More about the Thames River Basin District

More about the Thames River Basin District

The Thames River Basin District covers an area of 16,133 km2 and includes the:

  • River Thames and its tributaries from its source in Gloucestershire through London to the North Sea
  • the Medway catchment, which drains north Kent, joining the Thames Estuary in its outer reaches.

What areas does the Thames River Basin include?

The Thames River Basin District includes:

  • the rural areas of Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and parts of Kent and Essex
  • heavily urbanised areas, such as Reading, Slough, Luton, London and the Medway towns.

Dominated by Greater London, the eastern and northern parts of the River Basin District are heavily urbanised, although constrained by the greenbelt and therefore considerable areas of rural land remain.

The western parts of the catchment are predominantly rural with towns such as Oxford and Swindon concentrated along the M40 and M4 motorway corridors.

Non-tidal Thames

The non-tidal Thames is around 235 km long and passes through 44 picturesque locks. This famous river is home to important wildlife habitats:

  • mute swans, herons and kingfishers can be spotted and the river hosts a number of important herb-rich meadows found in the floodplains
  • there are important freshwater fisheries such as the River Kennet, parts of which are designated as sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs).

The Thames is popular for both cruising and rowing - the internationally renowned Henley Regatta is held on the Thames.

Tidal Thames

The tidal Thames supports 121 different species of fish and some 350 species of benthic invertebrates, which makes it one of the most ecologically diverse estuaries in England and Wales. The estuary is an important marine-fish nursery ground - it has been designated a nursery area for sea bass - and plays a major part in supporting North Sea stocks. North Kent has a complex of salt marshes protected under the Habitats Directive. These have been designated because of their richness in bird species, for example avocet and hen harrier. The Thames Barrier, which crosses the estuary near Woolwich, protects London from the threat of flooding from the sea.

Important water source

The Thames River Basin District is among the driest in the UK. Water resources in the River Basin District consist of:

  • reservoirs, such as Farmoor Reservoir near Oxford and Bewl Water in Kent
  • aquifers such as the limestone of the Cotswolds, and
  • the River Thames, which is fed by other main rivers, such as the Kennet, Mole and Lee.

The Thames is an important water source, providing two-thirds of London's drinking water. Groundwater is very important within the Thames River Basin District, providing around 40 percent of public water supplies with chalk forming the predominant aquifer. Groundwater is also an important source for:

  • private water supplies
  • domestic use
  • industry, and
  • farming.

In addition, river and stream flows and wetland habitats are often heavily dependent on groundwater seepage and springs, especially during the drier months and in the upper reaches of the catchment. As a result, groundwater is fully utilised over much of the Thames River Basin District and therefore both the quantity and quality of groundwater is extremely important in maintaining these resources. Groundwater is vulnerable to pollution from surface activities since aquifers make up two-thirds of the land surface in this densely populated area.

Thames Basin River Basin District population

The Thames Basin River Basin District is home to over 13 million people. This is the largest population of all River Basin Districts in the United Kingdom. The population is forecast to grow by 0.7 per cent between 2002 and 2015, more than the average for all River Basin Districts. The River Basin District contains 40 of the 50 least deprived wards of all the River Basin Districts, pointing to its relative affluence. The total number of households is predicted to increase by a strong one per cent per annum. The Thames River Basin District includes some areas that have been designated by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as growth areas for additional housing as part of the Sustainable Communities Plan.

Business services makes up almost one fifth of the economy of the Thames River Basin District. Other services such as banking and insurance, wholesale and distribution, and personal services are also key sectors in the region in terms of output. The transport sector is also important. The ports of London and Sheerness provide deepwater facilities for international marine traffic. The manufacturing sector is a small part of the economy of the Thames Basin River Basin District. Agriculture makes up only a very small part of the economy, with animal husbandry and the growing of vegetables the largest agricultural activities.

Between 1995 and 2002, output has increased by 3.8 percent per annum, with output in the services industries showing the strongest growth, while the manufacturing sector has declined in relative importance (with the largest decline recorded for the textiles industry). The service sector, including business services, retailing and health is the largest employer in the Thames Basin River Basin District. There has been a sustained decline in employment in the manufacturing sector between 1995 and 2002.