Port of London Authority targets biodiversity

PLA works with farmers The PLA works with farmers to monitor the environment. Credit: Port of London Authority

The Port of London Authority’s Thames Vision seeks sustainability in the port and environment. Environment manager Tanya Ferry explains how it works

The Thames is a busy port handling up to 50 million tonnes of cargo a year, with lots of urban development along its banks for the expanding London population. However, there is still space for wildlife, thanks to a lot of continuous work and collaboration.

In 2015, the Port of London Authority (PLA) launched the Thames Vision, a 20 year vision for the estuary, where a sustainable port and sustainable environment is at the core.

Working with local and national experts, the port has been focusing on improving biodiversity in an already improving estuary. This work is being undertaken in a coordinated way, in order to allow the environment to become more resilient to future impacts and issues.

Successful example

Rainham Silt Lagoons is a great example of this with the announcement, featured in the Autumn 2018 issue of Green Port, of an ambitious plan to use the area for disposal of dredged arisings. By doing so, it will be possible to create a huge improved area of habitat in a protected site. Working with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and its contractor Land & Water, the PLA has created a sustainable solution that allows trade and wildlife to benefit.

This is not the only environmentally beneficial project that the PLA has worked on in recent years. Working with Veolia, the waste management company, the organisation provided for tugs and barges to fill a landfill site accessed via an environmentally protected creek. The waste site needs to be capped so that it can be converted into an amenity site using appropriate material from construction projects up and down the Thames, that would have otherwise been dumped at sea or taken by road elsewhere.

Similar projects are being developed across the 95 miles of tidal river and 15,000 hectares of protected land. This includes monitoring of farmland for wildlife, further partnership with the RSPB and finding new ways to value the work being done. There are significant benefits for wildlife: 125 species of fish and over 900 seals use the estuary seasonally and the 300,000 overwintering birds use the estuary and surrounding marshes.

Accounting tool

The PLA is the first port in the UK to fully develop a Natural Capital accounting tool for some of the protected sites in the Thames estuary. The driver to complete such a piece of work was from the PLA’s own Thames Vision, which aims to improve biodiversity in protected and important sites on the Thames and the gaps between them. Many protected sites are not in good condition and therefore other commitments in the Vision to grow cargo and passenger trade may impair the improvement in biodiversity or vice versa.

The PLA therefore carried out a risk assessment of how sites might react to changes in the use of the river. The initial results seem fairly positive. The Natural Capital accounting allows the PLA to evaluate the status quo and improvements once made. The next step will be to design improvements to help not only maintain, but also improve habitat quality and potential resilience to future impacts from climate change and coastal squeeze.

The PLA is a landowner of discrete pockets of land as well as the riverbed, including farmland and a small island or ait, called Oliver’s Ait (reputedly after Oliver Cromwell). Oliver’s Ait has a unique group of rare and tiny snails within the bank protection, preventing the man-made toll island from washing away. Being man-made, the island drains rapidly, which makes trees and understory plants difficult to establish, the understory has been largely absent in the last few years.

The concern was that this was due either to the ground conditions or overgrazing by geese, so the PLA is carrying out a survey of control areas across the small island to determine if the geese are the source of the problem. Following the results, the PLA is implementing management by working with local groups to help look after the island.

Our farmland is managed in a longstanding relationship with tenant farmers, and has held high-level stewardship status for some time. Most of the farmland estate is protected by UK, EU or international convention (or all three). The PLA is developing a programme with the farmers for monitoring the sites, to record changes in populations of important birds, such as teal and wigeon. It is also monitoring water voles on the marshland with local universities.

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