Nature recovery for Thames, but river at high risk from sewage and climate change, report finds - ZSL

New landmark study led by conservation charity ZSL reveals results of first full ‘health check’ of London’s famous river in 60 years.

Short-snouted seahorse (image: Anna Cucknell-ZSL)
Short-snouted seahorse (image: Anna Cucknell-ZSL)

Results of the first complete health check of the River Thames have been published today (Wednesday 10th November 2021), by ZSL (Zoological Society of London) revealing positive news for wildlife, and ecosystem recovery, while warning of pollution and climate change threats.

The first ever State of the Thames Report, led by ZSL uses 17 different indicators to assess the health of the Thames’ natural environment. Funded by Royal Bank of Canada as part of its RBC Blue Water Project®, the report saw experts from 16 organisations demonstrate what has changed for the Thames since it was declared ‘biologically dead’ in 1957.

Highlighting the impact of dedicated conservation efforts, the overall picture was bright for nature, with evidence of an increase in a range of bird species, marine mammals and natural habitats such as carbon-capturing saltmarsh. Surprising species living in the Thames include seahorses, eels, seals and even sharks, including tope, starry smooth hound and spurdog. Since the early 1990’s, the number of fish species found in the Tidal areas of the river have showed a slight decline, with conservation scientists saying that further research is needed to determine the cause.

Climate change has increased the temperature of the capital's waterway by 0.2⁰C per year on average, which combined with associated sea-level rises, paints a worrying picture.

Water levels have been increasing since monitoring began in 1911 in the Tidal Thames. Sea level at Silvertown has been rising 4.26mm per year on average since 1990. Water temperature also showed a significant increase during summer and winter in both the long-term (2007–2020) and short-term (2015–2020) data sets. As water temperature and sea levels continue to rise above historic baselines, the estuary’s wildlife will be particularly impacted, through changes to species’ lifecycles and ranges.

Posted on: 10 November 2021

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