Call to rewild 100km of London’s rivers to help the city adapt to climate change

Press Release

LONDON RIVERS WEEK 2019: Saturday 25 May – Sunday 2 June

 London, UK – 15 May 2019:

London is the most vulnerable city in western Europe to climate-related impacts including floods and drought, according to a recent report from the Green Party on the London Assembly. Hundreds of schools, hospitals and tube stations in London are at risk of flooding, according to the report.

But if London’s 600km waterway network was enhanced and restored – ie allowed to function more naturally – it could help the city adapt to a myriad of climate and environmental threats coming our way including floods, heatwaves, droughts and poor air quality. ‘There’s the potential for 100km of rivers to be restored in London,’ said David Webb, chair of the London Rivers Restoration Group (LRRG). ‘If these were rewilded, this would have a transformative impact on our city’s resilience to climate change and save money protecting infrastructure and homes.’

This year’s London Rivers Week festival, which celebrates the capital’s many rivers, lakes and streams, brings together river Catchment Partnerships across London to demonstrate actions already underway to showcase what we can do to help protect Londoners, property and wildlife from these threats. In one just one example, the Mayes Brook Park river restoration site in London produced benefits of around £26million in terms of social, tourism, wellbeing and health benefits – a lifetime benefit-to-cost ratio of £7 of benefits for every £1 invested.

‘Restored rivers with green corridors of trees and plants cut flood risk by soaking up flood water. They help regulate the microclimate and cool areas down during heatwaves; and in an era of species extinction, restored rivers can help species survive severe weather and pollution events,’  said Webb.

On one end of the spectrum, urban rewilding can involve large scale re-landscaping and daylighting long-buried rivers. But simple, cheap interventions such as adding woody debris or floating reedbeds can also help our river environments become more naturally resilient. 

‘London will face more extreme weather, more frequently. As global temperatures rise we will live with heavier rainfall, and flooding from rivers and surface water. The Mayor’s adaptation programmes need to reflect the dramatic risks climate breakdown poses and as part of this, river restoration needs to play a much more significant role,’ said Caroline Russell, London Assembly Member, City Hall Greens and chair of the GLA Environment Committee.

More than 30km of waterway in London has been rewilded, but progress has slowed and organisers say that there is scope for at least three times this amount of river to be restored, especially if river restoration is included within regeneration and housing development schemes.

Much of London’s river network is hidden or secret, and events during the Week will enable Londoners to find these places, and even walk the path of rivers which are now underground.

 ‘Engineered river channels block fish from being able to move around and migrate. They’re also not that pleasant or easy for people to find or access,’ said Debbie Leach, CEO of leading waterways charity Thames21 and chair of the Catchment Partnerships in London Group.  ‘This means many of us don’t know our local river or how to get to it, but London Rivers Week is helping to change that.’

A Museum of London Secret Rivers exhibition during the Week will shine a light on the story of London’s many secret rivers, while three Secret Rivers Walks will help people trace the path of three buried rivers: the Fleet, the Walbrook and the Effra.  Kings College London workshops will showcase how natural flood management and river rewilding schemes are working with rivers catchments to protect humans from climate-related challenges. And a new Fish Migration Map will enable Londoners to help map river barriers many fish face, so that future actions can by-pass or remove those barriers, and help eel, chub, dace, and salmon migrate across the city in the future.

Thames Water provides sponsorship for London Rivers Week. Richard Aylard, Thames Water’s sustainability director, said: ‘Improving the rivers of London is important to protect the environment and enable us to provide a resilient water supply for future generations. We will be carrying out a river restoration project on the River Cray this summer.’

London Rivers Week 2019 runs from Saturday May 25 – Sunday 2 June.

Highlights of London Rivers Week include:

Launch event: how floating reedbeds are bringing nature back amongst London’s concrete: Birchmere Lake, Thamesmead, Saturday 25 May 11-3pm. Visit an iconic location where London Wildlife Trust and Thames21 have installed floating reedbeds, a technology at the cutting edge of rewilding London’s waterways. They provide refuge for fish, habitat for birds and other wildlife and their roots can filter pollution. Get involved in a range of family friendly activities: angling taster sessions; canal dipping; test driving a remote-controlled pollution monitoring boat; artist workshops; stalls and children’s activities

Secret River Walks for London Rivers Week and National Park City: Walk one of London’s secret rivers on Saturday 1 June. Choose from expert-led walks along the Fleet, Walbrook and Effra rivers. A London National Park City Foundation launch event for London Rivers Week 2019, in association with Thames21 and London Rivers Week. Also supported by the Museum of London’s Secret Rivers exhibition. 

Launch of Secret Rivers Exhibition: Liquid Late at Museum of London Docklands: Join a late-night spectacular at the Museum of London Docklands to celebrate the opening of the Secret Rivers exhibition. Sample a range of delights from film screenings to hands-on workshops; from oysters to ale. Tickets will also include late-night entry to the Secret Rivers exhibition.

What’s in your river? King’s College London, Environmental Lab: An afternoon of hands-on lab science and live data collection on the latest sciece and tech for understanding London’s rivers. Take a jam jar, bring a sample of water in your local stream and we’ll help you ID the mini-beasts inside; Wednesday 29th May

The full list of events includes guided walks of the Thames Estuary, Ravensbourne and Hogsmill rivers, a live fish survey of the Thames, dragonfly ID events, and Thames plastic clean-up and citizen science events.


Notes for editors

Media Contact: Kirsten Downer, Thames21 Campaigns and communications Officer 020 7248 7171 or 07711 701 696

  • Images available on request
  • Interviews available with: Debbie Leach, Chief Executive at Thames21; David Webb of the Environment Agency and chair of London Rivers Restoration Group; London Wildlife Trust Director of Conservation Matthew Frith; LWT Water for Wildlife Manager Petra Davies; Brent Catchment Partnership Manager Lucy Shuker.

River restoration

More than 30km of river has been restored in London. Find out more about these restored natural spaces through the Secret Wild Spaces guide and map.

London Rivers Week organisers

LRRG is organized for the Catchment Partnerships in London Group (CPiL) by its London Rivers Restoration Group arm. The Catchment Partnerships in London Group is hosted by Thames21, bringing together partnerships on rivers throughout the capital to enable shared action to protect, enhance and deliver cleaner, more vibrant and accessible rivers for all.

Members of CPiL include: the Environment Agency, Greater London Authority, Groundwork, London Wildlife Trust, NW Kent Countryside Partnership, The Rivers Trust, South East Rivers Trust, Thames21, Thames Chase, Thames Estuary Partnership, Thames Landscape Strategy, Thames Strategy Kew to Chelsea, The Wandle Trust, ZSL.

National Park City

National Park City is encouraging organisations to run mini opening events from May- July to celebrate the grand launch on 22 July.

Secret Rivers Exhibition

The Museum of London Docklands Secret Rivers uses archaeological artefacts, art, photography and film to reveal stories of life by London’s rivers, streams, and brooks, exploring why many of them were lost over time.