OL' MAN RIVER

River Thames – from Tranquil Water to Dustbin Estuary

Those clear waters of Thames Head and Manorbrook Lake are in stark contrast to the Thames Estuary as it nears the North Sea, having gathered tons of plastic rubbish and detritus on its journey through London.

The official source of the Thames lies in a remote Gloucestershire meadow on the edge of the small village of Kemble. This area is officially known as Trewsbury Mead but is sometimes referred to as Thames Head.

On the journey from its source in the Cotswolds down to the sea, the River Thames winds past honeystone villages and alongside a great stretch of tranquil water, surrounded by forested moorland.

Manorbrook Lake is a place of refuge for the aquatic life of London’s river. Over the centuries it has remained relatively unchanged, its waters reflecting the surrounding Wiltshire landscape. since the days of gravel extraction that created it.

Those clear waters of Thames Head and Manorbrook Lake are in stark contrast to the Thames Estuary as it nears the North Sea, having gathered tons of plastic rubbish and detritus on its journey through London. In many ways, this journey is a metaphor for a bleaker picture of the global phenomenon of climate change and human activity. Just as Manorbrook Lake lies on the edge of the River Thames, so does our responsibility to the environment lie on the corners of human conscience.

Every year, the River Thames authorities collect 300 tonnes of driftwood and litter from the Thames. Consequently, there is much in the river, which has become a kind of make-shift assortment of 21st century reminiscence.

Coins will be scattered across the riverbed, plastic straws at each meander, ghastly weeds of unknown toxicity tangled on the banks, and of course, many wild species just trying to go about their daily lives. The river is home to 125 different fish species, 300,000 wintering birds and 900 seals.

There must be a sense of resentment, or utter confusion, amongst the animal kingdom.  Why would such ugliness be inflicted upon such beauty? Why is there a need to litter? Where is this rubbish from? Who put it in our river?

Whilst seals, fish and birds do not talk, they do think. Perhaps these are the questions on their minds, much as they should be on in the thoughts of the human mind.

Think of the estuary waters at the end of the Thames as the place where all London’s litter is destined to arrive. All that is dumped in the river, whether intentionally or not, will be carried by the fast-flowing currents past Big Ben and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It will duck under London Bridge and Tower Bridge and head east for the North Sea.

Millions and millions of bottles, straws, packets and much more end up on the estuary banks or wash out to sea. Much of the litter sinks, but some remains on the water’s surface. As the years pass, the abundance of litter grows, as does the consequence of human development. How much more of London’s litter can be negligently abandoned into the sea?

However, let us add some hope to this article, for the beauty of the lake at the head of the Thames may still act as a spur for future generations to tackle the gathering litter lower down the river. Although the floating waste is growing exponentially, the river can be cleaned. Hope does exist, even if on the edge of human conscience. Once the litter is removed, who knows what we will find?

Historical secrets may be uncovered for future generations to witness. Much like the Arthurian Legend’s Excalibur, there are endless possibilities of what could be at the bottom of England’s lakes and rivers. We just need to see that the waters run clear once more. Because of the moral anxiety about the floating litter, one day someone will clean up the waters, rectifying any human damage to the natural world.

My simple yet important idea: could we begin to clean the river today?