Steps to improvement

One of my earliest recollections of the River Thames takes me back to when I was five or six.

ONE of my earliest recollections of the River Thames takes me back to when I was five or six.

I grew up in East Twickenham, just a five-minute walk away from Richmond Bridge and at the weekends there was a well-rehearsed ritual.

My mum would fill a paper bag with bits of stale bread or biscuits and we’d toddle off down to the river by Richmond ice rink.

There we’d walk down the steps to the river’s edge and spend time feeding the ducks, swans and geese that crowded round, eager to share in the magnificent feast and, when the bag was empty, perhaps just sit on the steps and watch the pleasure boats passing by on their way up river to Hampton Court or heading down towards the tideway.

I think those excursions to feed the ducks started a love affair with the river that endures today.

So I was somewhat saddened to hear that the Environment Agency has plans to remove several of the flights of steps that lead from the towpath down to the water’s edge between Penton Hook Lock and Staines.

One of my readers, who didn’t want to be named, contacted me to express her disappointment on discovering that the agency was going to remove up to half the flights of steps on that stretch of the river.

She said: “Parents have been taking their children down those steps to feed the ducks for many years and it seems very short-sighted of them just to take the steps away.”

I have some sympathy with that view.

But there is some method to the apparent EA madness as their press officer, Sam Elfer, explained to me.

He said: “Yes, we are planning to remove some of the steps – those that have become badly damaged and could present a danger to the public but we’ll be repairing others and making them safe. It’s all part of a major programme of works, costing around £200,000 to improve the river bank.”

The work is all connected with a new piece of European legislation called the Water Framework Directive.

Paul Power, the EA’s Waterways Engineer for the Thames, says: Bringing Penton Hook’s riverbank back to a more natural state will help habitats thrive. Removing illegal mooring platforms and unsafe structures will enable EA staff to rebuild the riverbank using natural materials which will help improve habitat conditions for fish, invertebrates and other wildlife.”

All of which is very laudable providing that they leave a sufficient number of steps in good repair so that the next generation can still get close enough to throw bits of bread to the ducks…

NEXT week, I’m going to be passing on some of the memories of a man who was saddened to hear of the destruction of the old Thornycroft works on Port Hampton – where he served his apprenticeship as a boatbuilder.

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