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Thames Landscape Strategy - Hampton to Kew -

Restoration of the Lost Floodplain

‘To work in partnership to re-create, conserve, connect and enhance the natural character of the floodplain in response to climate change for people, wildlife and occasionally water’.

High tides in the TLS area regularly flood the towpaths

The River Thames is London’s best known natural feature. It twists and turns through the capital, changing from a freshwater river at Molesey into a saline estuary in the east. Between Hampton and Kew in the upper reaches of London’s river, there are a remarkable number of connected open spaces – a unique landscape of historic, natural and cultural significance that has been celebrated for over three hundred years as ‘The Arcadian Thames’ – meaning a rural paradise where humans and nature coexist in harmony.

River Lane at high tide

Since Neolithic times, this remarkable landscape has been shaped by human activity – modifications to the floodplain responding to the changing needs of local populations. Wildlife has been quick to adapt to these changes taking advantage of man’s modifications to the natural environment whilst recreational activity has constantly evolved as new stretches of riverside have been opened up.
Many of these changes to the floodplain, particularly those taking place after WW II however, have seen a considerable reduction in the floodplain’s capacity to accommodate water – the traditional water meadows and wetland habitats being replaced by new higher ‘dry’ environments or encroached on for housing – very little of the floodplain today is truly ‘natural’. To a large extent this has not been a problem particularly since the construction of the Thames Barrier. Climate Change however, has altered the balance.

As climate changes the risk from tidal surges, sea level rise, freshwater flooding and the inflow of water from urban drainage is set to intensify putting the floodplain at increasing risk from flooding. It is expected for example, that fluvial flows entering the tidal river at
Teddington will increase by up to 40% by 2080. At present, flooding throughout the Thames Landscape is managed by the Thames Barrier, however, the Environment Agency predict that this is unsustainable in the future. Unavoidable modifications will be needed in the way that the barrier is used in order to protect Central London from increased flood risk rather than the parks and gardens of Arcadia.

Implications of Increasing Flood Risk to the Arcadian Thames

Increasing flood risk and changes in the operation of the Thames Barrier will have a significant effect on the towpaths, parks and gardens along the floodplain between Hampton and Kew much of which is low lying and not protected by high flood walls. As such it is anticipated that over the coming years a much greater part of the floodplain will be inundated with water and that this flooding will happen with increasing frequency – particularly when a fluvial flood meets a high tide moving up river. At present much of the floodplain is simply not ready for this increased inundation.

Historic landscapes, wildlife sites and human use of riverside will be affected in the following ways:
•More space will be needed to store flood water reducing the area that can be used for recreation (which will be at a premium as the city heats up)
•Established habitats will begin to decline forcing species to migrate across regions searching out new habitats. To survive, wildlife will need large areas of linked natural open space to move about in that is appropriate to wet conditions.
•Increased flooding could stretch the emergency services and people living in riverside properties will need to prepare themselves for flood events.
•Established recreational movement patterns will be considerably altered by rising waters (particularly on the towpaths and riverside parks) putting the longterm viability of sustainable transport and visitor initiatives at risk.
•Housing will be affected and it is expected that flotsam and jetsam will increase.

The TLS ‘Restoration of the Lost Floodplain’ project provides a holistic and co-ordinated way forward to implement (on the ground) the TE2100 scheme and a raft of other initiatives that could be affected by rising flood risk (including: Making Space for Water’ the Water Framework Directive , ‘Living Landscapes’, the Mayor for London’s ‘Smarter Travel Initiative’, Legible London and borough aspirations).

Example of a dry routes project to improve the sustainable transport network

It is proposed that the ‘Restoration of the Lost Floodplain’ will:

•Optimise the use of the floodplain for water to go to during a flood event.
•Identify ways to restore and re-connect the natural rhythms of the river corridor to create a ‘living landscape’ – a mosaic of habitats (created at a landscape scale) allowing wildlife to flourish and move about in as climate changes.
•Create a network of sluices, controls and channels linked to a real time flood forecasting model to enable flooding to be carefully controlled across a large area reducing the risk and disruption to people.
•Put in place a network of sustainable footpaths, cycle routes, informal trails, signage and dry routes to allow visitors and locals to navigate through the landscape even in times of flood and drought.
•Restore the historic landscape framework of fields, avenues, creeks, ponds, woodland, grazed wet meadows and native hedges.
•Put in place a long term management plan to carry out the day-to-day maintenance of the riverside that will include an active volunteer programme
•Establish an education and outreach programme to connect people with their environment

Example of a working, natural floodplain

At the core of the project is the principle that the floodplain is our most important asset in managing increased flood risk that results from climate change. Places for people to enjoy, for wildlife to flourish and, when needed, for water to go. By restoring our lost floodplain we can conserve the character of the countryside in the city that makes the Arcadian Thames so special for future generations to enjoy and use.

To download the complete document click here

Environment Agency Information:
Flood pages
Flood warning
Sign up to Floodline Warnings Direct: 0845 988 1198

Related information:

The North Sea Flood 1953 BBC Website

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