Thames study finds wildlife thriving


The Thames is a “rich and varied” home for wildlife, including seahorses and sharks, a report on the health of the river concluded six decades after parts of it were declared “biologically dead”.

But the very first State of the Thames report also warns of threats from climate change and pollution, with an average increase in water temperature of almost 0.2 ° C per year detected.

The presence of a young shortnose seahorse, found in 2017 in Greenwich, “indicates that the Thames tide is an estuarine ecosystem in recovery,” the report notes.

Evidence has also been gathered on the importance of the river “as a breeding ground and nursery habitat for fish,” including smelt, European sea bass, and a type of shark known as the dog. running.

The report, led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), said the water quality has “shown promising improvements”, with reduced phosphorus concentrations – a change attributed to the efficiency of the water treatment work. improved wastewater to reduce harmful levels of nutrients entering the water.

But there has been a long-term increase in nitrate concentrations, and the report adds that “influences from climate change are clearly impacting the Thames, as water temperature and sea level continue to rise. increase above historical reference levels ”.

On average, summer temperatures in the upper Thames tide have risen by 0.19 ° C per year, and the report’s authors said this “will undoubtedly affect the fauna of the estuary, causing changes in the estuary. lifestyles and ranges of species ”.

With regard to fauna, including seals, there has been “an improvement in the short-term trends identified for natural habitats, birds and marine mammals”, although the number of fish species showed ” a slight decline, “with more research needed to determine the cause, the report says.


Between 2016 and 2020, 17,770 single-use plastic bottles were counted and collected at sites along the Thames, nearly half of which were water bottles, according to the report.

He added that some plastics found in the river, including cotton swabs and wet wipes, come from the sewage overflowing into the estuary, which not only threatens the ecosystem but “also negatively impacts perception. of the Thames as “dirty” “.

High levels of pollution in parts of the Thames led scientists in 1957 to declare portions of it to be “biologically dead,” but there has been a marked improvement since then, according to the report.

“Investments in infrastructure have led to great improvements in the water quality of the Tidal Thames,” the researchers said.


“As a result, it again provides a rich and varied habitat for abundant wildlife and many benefits for people. ”

The report, funded by the Royal Bank of Canada, used 17 indicators to assess the health of the river and involved experts from 16 organizations.

Alison Debney, ZSL’s Conservation Program Manager for Wetland Ecosystem Restoration, said: “The Thames Estuary and its associated ‘blue carbon’ habitats are critically important in our fight to mitigate climate change and building a strong and resilient future for nature and humans.

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“This report has allowed us to really see how far the Thames has come in its path to recovery since it was declared biologically dead and, in some cases, to establish baselines from which to build upon. to come up.”

James Brand, of the Environment Agency, said the organization is “committed to achieving net zero value by 2030 and improving the quality of the water in our rivers.”

He added: “The Thames Estuary 2100 Plan calls for adapting to rising sea levels by thinking holistically of our shores, incorporating new wildlife habitats and other environmental improvements. as we work in partnership to improve flood defenses. ”

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