The River Thames is a popular location for Weybridge residents to participate in many different types of recreation. In this joint blog article Pete Hampson describes what the River Thames has meant for him over this past year and then Judy Sarsby reports on recent developments on unauthorised moorings.
Pete Hampson writes:
“Sitting at the confluence of the Wey and the Thames, Weybridge affords its residents some lovely surroundings, a fact that was brought home to me this year as lockdowns and other restrictions limited where we could go and what we were able to do.
As a cyclist and keen walker, I can regularly be found making my way along one of our rivers and, in the case of the Thames, rowing along on it. Since March I’ve been working from home and during the first lockdown my daily exercise often took me cycling along the Thames path. In May we rowers were allowed back onto the river, socially distanced single sculling being the order of the day – single sculling closer than 2 metres to another boat generally provides a more immediate concern than potential COVID spread.
In the absence of the normal water-traffic, nature had taken full command of the river, and when non-motorised craft were allowed to venture back we returned to an ornithologists dream with a great abundance of young bird life to be found: amongst the usual coots, mallards, moorhens, swans and geese, there were grebes, herons and even kingfishers to be spotted.
Over the course of the summer, recreational river use flourished; canoeists and paddle boarders were out on the Wey, and in addition to their number on the Thames, we saw skiffs, oar-boards, kayaks, sailing boats, and plenty of swimmers alongside the usual pleasure craft mixing in with us rowers. Meanwhile along the bank, anglers, walkers, runners and cyclists were making the most of the glorious weather and the wonderful surroundings. Businesses were popping up, renting out equipment for people to enjoy, and providing classes to those wanting to try something new. And as the pubs re-opened, there were full beer gardens of patrons relaxing by the waters edge.
Now as we come to the end of the year, and endure a further lockdown, I’m again returning to my cycling and walking along the towpaths of our local riverbanks, and am heartened to see the many others who are managing to spend time out and about during these short days. Our rivers bring enormous benefit to us, improving our health, happiness and prosperity, but as with all natural resources they also need our protection. Ensuring that we can continue to enjoy them for generations to come requires us to not only be aware of the risks they face, but play an active role in their conservation.”
Judy Sarsby adds…
I recently interviewed local Olympic rower Pauline Peel (Bird). Please follow this link to view the video: Pauline Peel interview
One of the problems faced by users of the River Thames is the presence of boats mooring permanently on both public and private land without permission. Councillor Ashley Tilling is a fellow member of Weybridge Rowing Club and of Thames Valley Skiff Club and we have witnessed a significant increase in boats moored without permission along the river.
Many users of the river and local residents have raised a variety of concerns about these vessels. Their visual appearance is often dilapidated, there are questions about how the boats dispose of their general waste and on the Molesey stretch the boat residents have even fenced off areas of the towpath to claim as their own gardens. Towpath walkers have found this intimidating.
The EA (Environment Agency) is responsible for policing the river and in September this year they told Elmbridge Borough Council that of 148 boats moored on the river only 53 had permission. More than six out of ten boats that the Agency checked had no permission to be on the mooring they were occupying.
The EA moorings are intended to be used free for the first 24 hours and are then chargeable up to a maximum of 72 hours. After the 72 hours the vessel is expected to move on and there is now a no return period of 24 hours. New signs have been erected explaining the charges and advising on how to pay.
Maintaining an available supply of temporary moorings is very important to allow vessels to make passage, over several days, up and down the River Thames. If all the temporary moorings are blocked by vessels using them permanently then vessels on passage are forced to find an ad hoc unauthorised mooring. In October last year the EA at long last responded to these concerns and engaged an enforcement company to actively check licences and monitor moored boats. There was some success before the latest lockdown and it is hoped that work to move -on vessels moored without authorisation will commence apace over the summer months so that we can better enjoy our wonderful stretch of river.