estuary has long been home to heavy

industry, rubbish dumps and drained marshes, but

restoration projects are inviting wildlife back in

By Ann Morris

Turning the
tide on the
Thames

In 2006, 31 hectares of land were acquired at Vange Marsh

and since then, a further 730 hectares have come under

RSPB management.

Th e challenge has been to fi nd the funding necessary to

restore this land to its full potential. ‘Th e Th ames Estuary

is an amazing place for wildlife,’ says Alan Johnson,

RSPB area manager for Kent and Essex. ‘Despite the

disappearance of wetland over the past century, it still

hosts the second-largest aggregation of wintering wildfowl

and waders in Britain. Th e UK is a very biodiverse

place, but what puts us on the map is our breeding

sea bird colonies and wintering wildfowl populations,

so the Th ames is important. A lot of the estuary is

waiting to be switched back on for wildlife, but we need

willing partners, more government support and more

connectivity between habitats.’

A number of the Essex reserves are already offi cially

recognised as important. Rainham Marshes and Canvey

Wick are both designated Sites of Special Scientifi c

Interest. Canvey Wick has been described as a ‘little

brownfi eld rainforest’, home to 30 invertebrates found on

the IUCN Red List, including three species previously

thought to have been extinct in the UK.

Now, a small amount of fi nancial help has become

available through the Th ames Vision 2035 plan, initiated

by the Port of London Authority (PLA) and launched in

2015. Th e PLA is a self-funding trust that governs the

tidal Th ames. It has a number of statutory responsibilities

relating to river-traffi c control, security and navigational

safety, but according to its chief executive, Robin

Mortimer, it also has a duty ‘to hand the tidal Th ames on

in a better condition to succeeding generations’.

Page 43

Brent geese feed on the

mud flats of the Thames

Estuary near Southend-

on-Sea in Essex

December 2020 . 43

Page 84

University of Greenwich, Medway Campus, Chatham, Kent ME4 4TB

t: +44 (0)208 331 9000 e: [email protected] w: www.gre.ac.uk/studynri

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N250-13

Study at the University of Greenwich

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