The Thames is full of trade ships, commuter and leisure vessels, modern and historic boats. The banks are lined with large buildings and promenades. Bridges span the expanse and the Thames Barrier commands the flow of water. Man has incorporated the Thames into part of its city, but does it own it? No! Like every body of flowing water, the Thames is teeming with life. There is plenty going on beneath the surface and on the banks, so keep a look out the next time you take a leisure cruise as you never know what you might see.
Save the slippery suckers!
Eels and London have always had a history together. Nowadays though it is less about what they look like jellied and sitting next to pie and liquor, as to how we can save them from extinction. The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is now classed critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The recruitment of new mature eels to become part of the breeding population has declined by up to 95% over the last 25-30 years. ZSL are running a research programme in order to understand their life-cycle and work out how many eels manage to return to the Sargasso Sea. They rely on members of the public to check elver traps on the Thames twice a week.
Here fishy fishy!
The Thames Estuary supports over 120 different fish species – pretty incredible considering it was ‘biologically dead’ in the 1950’s! Common smelt, sand goby, sprat, flounder, herring, sea bass, dover sole, whiting… just don’t think you can swing by the river to pick up something for your fish and chip supper. You need a permit to fish on the Thames and I doubt you’ll get one in Central London!
Porpoises, dolphins and seal spotting
Conservationists and volunteers recorded 708 grey and harbour seals in the Thames Estuary in the first count carried out by air, land and water last year. The Thames covers a huge area outside of London, but the condition of the water has improved so much since the 1950’s that dolphins, porpoises and seals are all regularly spotted surfing into the city! Sightings have been recorded at the London Eye and Canary Wharf, and as far down as Richmond. The Guardian recently wrote about a group of 5 porpoises that came up as far as Lambeth – unusual because of the size of the group. Fortunately the mammals find it easy to get up and down river – a humpback whale was found dead in the water a few years ago because it was unable to return to the sea.
Birds of a feather!
There are so many migrating birds that use the Thames Estuary, the world’s largest offshore wind farm – the London Array – has had to shelve expansion plans for at least 3 years. The species holding sway is the Red-throated diver, protected under European law. The BBC claim the area is the winter home of about 6,500 red-throated divers – at least one third of the UK’s population. The feathered gang have had the RSPB, Department for Energy and Climate Change and owners – Dong Energy – locked in battle.
7 Swans a’ swimming
The Crown retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but she only exercises that right on certain stretches of the Thames. Nowadays, of course, the swans are no longer eaten, but once a year there is a ceremony – Swan Upping – to count the birds. The Queen’s Swan Marker, the Royal Swan Uppers and the Swan Uppers of the Vintners’ and Dyers’ livery companies use six traditional Thames rowing skiffs in their five-day journey up-river. They wear traditional scarlet uniforms and each boat flies appropriate flags and pennants. On passing Windsor Castle, the rowers stand to attention in their boat with oars raised and salute “Her Majesty the Queen, Seigneur of the Swans”. Only in England!