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PLA Environment Webinar Series 2021

This year our annual environment conference was delivered as a series of three webinars, which ran on consecutive days from 16 to 18 March 2021 and were hosted by Tanya Ferry, the PLA's head of environment.

Our webinar series took delegates from the quayside to the container ship deck, the lifeboat station to riverside habitats. Touching on themes of sustainability, innovation & change and habitats, we welcomed 16 speakers over the three webinars and more than 300 people attended the sessions.

“The webinars were a great chance for people to catch up on Thames environmental developments and learn a lot in a short time,” explained Tanya. “The overwhelming sense that came across was the commitment to sustainability across the board. This is now mainstream business practice. Projects are being developed and delivered which will make a massive difference to the Thames and our collective future.” 

Webinar #1 – Sustainability

The first of the webinars, held in place of the PLA’s annual Environment Conference at the Museum of Docklands, focused on sustainability.

Speakers covered both the shipping and landside, with topics including alternative and low-emission fuels, energy efficiency, green power, reducing and cleaning up waste, saving water and making more use the river in order to take traffic off the roads.

Introducing the seminar, Tanya Ferry, head of environment at the PLA, said that despite Covid-19, lockdowns and the impact of Brexit, action to improve sustainability has continued along the River Thames throughout the past year.

“The PLA itself has set a goal of reaching Net Zero by 2040 at the latest; we are cutting our own carbon emissions in half by 2025 and are switching to biodiesel as an initial action,” she said. “We have refitted our offices to make them more energy efficient, including covering the roof in solar panels and tiles. We have also refreshed our Air Quality strategy and climate adaption policy to make decarbonisation possible – safely, sustainably and justly, leaving nobody behind.”

The PLA has also expanded its ‘Green Tariff’ system for shipping, continued to reduce the use of single-use plastics, and continued to monitor and remove litter from the river, with plans to expand the litter collection network in 2021.

Other steps range from continued work to enhance saltmarsh habitats to increasing support for renewable energy, including setting up a tidal energy trial site.

Peter Livey, managing director (Great Britain) and global environmental ambassador, HMM

Climate change is the defining issue of our time, said Peter Livey. “The pandemic will mean significant changes to how we work and live going forward – there are many challenges ahead, but front and centre we have the prospect of a much bigger danger and that is climate change. The defining issue of our time, it is a threat to human lives, increases climate volatility, escalates uncertainty, disrupts value chains and is one of the most important issues the world is facing today.”

In his presentation on ‘Mega-ships and sustainable trade’, he discussed the world’s biggest container ship, the HMM Algeciras (which made its maiden call at DP World London Gateway in June 2020), and its sister ships; they represent a leap forward in terms of their lower-carbon performance but they are still not zero carbon, he pointed out.

“As shipping accounts for nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions and 90% of trade is moved by sea, the industry holds a significant potential to help create a carbon neutral economy by 2050.”

Shipping is the most carbon efficient mode of transportation but overall still generates 7% of the world’s annual GHG emissions, he said.

HMM has been engaged in a number of initiatives to reduce its emissions. In 2006, HMM joined Clean Cargo, which provides globally accepted standards and methodologies for measuring emissions, allowing operators to measure and benchmark their performance and report to customers on CO2, NOX, SOX and PMs.

HMM set itself a target of reducing CO2 emissions by 50% between 2008 and 2020, and 70% by 2030, then being carbon neutral by 2050. It expects to have exceeded the first goal already, achieving 59% reduction.

“Carbon neutral by 2050 is a huge undertaking because the technology and fuel distribution doesn’t currently exist.” However, there are a number of fuels and technologies under development and collaboration with ports and terminals will be important, he said. “One of the most exciting developments might be hydrogen-related fuels.”

Victoria Limbrick, energy & environmental resources manager, RNLI

What makes a sustainable lifeboat station? Victoria Limbrick presented details of the Tower lifeboat station project, where lessons learned will be incorporated in the RNLI’s sustainability standards document.

“We want the Tower lifeboat station to be a step change in lifeboat station design for sustainability, with standard approaches, requirements and solutions for future projects,” she said.

A sustainable station must be affordable to build, maintain and operate, minimise impact on the environment and enhance wellbeing and social value, she said. Design of the new station includes onsite power generation; the RNLI has incorporated solar power and renewables as standard on its sites for the past ten years.

The RNLI, which operates 238 lifeboat stations including four on the Thames, is working towards a much more sustainable future, she said. “Our volunteers, supporters and staff expect us to operate to a high moral code and this feeds into an overarching sustainable vision. Our environmental impact is diverse and complex due to the nature of our operation and geographical spread of our sites. But we consider sustainability in everything we do – we really embed sustainability into our processes, policies and every decision we make.”

RNLI targets include zero waste to landfill by 2030, zero carbon road fleet from 2040 and zero carbon by 2050. A closer target is removing single-use plastics by 2024 – this has been pioneered by the Gravesend lifeboat station which has already removed all plastic bottles.

Patrick Moss, senior environmental control engineer, Ford

In an overview of Ford’s environmental and sustainability efforts at the Dagenham site, Patrick Moss outlined ecology and environmental volunteer events, and onsite sustainability achievements.

Ecology partnerships include a local fishing club on site, collaboration with the RSPB and taking part in Thames 21 riverbank clean-up events – each one removing between five and ten tonnes of waste, he said. “It is quite frightening to see how much pollution we do have in the waterways.”

Ford’s site is large, said Patrick Moss. “We use the local fishing club to ensure our habitats in and around the lake are maintained and managed. We actively manage all green spaces across our site and actively encourage all wildlife habitats to flourish – kingfishers, swans, mallards, moor hens and others, we try not to interfere with.”

Among its environmental sustainability achievements, Ford has reduced water use by 35%, equating to a £50,000 a year saving. A water leak repair programme has also saved £50,000 in unaccounted losses. Electricity is sourced from the renewable energy grid, significantly reducing the site’s CO2 footprint, and small changes such as LED lighting replacement and extensive switch-off programmes have contributed to reduced energy use. In the past four years, the site’s wind turbines have produced enough electricity to power 2,400 homes per year. Ford is also looking at hydrogen and solar generation possibilities.

Separating and recycling carboard, mixed plastics and office paper has helped to reduce general waste by 43% since 2018, and an accelerated composting unit nicknamed the ‘Rocket’ means that all green waste material now gets reused on to garden beds as mulch, cutting green waste to zero.

Next steps include reducing water consumption by 15% and general waste by 10% by 2023, and eliminating single-use plastics by 2030. “Simple initiatives and long-term goals,” he said.

Bruce McVean, acting assistant director – City Transportation, City of London Corporation

The City of London’s Climate Action Strategy published in October 2020 sets out an ambitious approach to achieving Net Zero – “not just for our own activities, but for the whole square mile”, said Bruce McVean. The strategy encompasses: achieving Net Zero; building climate resilience; and championing sustainable growth.

Within this, the City of London is working with stakeholder groups, supporting SMEs and investing to make the square mile more resilient to extreme weather, he said, through sustainable urban drainage, greening of rooftops and elsewhere, and other activities.

“The City is trying to take a strong leadership approach and champion wider change. We have used the most authoritative methodologies to make sure we can demonstrate best practice.”

The percentage change in vehicle volumes in the City between 1999 and 2017 between 7am and 7pm) were dramatic: for example, cars and taxies down 59%, vans down 37%, lorries down 51%, bicycles up 292%.  However, transport still accounts for 7% of the City’s emissions.

“In 2019 we adopted a 25-year transport strategy, with the target of reducing the number of motor vehicles on the streets by 50% by 2040. This isn’t just about reducing emissions but also creating an environment where sustainable modes of transport like walking and cycling can flourish.”

The City is looking to reduce motorised freight by consolidating deliveries into fewer, fuller vehicles from outside the square mile, said Bruce McVean, who discussed plans for a dedicated consolidation centre, and making more use of the river for zero-emission, last-mile deliveries.

“Our consolidated market sites will begin operating in Dagenham in 2026. There are great opportunities there to use the river more for bringing deliveries into that market and from the market into central London.”

Webinar #2 – Innovation & Change

In our second webinar, speakers representing terminal owners and inland freight operators discussed how innovation and change is being managed, while regulators explained how they are adjusting to new and emerging technologies.

Introducing the seminar, Tanya Ferry, head of environment at the PLA, said: “We will be focusing on innovation and change – exploring the actions and mechanism to deliberately shift the Thames into a low-carbon and less environmental impact economy.”

A highly successful innovation from the PLA has been its floating passive litter collectors – the first of their kind and now in use in ports around the world. “From Putney to Greenwich, they collect 200 tonnes of plastic-dominated debris every year. This year we are looking to expand to a new design to collect in rougher areas of Thames,” she said.

The PLA has also led the way in vessel design, with the introduction of low-wash vessels and the recent purchase of a hybrid pilot cutter, which has removed 10% of the PLA’s carbon footprint.

“We use our knowledge to innovate and provide opportunities on the river. In 2018 we were the first UK port to develop and publish an emissions reduction strategy and research is now being developed to further understand what innovation is required to continue that strategy,” said Tanya Ferry.

“We are also pursuing our decarbonisation strategy for inland craft – mapping that across the river to understand what future maritime fuel demands might be – and our Thames Green Scheme was launched last year to allow vessel operators to measure their environmental performance. We will be able to continue with this in connection with the Thames Freeport.”

The PLA is already committed to cutting emissions in half by 2025, initially by switching to biofuel for its fleet of vessels.

Now it has launched a new Sustainable Innovation Fund to support the development of Thames suited technologies for the future. “The first solution we want is a zero-emission flexible berth solution that helps large ships to reduce emissions in port.”

Hop Ming Chen, supply chain manager, London Gateway Port

Eddie Carey, operations director, Compagnie Fruitiere UK Limited

Containers carry about 90% of goods around the world and within that there is plenty of scope for innovation and change, said Hop Ming Chen.

He outlined sustainability measures at DP World London Gateway such as the introduction of 11 hybrid shuttle carriers, which have delivered a 30% reduction in fuel consumption compared to diesel, and the trial of an electric shuttle carrier which has 55 minutes’ run time, is fully charged in five minutes, has zero emissions and zero risk of fuel leaks, and has reduced filter and lubricant waste, maintenance costs and energy costs per move.

“The electric shuttle is also simpler to operate and maintain. Obviously the initial capital cost is a lot higher but we are hopeful as we run this trial, we can bring more electric shuttles on to the port.”

Eddie Carey gave details of the Compagnie Fruitiere London Gateway operation – the world’s first automated banana ripening facility.

“Three years ago, when we threw all plans away and decided to revisit this project, the main driver was all about efficiency. It was about being more efficient in everything we do and along the way we have created something that is a world first,” he said.

The facility is served by electric ‘pallet taxis’ (shuttles) which have smart charging. Fully charged in four hours, with a run time of six hours, the taxis (which travel in all directions) are automatically kept busy shuttling loads; when there is nothing for them to do, they return to their docking stations to charge up ready to start work again.

The pallet taxi system enables remote monitoring, reduced maintenance costs and out-of-hours automated loading/unloading – the target is to be running at 95% efficiency, said Eddie Carey.

Compagnie Fruitiere’s ERP/WMS links all the way through from farm to ripening facility and on to the customer; when a container of bananas arrives in the building, it is expected and automatically scanned.

Semi-automated ripening improves shelf life, reduces food waste and reduces energy use. “Ripening has been the same for years and years. We weren’t going to do something that was the same, that everyone else has done – we wanted to do something different.”

The system is based around a cross air distribution system which has been patented. Ultra-efficient electronically controlled ripening room fans and high-efficiency air cooled water chillers can be adjusted for optimum energy consumption as required.

Helen Murphy, sustainability manager, Cory Riverside Energy

Cory Riverside Energy has four river-based transfer stations with wharf access on the Thames, at Wandsworth, Battersea, the City of London and Tower Hamlets. Waste from households and businesses is loaded into containers at the sites and transported to Cory’s energy-from-waste site at Belvedere, by its fleet of more than 50 barges towed by five tugs.

Cory also receives and sorts 69,000 tonnes of materials a year at its materials recycling facility which is co-located at Wandsworth. This sorts recyclables into 15 categories, including five types of plastics.

The Belvedere plant is the only energy-from-waste site in the UK with both river and road infrastructure for receiving waste, said Helen Murphy. As well as generating base load electricity sold to the UK grid, produces by-products. Base metals are separated out from the ash, and then 9,400 tonnes of ash is turned into construction products and 170,000 tonnes turned into road aggregates each year.

“Our barges are a common sight on the Thames but often people don’t know they are transferring waste out of London,” she said. “Our river operations save about 100,000 truck movements a year through London – that means less road congestion, fewer accidents, less air pollution. Last year 89% of waste processed by the riverside facility was transported by river – with the ash we move to Tilbury, we are transporting over one million tonnes of materials by river each year.”

The tugs are diesel-powered but Cory has trialled the use of HVO (biofuel from waste such as used cooking oil). “Another trial is coming up and we are hoping to move our river fleet on to HVO soon if the trials are successful.”

Energy from waste can go even further and it must, said Helen Murphy. Cory is working with Vattenfall to capture the heat generated by the plant and supply affordable, reliable and low-carbon heating to local homes and businesses. The Belvedere facility has capability equivalent to 10,000 home boilers, she explained. “This is a watershed moment in London’s decarbonisation journey by transforming how a large part of the city is supplied by heat.”

Cory has submitted plans for a second energy-from-waste facility next to the present one. When it is commissioned in 2025, at least 75% of the waste it receives will be transported by river – about 1.75 million tonnes each year. It will turn 665,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste into enough electricity to power 140,000 homes, and the plans include anaerobic digestion for up to 40,000 tonnes of food and green waste per year, to generate compressed natural gas, electricity and fertiliser.

Ashley Stehr, assistant director, Maritime Future Technologies, Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)

The MCA has recognised over recent years that the rate of change of regulation is not going to keep pace with innovation and that is an age-old challenge, said Ashley Stehr. “We face the risk that we become an enabler to the implementation of novel technologies without adequately understanding the risks, or more likely becoming a blocker to progress,” he said.

Shipping has entered a time of rapid change in technology following a long era in a relatively steady state, he pointed out. There is currently a divergence in possible technical solutions, especially around emission reduction technologies, and uncertainty in the industry has created the need for unbiased technical direction, fuelled by science and not by opinion.”

The UK has entered a new trading era outside the EU, where it could take the opportunity to gain commercial advantage through innovation in emission reduction and autonomy, said Ashley Stehr. “But the time to act is now – we haven’t got a lot of time.”

Maritime Future Technologies is a new non-regulatory team set up within the MCA with three core functions: to facilitate projects on case-by-case basis – the interface between innovation and policy; supporting regulatory change – thinking about how the MCA needs to adapt, mainly around emissions and autonomy; and influencing global change.

“In terms of our goals, we want to safely enable the implementation of emerging technologies through the regulatory framework, accelerate the transition to sustainable shipping, be a centre of expertise for emerging technologies, attract industry to UK maritime, and position the UK as a world leader in maritime emerging technologies.”

The team is working with a number of projects that are looking to implement emerging technologies for which current regulatory framework doesn’t allow – for example, Plymouth Boat Trips’ fully electric seagoing ferry project and the Ocean Infinity autonomous vessels project.

Maddy McKay, policy advisor in maritime team, Department for Transport

Maddy McKay works on the UK’s Clean Maritime Plan and Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition.

Giving context to the competition, she said: “In 2019, the UK became the first country in the world to commit to Net Zero GHG by 2050. From the DfT perspective, that was a significant challenge because transport is the biggest emitter across the economy.”

“We are currently not on the right trajectory – domestic shipping emissions are actually rising,” she said. “A propulsion revolution is needed. Without action now, emissions will continue to grow and in 2051 we would be in a position where we would need to find really substantial emissions reductions.”

We need a transition away from fossil fuel and there is definitely a role for government intervention in this transition, said Maddy McKay.

The Clean Maritime Plan, published in 2019, set the initial policy ambition for the nearer term and had big ambitions including all new vessels operating in UK waters being designed with zero emission propulsion and low or zero-emission bunkering options to be readily available across the UK by 2025. However, she said: “We do recognise that the Plan is maybe not enough to get to the Net Zero target.”

The DfT is working on a ‘really bold transport decarbonisation plan’ which is due to be published this spring, she said.

Discussing the National Shipbuilding Strategy, she described the shipbuilding agenda as a key part of the ‘build back better/greener’ policy. “The UK has a really long and proud history of shipbuilding and the Prime Minister wants to see that expertise and capabilities brought into the 21st century and for the UK to become a leader in the green shipbuilding space.”

The Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition has been set up to ensure that the UK can be at the leading edge of the green shipbuilding revolution, she said. The winners are expected to be announced in mid-July, and there are plans to showcase the winning projects at London International Shipping Week and COP26.

Webinar #3 – Habitats

Our third and final webinar in this series focused on Thames habitats. 

Some shocking statistics and images really hit home as panellists discussed microplastic pollution and the impact it has on wildlife and the environment.

Introducing the seminar, Tanya Ferry, head of environment at the PLA, said: “The habitats on the river are fundamentally important for birds, fish and even bees and in many places these habitats are protected. They also give us space to enjoy our recreational activities, to convey our goods and even capture carbon. But they are suffering as a result of climate change and human impacts and in particular, coastal squeeze, where flood defence and flood levels prevent habitats being created and important habitats being maintained for birds and fish.”

In certain areas, these habitats have disappeared, she said. “It is really challenging to create a habitat but it is so important to do so.”

Where possible, the PLA works with the Environment Agency and other stakeholders to try to improve habitats, including spaces and amenity for local people, said Tanya Ferry. “In lockdown we saw more people coming to the river to enjoy the space and the clean open air but that has another consequence – more people on the banks, which create disturbance to like seals and more litter on the banks.”

The PLA has partnered with the Thames Estuary Partnership and the Environment Agency to refresh the guidance on how to create artificial habitats in the right way. Work to reduce and collect litter continues. The PLA licences dredging and construction on the river so it can control how this is done.

“We recognise that the river must grow and habitat is a key part in that – and our use of the river will continue alongside those animals and habitats.”

Alex McGoren, NERC PhD student, Natural History Museum and Royal Holloway University of London

Alex McGoren’s PhD is focused on ‘Evalutating microplastic contamination in the Thames food web’. Some of the findings she shared with the audience were shocking.

“We all know that plastic is a problem globally and locally, and big issue in the ocean. It is in the air we breathe, in the soil, it has even made its way to the top of Mount Everest and it is in the Thames as well,” she said.

In a recent study testing eel fishing equipment in the Thames, 8,500 pieces of litter were collected in two months from spike nets stationery in the Thames.

“This was the first time we started to quantify how much plastic is hidden below the water surface,” she said. In 2019, a Hula Hoop packet with a BBE date of August 1986 was amongst the plastic pulled from the river, although it may not have been in the river since 1986. “This is plastic that is older than I am. It is really long lasting in the environment, and there are lots of opportunities to interact with wildlife.

“In the Thames, we have a really rich ecosystem; lots of animals call this river home. We want to know how much plastic these species are eating. And whether there is an accumulation of plastic – as we go along the food chain.”

In her research, Alex McGoren found that 7% of sampled shrimps had plastic in their stomach. In the next step in food chain, 28% of fish had plastic in their digestive tract. “This can fluctuate, sometimes up to 75% of fish.”

A study at Erith involved trawling for crabs on eight trips spread over two years. “We were looking at two species – the native European shore crab (94 were tested) and the invasive Chinese mitten crab (41), taken for lab analysis. “874 pieces of plastic were recovered from 135 crabs and almost every individual had plastic in the gills, stomach or intestine.”

However, often several pieces of plastic were tightly woven together so it was difficult to count how many pieces: “One piece could be a tangle of 100 pieces of plastic wound in on itself.  One crab had 50 pieces of plastic in its intestine.”

She said: “Most of the plastic we are finding is polypropylene, polyester and nylon – from rope and clothing, so recreational and household.”

The sources: littering and mismanaged waste; and sewage related – wet wipes and sanitary pads flushed down the toilet; and clothes fibres released from washing machines. “Up to 700,000 fibres can be released per wash. This is very significant and likely the main source of microplastic in the Thames.”

Izzy Donovan, senior site manager, RSPB

The RSPB has been improving coastal grazing marsh and habitat at its South Essex Reserves alongside the Thames, thanks to some funding from the PLA.

Coastal grazing marsh provides valuable habitats for indigenous birds such as lapwing and redshank, overwintering wildfowl – teal, blacktail godwit – mammals such as water vole, and rare invertebrates such as dragonflies, damsel flies etc., said Izzy Donovan.

“These habitats are under threat and have been significantly declining for the last nearly 100 years – and the greatest loss of coastal grazing marsh in the Greater Thames has been in Essex,” she said.

In 1930, 24,000 hectares of coastal grazing marsh were identified along the Thames. By 1960, 50% was lost. And by the 1980s, only 28% remained.

There were several reasons, she said. Between 1935 and 1989, nearly 1,600 ha was converted into arable production. Mismanagement, installation of field drains, increasing use of fertilisers and pesticide, overgrazing, intensive farming practices, impacted soils, more built environment, the increase of urban areas, coastal squeeze, and wetter winters and hotter dryer summers all had their impact.

Of the 750 ha of land the RSPB manages in South Essex, about 400 ha is grazing marsh. Work with the PLA, which started about 18 months ago, has involved four projects at Bowers Marsh: installing a water pipe (to bring water into the marsh); ditch improvements (to improve water flow and muddy edges); replacing the broken and leaky tilting weir (to control water levels); and installing a predator exclusion fence stretching 3.4 km around the central 25 ha grazing marsh and 20 ha freshwater lagoon).

Ad hoc monitoring has shown results, with indigenous and overwintering birds showing significant increases.

Kate Fortnam, campaign manager, RYA Green Blue programme

The Green Blue is a joint environmental programme between the RYA and British Marine, aiming to inspire sustainable recreation boating across the UK, for cleaner, healthier inland and coastal waters, said Kate Fortnam.

She outlined the key environmental issues: climate change (energy use, energy source, engine efficiency); wildlife and habitat protection (boating around wildlife, anchoring with care, invasive species control); waste (reduce, reuse and recycle, plastic pollution, responsible disposal, water loss); and water pollution prevention (antifouling paint, blackwater, greywater and runoff, oil and fuel).

An example campaign in which the Green Blue is involved is the four-year EU LIFE recreation ReMEDIES project (Reducing and Mitigating Erosion and Disturbance Impacts affEcting the Seabed, also called ‘Save our Seabed’), which is working to improve the condition of four marine habitats of European importance.

“This is particularly focusing on recreational activities – boating, but also bait digging and dog walking,” she said.

Within this project, the Green Blue is focusing on five SACs in the UK, including in the Thames Estuary, where seagrass and maerl beds are located. “The project is demonstrating habitat restoration and management techniques, The project is demonstrating habitat restoration and management techniques, including seagrass restoration.  Seagrass is being grown in laboratories to be replanted.

“We are also looking at advanced eco-friendly moorings that boaters can use to help minimise the impact on the seabed compared to traditional ones and also looking at access management from the shore to minimise any trampling on the seagrass habitats.  It is about raising awareness and actively inspiring better care of the habitats by key users.”

Seagrass is known as the ‘lungs of the ocean’ or ‘rainforest of the sea’, said Kate Fortnam. “One square metre seagrass produces ten litres of oxygen. And it stores a lot of carbon – 10-15% of the world’s carbon store is held in seagrass. Seagrass also fixes nitrogen through its roots and takes nitrate out of the water, so helps with pollution, protects from erosion, and creates a nursery ground for nine main fishery species.”

Molly Tucker, technical advisor (ecology), PLA

The upcoming saltmarsh restoration work at West Thurrock Lagoon and Marshes SSSI was described by Molly Tucker.

“The largest area of saltmarsh in the inner Thames Estuary, it is known for its plant community, which is normally only found landward of the river wall, but here is found seaward. It supports overwintering bird populations,” she said.

In 2010 a Natural England survey determined the site to be in an Unfavourable – Declining condition.

The PLA is focusing on the intertidal area of the site, which covers mudflats and saltmarsh and is impacted by coastal squeeze – this happens when a salt marsh is prevented by fencing from naturally retreating backwards in response to rising sea level, so that habitat is lost.

Photographs show that 4,000 sq m had been lost at the site in 30 years. “We wanted to figure out the way we could best improve this site and we wanted to work with the natural processes of the river,” she said. “There is already some accretion occurring but we wanted to quicken that and help it be more resilient.”

In 2020, the PLA awarded a contract to Salix for the design and construction of the project, which aims to restore the site from its current 32,000 sq m to its 1990 levels of 38,000 sq m. The work involves installation of brushwood fascines and rock-rolls to slow the river flow and encourage accretion; the site floods with the tide, but the water is slowed as it drains back, allowing sediment to drop to the river bed.

It was very important to avoid creating any unintended consequences, said Molly Tucker.

All materials will be from a sustainable and UK managed woodland, and any material being brought in will be delivered by river direct to the site. The river will be used for construction to, through the use of floating platforms to avoid any trampling of existing saltmarsh vegetation. The work will take place in August and September, to avoid disturbing overwintering birds or the breeding season of the tentacled lagoon worm in June/July.

Robin Mortimer, chief executive, PLA

The webinar was concluded by Robin Mortimer, who outlined the Environmental Improvements of the PLA and confirmed the launch of the PLA’s new Environment Fund, which offers grants of up to £5,000 for projects that should be achievable this year. The fund will target two issues – invasive non-native species, and litter in the tidal Thames. “There are some really pressing challenges in terms of biodiversity and habitats. We are looking for projects that can tackle these at local level,” he said. “We need wide strategies but also need things happening on the ground.”

Practical action on a local level will help to ‘build the river back better’, he said. “We have all suffered economically through this pandemic recession but there is an opportunity going forward that we do so in a properly sustainable way.”

The PLA has set itself a Net Zero goal by 2040 and is very much frontloading its plans, he said. “We think we can at least half our emissions by 2025, in fact we have 65% in our projections,” he said. “Using biofuel in our fleet is the biggest thing we can do and we have started that process already. We are installing renewable energy on our sites wherever possible. We are looking at biodiversity net gain including bee and bug hotels on our estate and planting wildflowers instead of grasses. We would use offsetting as a last resort and avoid it if we possibly can.”

During the Q&A session there were a few questions about the PLA position on the Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI, which weren’t addressed in session. The position is as follows:

Swanscombe SSSI

Natural England has announced plans to designate Swanscombe Peninsula as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for nationally important invertebrates, breeding birds, plants and geology.

The 250 hectare site, alongside the Thames proposed for designation includes PLA land and a key operational asset: Broadness Radar, which provides vessel tracking in one of the busiest parts of the Thames for commercial port operations.

We are currently reviewing plans for the SSSI and will be providing feedback to Natural England by their 21 July consultation closing date. We will make the key elements of our response public once our review is concluded.

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