A healthy and clean river is joyous and energising, it gladdens our hearts and restores our souls. It is abundant with nature and flourishing wildlife. It empowers, enables and protects human activity and achievement. A healthy river builds community. Urban and rural populations consistently gather, grow and prosper around a healthy river.
This is our vision of how every river should be. But most of our rivers are not healthy. At the present time, they are not able to protect us and the natural environment from the climate emergency that is now upon us. Thames21 has therefore developed a new Five Year Plan. We are proposing an ambitious programme to our partners, funders and communities to help put things right for rivers – to provide genuine solutions that make a tangible, measurable difference to the critical challenges that affect them.
London will be the continuing focus of Thames21’s most intense activity, however we will also work increasingly across the network of rivers and communities in the Thames Basin wherever we are needed. We will share experience and learn from other groups and organisations both nationally and internationally.
From Thames21’s earliest beginnings, practical action has been at the heart of our charity. In the early 1990s, it was rubbish accumulating in the tidal Thames that caused public concern. Volunteers tried to clear it away, but the scale of the challenge was huge. Keep Britain Tidy, with funding from the newly-formed Environment Agency, tested out a strategic approach to support and upscale community response. The result was Thamesclean – a partnership that brought together community energies with the practical involvement and support of the Port of London Authority, Keep Britain Tidy, the Environment Agency, Thames Water and the City of London Corporation. Community volunteers worked hand in hand with the PLA’s Driftwood team to clean up the Thames foreshore. It was hugely successful, river clean-up activity spread onto the tributaries that flow into the Thames. Today, thanks to many years of volunteer clean-ups, the larger waste items that had littered the Thames foreshore are long gone. However, the river network is inundated by single-use plastic litter.
Working closely and directly on rivers made other serious issues all too apparent. It revealed an urbanised, channelised and degraded river landscape across London with growing pollution issues that was in many cases devoid of wildlife, community or economic value. It was clear that robust action would be crucial to create a healthy, sustainable relationship between rivers and human activity and development.
Thamesclean developed in response.
It became Thames21. The new name reflected Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development that had emerged from the UN’s Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
Today, Agenda 21 has evolved to become the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Thames21 has strengthened its commitment to deliver on them for rivers. We have developed our technical expertise and increasingly sophisticated partnership working with communities and stakeholders across public, private and third sectors. Thames21 is now a multi-faceted environmental NGO for rivers with innovative programmes across the Thames River Basin from Oxford in the west to Canvey Island in the east. We are driven not just by the seriousness of the challenges that rivers face, but by an energy and optimism that solutions can be found and delivered.
These solutions are now pressing. We must all act now, and act together, to protect our communities, wildlife and key economic centre from the impacts of the climate emergency. We will do this through our rivers.
Debbie Leach, CEO at Thames21
Read in full Thames21_5_Year_Plan.