UNESCO: 70% Salty

The Thames: linking London and sea

2 Mins read

Not many Londoners would consider London a coastal city, but we are linked to the sea even in the capital.

At the weekend I met my parents in Richmond and walked along the banks of the river Thames, taking a small boat across the river. The tide was high, and the current was strong as we chugged across the water. In one direction the river flows towards Teddington Locks and in the other past Kew Gardens, into the city and eventually the sea.  

Not many would consider London a coastal city. Images of Barcelona or Lisbon spring to mind, with golden beaches and turquoise waters, not grey, drizzly London. But the sea has significantly impacted London’s history and will greatly impact its future, not things we were taught in school. London is linked to the sea via the tidal River Thames which flows through the city from Gloucestershire and leads into the North Sea.  

When the Romans invaded Britain in AD43 they formed Londinium on the banks of the river and they used the Thames as a key route to the rest of the Roman Empire. By the mid-17th century, the river was so crowded with shipping that the first dock was constructed below Tower Bridge in 1661. The Thames has since played an important role in commerce, trade and shipbuilding, linking London to the rest of the world.  

The tidal Thames contains a mixture of freshwater and saltwater and is home to diverse wildlife. By the 1950s the river Thames was declared ‘biologically dead’, with surveys in 1957 finding the river unable to sustain life. The 2021 State of the Thames Report reveals that there has been ecosystem recovery with an increase in a range of bird species, marine mammals and natural habitats. However, they also report that climate change has increased the temperature of the Thames by 0.2 degrees per year on average.  

Climate Central’s interactive map predicts large areas surrounding the Thames will be below the annual flood level by 2050. Climate Central is an independent group of scientists and communicators researching the impacts of climate change and how it affects people’s lives, aiming to communicate climate change science and its effects. Their risk map reveals the impacts of rising sea levels and predicts land which will be below the annual flood level from 2050-2150. Large areas surrounding the Thames are highlighted in red, suggesting that they will be below the annual flood level. In 2050 areas stretching North to Stratford and South to Peckham will be impacted.  

It’s therefore vital to remember how important the sea is, even in the city and that we are deeply connected with the water.  

Featured Image by Mike Bird via Pexels CC.

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