England's river Thames has won the world's largest environmental prize. Once a biologically dead river, it is now a thriving waterway, complete with salmon, otter and sea trout populations.
The International Thiess River Prize, administered by the International River Foundation, was announced at the annual River Symposium in Perth, Western Australia on 12 October 2010. It celebrates outstanding achievement in river management and restoration. The Thames beat strong competition from China's Yellow River, Australia's Hattah Lakes and Russia's Smirnykh Rivers Partnership to win the AUD $350,000 prize.
The Environment Agency and its partners have worked on a number of initiatives over the years to rescue the river Thames from a state declared as biologically dead during the 1950s, with tangible results. The Agency reports the chemical quality of the rivers within the Thames catchment classed as ‘Very Good’ or ‘Good’, has improved from 53 percent in 1990 to 80 percent in 2008 while the estuary now supports viable shellfisheries and is a nursery ground for commercial sole and bass stocks. The numbers of fish are increasing, with 125 different species recorded. Since April 2005, 393 habitat enhancement projects have been completed and nearly 70 km of river has been restored or enhanced.
Alastair Driver, the Environment Agency's National Conservation Manager, said in a statement: “In the last 150 years the Thames has been to hell and back, and it has taken thousands of people many decades to restore it to this point. Tighter regulation of polluting industries and our work with farmers, businesses and water companies to reduce pollution and improve water quality, have all helped to make the Thames a living river once again.”
The International River Foundation commended the Environment Agency for its innovative, forward-thinking behaviour in managing the river Thames. The Agency's ongoing projects to safeguard the future of the river, including the London Rivers Action Plan to help restore London's urban rivers and the Thames Estuary 2100 plan to ensure the future sustainable management of tidal flood risk in the Thames estuary, played a major part in securing the prize.
The prize money will go to the Thames River Restoration Trust. Part of it will be used to establish a twinning project to help restore a river in the developing world.