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Nurturing the Thames Ecology

Biodiversity is declining at a unprecedented rate, since the industrial revolution, important ecosystems have been lost or damaged. These ecosystems provide several important services, such as resource provision, regulation of natural processes, such as climate and flood regulation, pollution control, and the provision of opportunities for recreation.

Populations of animals have also declined in recent decades; these populations are a good indicator of the health of the natural environment.

Drivers of historical environmental changes on the tidal Thames include increasing population and urbanisation and industrialisation. These drivers have contributed to air and water pollution, climate change and increased flood risk and habitat loss and fragmentation.

Activity on the tidal Thames has the potential to significantly affect nature. The conservation of nature is an important investment in preserving the health, wealth and security of the people living within the influence of the tidal Thames.

Animals & Plants

The tidal Thames is home to internationally significant numbers of migratory and overwintering birds, 125 species of fish and marine and terrestrial mammals, and a wide variety of plant species.
The tidal Thames provides habitat to a wide range of important bird species, particularly overwintering and migratory birds.
With cleaner waters we are fortunate to welcome more marine mammals to the Thames including seals and porpoises.
There are several terrestrial mammals who are dependent on the riverbanks found along the tidal Thames.
There are many marine invertebrates found in the tidal Thames.
The Thames Estuary is home to 125 different species of fish.
The Thames is home to many different varieties of plants.
How to behave around seals and porpoises and what to do if you see an animal in distress in the tidal Thames.
The tidal Thames is an area recognised for its environmental importance and is home to birds, mammals and 125 species of fish.
Non-native species are a problem for the Thames Estuary with established INNS in the river, on its banks and on nearby land.


The habitats of the tidal Thames provide a variety of functions to both the animal species of the river and estuary and the population living along its length.

Mudflats and sandbanks are the most common habitats in the tidal Thames. The soft sediments are important for invertebrates and they support internationally important numbers of migratory and wintering wading birds.

Coastal saltmarsh is found in the marine areas of the Thames estuary, where salinity levels are higher and water currents are slower. These habitats provide important nursery areas for fish and are used as roosting habitat by a variety of bird species.

Seagrass beds are formed of seagrass plants, the only flowering plants that can survive when submerged. Seagrass beds occur at the edges of estuaries and provide habitat for juvenile fish and seahorse species, and invertebrates.

Freshwater gravel habitats occur in the upper reaches of the tidal Thames and are ideal for spawning fish.

Reedbeds are rare habitats in the UK and occur from Teddington to Erith in the Thames estuary.

Structures such as buildings, flood defences and jetties can be designed to provide benefits for nature.

Designated Sites

There are several designated nature conservation sites within the tidal Thames, in the aquatic and terrestrial environment. Statutory designated sites are protected by legislation, while non-statutory designated sites are protected through national and local policy.

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance, especially as waterfowl habitat.

Special Protection Areas ensure the survival and reproduction of particular bird species.

These areas are important habitats for species most in need of conservation at a European level.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest support many characteristic, endangered species and habitats.

Marine Conservation Zones protect a range of nationally important habitats and species.

National Nature Reserves (NNRs) protect some of the UK’s most important habitats, species and geology.

These sites are designated by local authorities and are selected for supporting locally important wildlife or geology.

Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) are designated at the local level, although they are a non-statutory designation.

Local Wildlife Sites create corridors for wildlife, often containing distinctive and threatened habitats and species.

Working in Partnership

We work with colleagues in other organisations to have a coordinated response to protecting the Thames.

Estuary Edges is an ecological design guide to encouraging wildlife into urban estuaries. This involves replacing brick, concrete and metal tidal walls with a variety of more natural habitats.

The Thames Landscape Strategy is a not-for-profit partnership aiming to understand, promote and conserve the river corridor between Weybridge, Hampton and Kew.

The partnership is the first river-wide agreement between the RSPB and a port authority and provides a platform for the two organisations to improve communication and work together.

In spring 2021 we sought bids for financial support for projects that help improve the environment of the tidal Thames, in line with the goals of our river development framework, the Thames Vision.

Rainham Marshes and Silt Lagoons are a SSSI, designated for their populations of breeding and overwintering birds. The site is owned by the RSPB, who created a nature reserve on the site in 2000.

More Information

Not found what you are looking for? Check our frequently asked questions or publications archive.

Frequently Asked Questions about the environment of the Thames.

It's vital that the public report environmental issues (pollution or animal in distress) on the tidal Thames.

Our reports and strategies outline our plans to protect and foster the Thames.

We've hosted in person and remote events to discuss developments as we work to improve the Thames.

Help us shape research to improve sustainable management of the tidal Thames.

Contact Us

The environment team will be happy to answer any questions.

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