2020 was a challenging year for all of us, and brought with it changes in how we carry out our work and engage with others. At TEP, not being able to share our work in the usual ways (including boat tours, networking events and annual forums) was challenging for our team, members and the wider Thames stakeholders. We mark World Ocean day as a key milestone as it was this time last year we had to adapt the way we communicate with our network, including getting key messages out about the one global ocean. For example, each World Ocean Day, we encourage you to #DroptheS and use the word ‘ocean’ in the singular to talk about the one global ocean with the River Thames being our connection to it.
During the first lockdown, it became increasingly difficult for communities to receive the benefits to their health and wellbeing from the River Thames, people were becoming more disconnected to nature and the river. By creating this virtual and extended version of our boat tour and podcasts, anyone is allowed to visit and learn about the Estuary from the comfort of their home. The 11 podcasts we’ve released so far feature a range of guests including: Andy Mitchell (CEO of Tideway), Laura Littleton (Senior Advisor for TE2100) and Thames based archaeologist - Fiona Haughey (just to name a few!)
We also want to acknowledge that not all nature deprived communities and those in need are online, and that this is a major issue that we are tackling within our partnership.
In this blog to celebrate one year of taking virtual trips down the Thames and the release of our first podcast episode, Olivia (TEP’s Communication Officer) talks with Wanda Bodnar (TEP’s Assistant Manager of the Fish Migration Roadmap and Creator of our virtual boat tour of the Thames) and Eve Sanders (TEP’s Estuary Edges Coordinator and Creator of the Talk of the Thames podcast series) share how the TEP team have used some innovative tools to help create and share digital resources over the last year.
OLIVIA: Why did TEP want to create a virtual boat tour of the tidal Thames?
WANDA: Every year in September, as part of the Totally Thames Festival, TEP organises a return boat tour from Tower Bridge downstream towards the North Sea where Amy Pryor (TEP’s Technical Director), Steve Colclough (Fisheries Scientist) and Fiona Haughey (Thames Archaeologist) talk about the different aspects of the river. Due to the pandemic, this, like many other events, had to be cancelled in September 2020 but we still wanted to be able to share something with our members, supporters and the public. So, Amy came up with the idea of moving it online to have a virtual boat tour and I was tasked to find the suitable platform. After checking out a number of interactive mapping software options, my choice fell on the recently redeveloped ArcGIS StoryMap product.
OLIVIA: What is the purpose of the Talk of the Thames podcast?
EVE: We needed to think of a way to engage the TEP network along with encouraging the general public to safely visit their local Thames path during the lockdowns. For many Londoners, particularly those that live within Zones 1 and 2, green space is precious and particularly difficult to access if tube or bus travel is involved, as both modes of transport were closed (or it was advised against travelling) during lockdown. I wanted to find a way to bring wildlife and all of its wonder into peoples’ homes. Sure, a podcast episode is no substitute for a long walk next to the river, but if it’s soothed a handful of people - it’s been worth it!
This year, with Covid-19 numbers back to a relatively low rate in London, the podcast has evolved to cover all things Thames. We hope to use Talk of the Thames as a platform to educate and inspire the public about how important the Thames as a system is for both wildlife and people. It would be great if after listening to an episode or two of Talk of the Thames, people look at the Thames through a different lens - a complex and vital ecosystem. We have many more exciting guest speakers lined up, so stay tuned!
OLIVIA: What is a StoryMap, why did you choose to use this and how did you make one?
WANDA: ArcGIS has a number of products and one of them is the ArcGIS StoryMap. ArcGIS StoryMap is an interactive platform that can be used to create stories by adding various interactive elements like maps, videos and so on. You can create your own theme by choosing the colours, the fonts, and once you have the storyline and the contents, you can just add the text, hyperlinks, maps, images, embed website elements and so on, and design the page. One of the biggest benefits of the StoryMap platform is that it automatically formats and adjusts the page to the device that you are using.
From the user perspective, I think it is equally easy to use. You land on the page and can start scrolling down. You can click/tap on the hyperlinks to read more about a specific topic, click/tap on the images to make them bigger, play the latest episode of the podcast or watch The Living Thames documentary. It was specifically designed so that everything is in one place and if you spend some time on it, hopefully you come away with the sense that you have learnt a lot and have a better understanding of the Thames.
OLIVIA: Were there any challenges with creating the podcasts?
EVE: Deciding which episodes to do and when can be challenging as there are so many topics to choose from and there’s so much happening with the Thames! Talk of the Thames is the first podcast I’ve ever created and so naturally there were a few technical challenges such as getting used to the equipment and learning how to use the microphones. For example, a ‘dead cat’ is the name of the furry microphone covering which removes and buffers the sound of the wind. Overall the challenges have been few, and the podcast has been a joy to create.
You can read more about the making of Talk of the Thames in my blog post here.
OLIVIA: What challenges did you have with the virtual tour?
WANDA: One of the biggest challenges was the lack of images of some of the locations that we chose to put on the map. We wanted to have images of each location and preferably ours. So, after the first release, where we had 16 locations, we started to plan for extending the tidal Thames tour all the way up to Teddington. And to make sure that we had the needed images, I actually cycled all the way from Erith to Teddington (65km in 6 and half hours) along the Thames and took lots of pictures, especially at all those locations that we included in the second release. As much as cycling 65km may sound like a huge challenge in itself, it was actually a really nice day and it was really interesting to see how the riverscape changes through the city. You can actually look at the map with some of the images I took along the way.
OLIVIA: How many listeners are there to the podcast?
EVE: Since it started last year, I’m proud to say our podcast has reached over 1500 people, with listeners spread across 18 different countries. This number is constantly increasing thanks to our regular listeners who tune in each month, along with the growing number of new subscribers we receive.
OLIVIA: How many people have taken the virtual tour?
WANDA: We have been tracking engagement via Google Analytics and since we released it on World Ocean Day in 2020, we have had visitors from over 75 countries. The biggest share of the viewers are coming from the 25-34 age group followed by the 18-24 age group, which is exactly what we aimed at. So we are very happy young people are engaging with the StoryMap and we hope that they also find it enjoyable and useful. But most importantly, we hope that by reading it through, it will help dismiss the misconception that the Thames is a dirty, brown river with no life in it.
Just to add, earlier this year the StoryMap was included into ESRI’s Editor’s pick and can still be found listed within the Travel and recreation category. Also, it was also chosen to be part of the digital programme of the Totally Thames Festival which will be happening in September 2021.
OLIVIA: What are some of the upcoming podcast episodes and/or guests?
EVE: I won’t give too many spoilers away, but we have some episodes coming up that focus on the plastic crisis and the TEP projects themselves. I feel very privileged to interview such amazing people and getting to know new people throughout the creation of each episode has been wonderful and insightful. I learn so much from all of my interviewees and I hope our listeners enjoy the experience too. We always welcome suggestions for episode topics, so if you have an idea, please do get in touch with us!
Please enjoy our World Ocean Day edition of our Talk of the Thames podcast - out today, we explore how the Thames is the integrated area where land meets the sea. Representing the land is TEP's CEO Heather Hilburn who will be in conversation with Amy Pryor, TEP's Technical Director, representing the sea.