National Character Area 81

Greater Thames Estuary - Detailed Statements of Environmental Opportunity

This section expands on the Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity and provides further detail on each of the Statements of Environmental Opportunity.


SEO 1: Maintain and enhance the expansive, remote coastal landscape – with its drowned estuaries, low islands, mudflats, and broad tracts of tidal salt marsh and reclaimed grazing marsh – maintaining internationally important habitats and their wildlife, and underlying geodiversity, while addressing the impacts of coastal squeeze and climate change and considering dynamic coastal processes.

For example by:

  • Responding to the threat of rising sea levels due to climate change by identifying areas for managed realignment of coastal defences where appropriate, creating new intertidal habitats to mitigate for any losses caused by coastal squeeze, while maintaining natural coastal processes.
  • Effectively managing the mosaic of coastal, freshwater and terrestrial habitats to maintain their biodiversity value, while seeking
    opportunities to re-link fragmented habitats to create a robust wildlife network with enhanced adaptation to climate change.
  • Protecting intertidal and subtidal habitats to maintain their importance for marine wildlife.
  • Supporting and ensuring the continuation of the natural dynamic coastal processes of accretion and erosion that shape the estuary, encouraging natural regeneration of intertidal habitats.
  • Maintaining areas of intertidal habitat as a buffer between wave action and sea defences to reduce flooding and protect inland areas.
  • Continuing to support, monitor and research coastal geomorphological processes to improve our understanding and inform future coastal management decisions.
  • Improving sustainable public access to areas of biodiversity, geological and geomorphological interest, incorporating interpretation to raise awareness, increase understanding and enhance visitor enjoyment, while protecting habitats and species that are vulnerable to disturbance.
  • Protecting the existing designated area network and working in partnership with existing local projects, initiatives and organisations, including the Nature Improvement Area, to deliver integrated, effective conservation management on a landscape scale.
  • Enabling carbon storage provided by extensive areas of salt marsh, reedbeds, mudflats and grazing marsh by maintaining their good condition through sustainable management.
  • Recognising the need for, and identifying sites for the creation of, compensatory habitat to mitigate for losses identified in Shoreline Management Plans including TE2100 (the Environment Agency’s strategic plan for managing flood risk in the Thames Estuary).
  • Supporting projects and programmes that seek to secure the future of species limited to and closely associated with the marshland, coastal and estuarine habitats of the area, for example the recovery programme for the pedunculate sea-purslane.


SEO 2: Work with landowners and managers to incorporate measures to improve biodiversity, geodiversity, pollination, water quality, soil quality and climate adaptation and to prevent soil erosion in this important food-providing landscape, while maintaining its historic character.

For example by:

  • Working with the local farming community to sustainably manage the agricultural landscape, safeguarding future food production and the long-term viability of agriculture and yields, while enhancing key ecosystem services.
  • Working with the fishing industry to ensure the sustainable future management of fishing and shellfish grounds.
  • Working with the farming community to ensure the sustainable management of internationally important grazing marsh habitat, and the sympathetic management of arable land to benefit wildlife,
    including the use of field margins, conservation headlands, and pollen and nectar margins for pollinator species.
  • Ensuring that land outside designated areas used by bird populations for foraging and roosting is adequately protected and managed.
  • Improving the area for important pollinators, including rare bumblebee species, by sympathetic habitat management, habitat creation and strategic conservation of flower-rich brownfield sites.
  • Maintaining water availability by using integrated water and land management practices to slow run-off and increase infiltration to aquifers by reducing soil compaction and increasing soil organic matter on agricultural land, and using targeted drainage management where possible to increase water availability in periods of low rainfall.
  • Protecting aquifer water quality by adopting land management practices and integrated water management policies to minimise risks through pollution, contamination, saline intrusion and run-off.
  • Increasing carbon storage capacity by creating new wetland habitats including reedbeds, and by increasing organic matter in soils using land management practices such as including fallow within rotations, overwintering stubbles, and pollen and nectar strips.
  • Managing the network of drainage ditches and drains in flood plain areas to provide effective floodwater management during storm events, thereby decreasing flood risk while improving the habitat for freshwater species.
  • Creating permanent buffer strips along ditches and watercourses to reduce soil erosion and help prevent deterioration in water quality caused by high nutrient levels by slowing run-off and capturing sediment.
  • Conserving the historic character of the area, and features of heritage interest, including the ancient patterns of reed-filled drainage ditches that crisscross reclaimed farmland and the medieval settlement patterns of isolated farms and villages on higher land.


SEO 3: Ensure that the tranquil and remote character of the estuary is maintained by conserving and enhancing important coastal habitats and distinctive historic and geological features, while providing increased opportunities for recreation and enjoyment of the landscape.

For example by:

  • Conserving the wild and remote character of the estuary by maintaining the extent and quality of the semi-natural coastal habitats and creating new habitat where feasible.
  • Protecting, interpreting and promoting heritage and archaeological assets and, where appropriate, increasing access to the distinctive military landmarks along the coastline, reflecting the historical importance of the area in protecting London from invasion by the sea, connecting communities with their local heritage and encouraging tourism.
  • Encouraging opportunities for people to connect with the natural landscape and its wildlife through local nature reserves, volunteering, working with local schools and community groups, and activities such as birdwatching and visiting the internationally important coastal habitats of the estuary.
  • Encouraging sustainable recreational opportunities within the estuary by encouraging access to characteristic features of the landscape, including internationally important coastal habitats and species, estuary waters and historic assets, and incorporating interpretation to raise awareness, increase understanding and enhance visitor enjoyment.
  • Encouraging the development of new public rights of way networks where appropriate, to connect urban communities to rural areas and increase recreational opportunities.
  • Managing increasing visitor pressure by promoting the sustainable recreational use of appropriate areas while protecting fragile habitats, species, geological and historic features and taking recreation disturbance issues into account.
  • Conserving and interpreting archaeological earthworks and sub-surface archaeology, while recognising the potential for undiscovered remains.
  • Continuing to research, monitor and record coastal geomorphological processes that shape the estuary, to improve our understanding and inform future management.
  • Protecting and providing access to and interpretation of important geological sites, including exposures of fossils, as a source of recreation.


SEO 4: Encourage a strategic approach to development that is informed by and makes a positive contribution to local character, incorporates green infrastructure which provides ecosystem services where they are needed most, and promotes recreation and addresses climate change, while maintaining important open mosaic and coastal habitats, and historic and geological features.

For example by:

  • Ensuring that local development plans include the sustainable management of water resources and promote measures to reduce adverse impacts on water quality in the future, including the use of sustainable urban drainage systems and sewage treatment options, reducing nutrients from diffuse pollution to improve water quality and increasing groundwater recharge.
  • Planting sustainably managed broadleaved woodland, and potentially miscanthus, to screen new and existing urban and industrial developments and to help protect the tranquillity of the estuary, while taking care not to impact on its open, expansive views.
  • Ensuring that new developments adequately incorporate features to make a positive contribution to biodiversity and climate change, including increasing the areas of green space in more developed parts of the estuary through initiatives such as Green Grids.
  • Conserving and managing disused mineral and landfill sites to benefit biodiversity and increase recreational opportunities, while retaining important biodiversity and geological features.
  • Raising awareness of the importance of brownfield sites in the Thames Gateway for biodiversity, and conserving key open mosaic habitats and species through site protection, mitigation and habitat creation.
  • Limiting development, including increases in light and noise pollution, in more remote parts of the NCA that currently score highly for tranquillity.
  • Implementing sustainable Shoreline Management Plans to reduce flood risk from climate change, including managed realignment schemes, identifying and safeguarding areas of functional flood plain needed
    for strategic flood storage in the Thames Estuary in local development plans, ensuring a catchment-scale approach to flood risk management.
  • Recognising the need for, and identifying sites for the creation of, compensatory habitat to mitigate for losses identified in Shoreline Management Plans including TE2100 (the Environment Agency’s strategic plan for managing flood risk in the Thames Estuary).

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