Thames Guardian

 Thames Guardian Spring 2017

The River Thames Society publishes Thames Guardian, the colourful quarterly magazine looking at all aspects of the river. Each issue includes several pages of news, features reflecting life and traditions on the river, a comprehensive diary of events and activities, and regular reports from the Society and its five branches. All members receive each issue through the post.

Thames Guardian also helps publicise the Society’s campaigns, and recent articles have supported efforts to halt the proposed sale of lock-keeper’s houses and have promoted plans for major riverside clean-ups. Each issue describes the varied work of the Society’s members and supporters and readers can enjoy their regular tales from the riverbank. Advertisements are welcome.

Editor: Sarah Henshaw


Exploring the Thames Wilderness

Exploring the Thames Wilderness

Thames Rivers Trust (TRT) and the River Thames Society (RTS) have collaborated to produce the first ever guide to the green spaces accessible to the public along the entire length of the river.

Exploring the Thames Wilderness by RTS members Wendy Yorke and Dick Mayon-White contains a wealth of information on more than 150 of the best places along the river to see wildlife and enjoy natural beauty. Illustrated with maps and photos, the guide gives all the information needed to visit each site, including how to get there, what plants and wildlife to look out for, car parking, toilets and activities that you can do. The guide costs just £14.99 and is available through most usual outlets. It will also be on sale at Thames events where RTS has a stand.  Royalties on each copy sold go to help TRT and RTS in our work to protect and improve the Thames and its tributaries. Our thanks go to Thames Water for sponsoring the production of this guidebook.


Books by other RTS members:


The Golden Thread: The River Thames from Source to Sea by Patrick Ward 

 Writing the Thames

Writing the Thames by Christina Hardyment

London in fragments

London in Fragments by Ted Sandling

Panorama of the Thames

Panorama of the Thames by John R. Inglis & Jill Sanders

Eyots and Aits

Eyots and Aits by Miranda Vickers

Walking the Thames Path

Walking the Thames Path by Leigh Hatts




RTS Chairman, Peter Finch, has produced a report detailing Access to the River Thames: Steps, Stairs & Landing Places on the Tidal RiverThe access points include historic watermen's stairs and drawdocks, together with more modern sites. They are listed by local authority, working downstream, and include 15 London boroughs and five in Essex and Kent.  Click here to see the full report. 



Houseboats are seen by some as one of the answers to the housing shortage, and by others as a way to make a quick profit. Whatever, the number and variety of Thames houseboats seems to be increasing. The RTS has drafted a policy statement about houseboats on the Thames, updating a policy from 35 years ago. Click here to see the full report.


Hilary Pereira, RTS member and chair of the Upper Tideway Branch, outlines some of the pitfalls potential houseboat buyers might face and provides a comprehensive list of questions that should be asked prior to contract exchange, from whether the boat and moorings are fit for purpose to what would happen if it all went wrong. Click here to see the full report


The aims of the River Thames Society (RTS) are to: protect the natural beauty of the river, adjacent lands and buildings of historic interest; promote nature conservation; preserve and extend amenities which allow and encourage the use of the river for all purposes; and support and contribute to the efforts of other organisations with a similar interest in the river. RTS and its members therefore have a close interest in planning matters as they affect the Thames and its immediate environs.

These guidelines have five themes relevant to planning derived from the RTS aims :

 A.Improve/maintain public access to the river;

B. Protect the natural environment;

C. Promote the best built environment

D. Keep the river active;

E. Support like-minded others.

A. Improve/maintain public access to the river

Opportunities should be sought to improve the Thames Path and complete missing sections, keeping the Path available for public use. Permissive access, dependent on conditions set by the freeholder, is a poor second best. The Path should be accessible for those with a wide range of disabilities. Access points to/from the river should be protected, with public steps, stairs, landings and slipways kept open for use at all hours.

B: Protect the natural environment

Built development should be restricted in the most natural reaches. Bankside/midstream permanent moorings should be off-line, clustered into marinas or boatyards, except for end-of-garden moorings in built-up areas. This is better for the overall aesthetics, as well as enabling better servicing of vessels. The bank and river bed need to be looked after. Any piling into the river bed and foreshore needs to be sensitive to native species needing protection, with camp-shedding the bank friendly to aquatic wildlife. Since bright lights can disturb bats, birds and fish, they should be shielded to inhibit spillage onto/above the river or onto adjacent sensitive areas of bank. Other agencies, especially the Environment Agency, have formal responsibilities in relation to environmental protection and the RTS supports them in that.

C: Promote the best built environment

The Thames is not land appropriate for redevelopment and that means no encroachment, with only river-related developments on/over the river. Whether or not formally classified as Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land no Thames-side development should be seen as permitted development, but all should have proper scrutiny and public consultation. Any new development should respect historic structures, listed buildings and bridges and classic vistas on or by the Thames. New bank-side development should be set back from the river’s edge; be low rise; respect views from the river and from the opposite bank; minimise light, noise, vibration, air or other pollution for the river and its close environment and be sensitive to local ecology.

D: Keep the river active

Existing wharves have to be safeguarded to enable the Thames to continue to be used for freight, with new ones created to replace any lost to new development. Working boatyards and slipways are needed for the ongoing maintenance of passenger and other vessels and must be protected. Unpowered craft enable a wide range of people including the young to have active enjoyment of the river through sailing, paddling, kayaking, rowing and punting. So encourage the facilities needed, eg riverside youth clubs, through the planning process. Short-term moorings are important for vessels enjoying the public right of navigation and are needed/should be protected in key locations close to amenities.

E: Support like-minded others.

Other organisations with a similar interest in the river and its environs include those responsible for local river strategies, local amenity  and community societies, river-related charities, environmental groups and the many boat clubs and river users, including Sea Scouts, Sea Cadets, paddling, rowing and sailing clubs.

The RTS has a special contribution to make as we cover all those interested in the river, the passive appreciators as well as active users. We cover all parts of the river and can bring expertise from many quarters. Unlike many local amenity societies, we cover both banks. We have no commercial interests and believe we are uniquely placed to present a balanced view.


RTS tries to respond to public consultations, either in helping shape local plans or in response to specific planning proposals. Mindful that responses are usually going on to public websites, RTS responses are drafted with care. If free text is permitted, responses usually start with an explanation of the remit of the RTS. There is then comment on the specific issues, with a focus on the river aspects, mindful of (a) planning considerations for Local Authority applications, (b)  the Port of London’s  remit for River Works Licence applications and (c) the criteria used in applications before the Marine Management Organisation. It is often helpful to then quote relevant standing planning policies. Sometimes it is only possible to respond on-line to pre-set questions, which rarely seem to address directly the issues of concern to us.

Experience shows that it is not easy protecting the river and its special environment. There are public slipways protected by s106 agreements, which prove unusable in practice since land access was not adequately ensured or advertised. We have seen completion of an accessible Thames Path presented as the only public benefit for developments that were grossly inappropriate in other ways. We have seen river-related s106 agreement providing supposed benefits which were not wanted by the river users for whom they were earmarked: the lesson is that any good intentions must always be checked with the designated users to ensure they hit the mark.