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HOW HAS THE RIVER THAMES BEEN AFFECTED BY LOCKDOWN?

Updated: Aug 28

By Wanda Bodnar

Fish Migration Roadmap Officer

Living about a twenty-minute walk away from the River Thames has given me a rare chance to discover it during the height of lockdown. Within the time given for outdoor exercise, my husband and I regularly went for walks and took part in the Thursday evening Clap for Carers on the riverside.


During these visits, the most striking experience was that the lack of river, air and road traffic allowed us to hear the movement of the water and notice its fresh smell.

The River Thames in central London on 25th April 2020

On a normal day, you would hear the airplanes about to land or taking off from City Airport, the hustle and bustle of the vehicles on the road and every minute you would see different boats going by. The sound of the daily traffic easily drowns out the natural sounds such as the flow of the river. However, during lockdown all of these disappeared, and with the seagulls squawking it felt like I was standing on the seaside, with serene waves on the surface.


The River Thames has a very distinct odour due to its muddy substrate, which also contributes to its brown colour, something that I only notice when paddleboarding upriver. However, during the quieter and calmer state of lockdown, the river could fill the air with its aroma. High and low tides alternate approximately every six hours, and with the incoming tide the scent of the salty North Sea mixing with the freshwater could be smelt. This is something that I have never personally experienced in central London before.


The retreat of people into their homes also allowed wildlife to appear. The normally boat-dominated central section of the river was replaced by seagulls and cormorants gathering. Seal sightings reportedly increased along the river, with one individual appearing on the foreshore steps near Tate Modern.

Harbour seal at Strand-on-the-Green (middle left on the image)

The Thames is home to both harbour seals and grey seals. The sightings of both are usually more frequent during the winter months when there is less river traffic. However, during lockdown they seemed to have adapted to the quieter river and now individuals are regularly sighted upstream, near Kew, Isleworth, and Richmond sunbathing on the foreshore, or taking a rest on rower’s boats or paddleboards.


It seems that our own personal experience was matched by that of the wildlife and for a brief period of time we could glance into a more tranquil state that allows humans and animals to live peacefully alongside each other and fully appreciate the beauty of the River Thames.

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