Worldwide, many rivers and their estuaries have been straightened and constrained over hundreds of years of development to build our cities and facilitate vital international and national trade. Urban rivers and, in particular, estuaries have been modified the most, retaining little of their natural character or function and unable to deliver the natural services they would have if allowed. These natural services, called ‘ecosystem services’ include aspects such as slowing the flow of water through meanders and habitat; reducing flood risk on the land through holding the water in the floodplain; carbon sequestration, pollution attenuation; improved nursery and spawning grounds for fish; and vital foraging grounds for other wildlife. In addition, they provide services that allow us to enjoy recreation and boost our well-being through being close to water – a vitally important role in a heavily urbanised and densely populated area.
Well-planned developments next to our estuaries can create better places to live and work. When reconstructing or refurbishing the banks of an estuary, a project should include features that support wildlife, improve public access and educate people about the importance of protecting the environment whilst measuring the improvement in these three areas.
Replacing brick, concrete, and metal tidal walls with a variety of habitats is what the Estuary Edges project is about. The Estuary Edges website is a ‘how to’ guide on ecological design for softening these ‘edges’ to encourage wildlife into urban estuaries. In our case study estuary, the Thames, only around 2% of the edges are natural. Increasing the habitat along the edges will have a significant positive ecological impact on plants, invertebrates, fish and birds.
The Thames is an internationally important wildlife corridor and habitat. Fish, birds and marine mammals use the river to move between freshwater upstream and the ocean downstream and need areas of refuge along the way to feed and hide from predators. Estuary Edges seek to replace that lost habitat connection. These sites had never been surveyed before, some in 20 years! So as part of the review, TEP coordinated a suite of ecological surveys looking at which fish, flora and invertebrates were using the sites so we can prove they work in the way we have all assumed and to build the dataset needed to encourage more sites to be built in the future. We also designed and conducted social surveys to understand how Londoners (visitors and residents) view and value the sites and the River Thames as a whole. With this we can start to understand the role of these sites in our own health and well-being, a critical importance in urban areas and in the face of our climate crisis. TEP is developing a student and citizen science training programme to keep monitoring the sites into the future. Read more about this exciting partnership project here.
Ecological survey reports available:
The Thames Estuary Partnership co-ordinated this project with the Environment Agency, Port of London Authority, Tideway, Jacobs and the Institute of Fisheries Management. It reviews and replaces the 2008 guidance which was produced with the Port of London Authority, Environment Agency, Natural England, London Wildlife Trust, Thames Gateway South Essex, EDAW, RSPB, Essex Wildlife Trust, Kent Wildlife Trust, Buglife and Greater London Authority Biodiversity Team. It wishes to thank all organisations which helped provide access to the case study sites listed in the guidance.
2008 Estuary Edges Guidance Document:
This guidance has been developed by the Environment Agency in partnership with the Thames Estuary Partnership.
The lead authors of the guidance, under contract, are Biodiversity by Design Ltd, Salix River and Wetlands Services Ltd, Beckett Rankine Ltd and EcoSchemes Ltd.