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Shropshire Hills AONB.  Countryside Agency/David Woodfall
81. Greater Thames Estuary
The key characteristics of the Greater Thames Estuary are:

Extensive open spaces dominated by the sky within a predominantly flat, low-lying landscape. The pervasive presence of water and numerous coastal estuaries extend the maritime influence far inland.

Strong feeling of remoteness and wilderness persists on the open beaches and salt marshes, on the reclaimed farmed marshland and also on the mudflats populated by a large and varied bird population.

Traditional unimproved wet pasture grazed with sheep and cattle. Extensive drained and ploughed productive arable land protected from floods by sea walls, with some areas of more mixed agriculture on higher ground.

Open grazing pastures patterned by a network of ancient and modern reed-fringed drainage ditches and dykes, numerous creeks and few vertical boundaries such as hedges or fences.

Hedgerows are absent from the large, rectilinear fields with trees beginning where the marsh ceases and the ground startss to rise on land overlying the London Clay Lowlands. Generally, tree cover is limited to farmsteads and dwellings on the higher, drier pockets of ground.

Distinctive military heritage on coastline such as Napoleonic military defences and 20th century pillboxes.

Contrast and variety within the Estuary is provided by Sheppey, a long low island rising from a stretch of very flat marsh along the Swale estuary in Kent with low, steep, clay cliffs facing towards Essex across the Thames estuary.

Numerous small villages and hamlets related to the coastal economy of fishing (at Mersea), boatbuilding and yachting. The historically important coastal cargo transport network of 'Thames Barges' developed as a result of settlement pattern.

Modern day pattern of local parishes reflects the historical layout of settlements, surrounded by farmland on the higher ground inland, giving way to marsh down to the waterfront.

Pressure on edges, particularly around major estuaries, from urban, industrial and recreational developments together with the associated infrastructure requirements often on highly visible sites against which the marshes are often viewed.

The Thames edge marshes are themselves subject to the chaotic activity of various major developments including ports, waste disposal, marine dredging, urbanisation, mineral extraction and prominent power stations plus numerous other industry-related activities such as petrochemical complexes.

For further details on this character area and for an introduction to the region, please see the PDF documents in the box at the top right hand side of this page.

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 Related Documents
Volume 7: Countryside Character: South East and London - Introduction
JCA81 - Greater Thames Estuary
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