It's awesome. Standing on Southwark Bridge as I was the other day, looking over the edge in to the river. The sheer volume and movement of water is astounding and mesmerizing. Is the Thames London's greatest but most ignored asset?
It's a muddy emerald of a river that used to be the Capital's main artery. Talk to people wandering along the southbank and you soon learn that many consider it to be the city's alimentary canal. The heavy downpours of last Tuesday led to 50,000 metric tonnes of raw sewage pouring into the London section of the Thames and David Walliams' heroic swim was testament to its toxicity. Yet I still LOVE the Thames. We should all be swimming in it.
Why do we ignore it? Developers along the northbank seem mostly to pretend it isn't there, hiding it from sight. It's the reason London is here. It's why early Britons settled and (concertina-ing history) where Romans laid the foundations for the Tudors to develop and the Victorians to over-engineer. I love the Thames.
It's been semi-domesticated and chanelled in places. Restricted by stone, metal and wood, it is a sexy beast; witness (right) its sinewy curves and coy embarrassment as it slips behind the Gherkin before brushing Canary Wharf and sweeping round the Isle of Dogs.
Sir Joseph Bazalgette is the engineer who designed our London sewerage system to transform the Thames from open sewer to pristine river. London had 2.5 million residents then. Now we're heading for 8M. Bazalgette would no doubt be proud to see his design still very much in use, but I bet he'd be dismayed by the state of the river.
We're heading towards the same issues he grappled with. The mighty Thames is grim, but even now it still supports some 300,000+ migrant birds every year out in its estuary, and its banks and valley are overflowing with acronyms [SSSI, SINCS, NNRs, SPA's, SACs. etc], which all mean it is incredibly important for wildlife.
Here in London. Yes, we have gulls of various description, cormorants, terns, grey herons, waders and dabblers. There are even some fish. Awards have been presented to groups who've cleaned up tributaries like the fabulous Wandle, and for the re-surfacing of the Quaggy. Yet attempts to restock the Thames with salmon have proved near fruitless. It's too polluted to support the full range of wildlife that we could and indeed should have swimming, bobbing, diving and thriving through the city.
So what's to be done. Individuals can help by softening any outdoor hard surfaces they can, such as car parking in front gardens or concrete patios. It reduces run-off into the drains. Avoid putting dodgy stuff down drains, such as fats, oils and other dubious liquids. Fix any leaky taps or pipes and almost finally, lobby MP's and MEP's. Then, please do share your views with us on our joint OUR RIVERS campaign webpage. Government, both local and national, should review legislation and work with developers and engineers to improve drainge; and utility companies have a role to play too. Thames Water has a plan on how to improve Bazalgette's sewers. Maybe a reality TV show called Pimp My Sewer would help them win public support?
We should be celebrating it's watery beauty and respecting its majestic power. Almost all of the peregrine falcons living wild in London (and there are now more than twenty pairs compared with zilch a decade ago) are along the banks of the Thames. The fact that fishing fans are miffed by the presence of grey herons and comorants living on the river around Kew and elsewhere proves there is life in them there waters.
Tell me you share my love. Whisper J'Thames in my ear. Let warm feelings for it trickle into your physche. Leap into its embrace and explore its life affirming beauty. Maybe venture beyond the M25 and explore its wider reaches at Rainham, North Kent Marshes or Canvey Island. Hey, throw caution to the wind, go for a chilly paddle at Southend or suck on a cockle at Margate.
Whatever you do, please enjoy and help the Thames.