DURING the 1950s, the River Thames was officially branded a biologically ‘dead’ river. It suffered from all kinds of pollution – both from industrial waste and from sewage – that was being pumped into it. Little could survive in the water and anyone falling into it risked major infection.
So it is wonderful to be able to report that the river has just won a major global conservation award – the International Thiess river prize – for the way in which its fortunes have been turned around.
The prize, which is awarded annually from Australia, comes with a cash reward of £218,000 that goes to the Environment Agency, which manages the waterway.
The Thames was one of 100 entries bidding for the award and was eventually one of a four-strong shortlist that included the Amazon, the Yellow River in China and another English waterway, the Piddle in Dorset.
The award is made to well-managed rivers and the EA points out that the Thames, unlike some of the other competitors, has 13 million people living beside it and still has a good deal of industry along its banks.
But since the dark days of the 1950s innumerable improvements to the water quality have enticed no fewer than 125 species of fish back into the Thames including salmon, trout, bass and sole.
The EA proudly points out that now 80 per cent of the Thames is now judged to have good or very good water quality – although it admits there is still much to do – particularly in improving the state of many of the river’s tributaries.
Nevertheless, it’s good to be able to say a sincere well done to the Agency.
A BELATED thank you to my old mate Bob Gently for standing in while I was up in the Lake District recently – it’s always a pleasure hearing from the old boy although I’m amazed he managed to stagger off the bridge of his gin palace to put pen to paper. Well done, skipper.
And talking of being belated, the recent flood of correspondence about wartime activities on our stretch of the Thames pushed several other notable events into the background. So I’ll try and give them a mention over the next couple of weeks.
Firstly, well done to the youngsters from Sunbury and Walton Sea Cadets at TS Black Swan who took part in a sponsored ‘row’ at the beginning of this month.
Twenty cadets aged 10 to 16, including the cadet’s girls’ national silver rowing crew, covered an amazing 140 kilometres using two rowing machines at Spelthorne Leisure Centre in Staines – a distance that would have taken them from Shepperton to Margate.
The event was supposed to have been staged on the Thames but due to appalling weather conditions, it was deemed unsafe for the youngsters to take their boat out on the river. Very wise too.
As it was, the cadets cheered each other on as they took turns to row for six hours watched by parents, supporters and the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of Elmbridge, Councillors John and Mary Sheldon, and Surrey County Councillor Richard Walsh. Great effort lads and lasses.
THE River Thames Boat Project is piloting a major new youth leadership training course onboard the Kingston-based community barge Richmond Venturer.
The Community Boat Leadership Programme (CBLP), led by the National Community Boats Association and part-funded by the Young Foundation, will provide leadership training for young people aged 16-19 who have leadership potential, but who may not have done particularly well at school.
The four-day residential course on board Richmond Venturer, a 26-metre Dutch barge, will provide practical hands-on experience in taking responsibility for running the boat safely, learning boating skills, working the river’s locks, learning about the river’s heritage and wildlife, encouraging environmental awareness and conservation, and culminates in organising an event for families and friends to celebrate their success.
Miranda Jaggers, Project Manager of the River Thames Boat Project, said: “It is a fantastic opportunity that will provide the young people with skills to approach new challenges with confidence.”
The River Thames Boat Project still has a few places available on the course starting on Tuesday, November 2 and anyone interested or wanting to nominate a young person should contact the RTBP immediately: 020 8940 3509 / miranda [at] thamesboatproject.org. Further courses will be run from Spring 2011.