Rewilding London’s Rivers

What’s been happening to rewild London’s rivers?

More than 27km of river in London has been improved since 2000, with 17.5km enhanced in the last six years alone. Projects include re-landscaping, removing culverts (concrete

Ladywell Fields in Lewisham
Ladywell Fields in Lewisham

channels), creating new reed beds, planting up water margins and engaging the local community. London volunteers have been crucial to the delivery of many of these projects.

Click here to see the projects. 


Why do London rivers need improving?

London rivers can be beautiful spaces for nature, but they can face a number of challenges. The most urgent are flooding and reduced water quality. London’s drainage system finds it hard to cope during periods of heavy rainfall, leading to flooding from storm water, and effluent entering our rivers, which happens on average once a week on the Thames.  Oils and heavy metals from our busy roads are also washed into our rivers and streams, and domestic drains can be wrongly connected to rainwater pipes which lead straight to the river. For all these reasons, many of our rivers can suffer from low water quality.

Another challenge is that many of London’s river habitats are hidden from public view. They are often trapped within concrete channels or even piped underground. Not only is this bad for wildlife; it makes it harder for people to access and enjoy them. Being able to access rivers is crucial for the quality of life and wellbeing of people living in urban environments, such as London.

How do river improvement projects help solve these problems?

Thames21 volunteers installing reedbeds on the River Lea and Lee Navigation
Thames21 volunteers installing reedbeds on the River Lea and Lee Navigation

Reintroducing a more natural system that creates space for increased water flow means less flooding and reduces the pressure on London’s struggling drainage system. Improvements like installing reed beds not only create new habitats for wildlife, but help to trap pollutants before they flow downstream.

Removing barriers and concrete channels, and creating beautiful new wetland areas brings rivers back into the heart of communities; makes them more biodiverse and improves the wellbeing levels of people who visit them. Those living near the river restoration projects across London report a better community spirit as the amount of shared space, and opportunities for volunteering and community action, have increased.