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The Thames Estuary
The Thames Estuary is the estuary in which the River Thames meets the waters of the North Seamarker.

It is not easy to define the limits of the estuary, although physically the head of Sea Reach, near Canvey Islandmarker on the Essex shore is probably the western boundary. The eastern boundary, as suggested in a Hydrological Survey of 1882-9, is a line drawn from North Forelandmarker in Kentmarker via the Kentish Knock lighthouse to Harwichmarker in Essex. It is to here that the typical estuarine sandbanks extend. The estuary has the world's second largest tidal movement, where the water can rise by 4 metres moving at a speed of 8 miles per hour.

The estuary is one of the largest of 170 such inlets on the coast of Great Britainmarker. It constitutes a major shipping route, with thousands of movements each year including large oil tankers, container ships, bulk carriers and roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ferries entering the estuary for the Port of Londonmarker and the Medway Portsmarker of Sheernessmarker, Chathammarker and Thamesportmarker.

The Thames sailing barge worked in this area, designed to be suitable for the shallow waters in the smaller ports. One of the largest wind farms in the UK has been developed in the estuary, located 8.5km north of Herne Baymarker. The farm contains 30 wind turbines generating a total of 82.4MW of electricity. The much larger London Arraymarker of up to 1GW capacity is also planned.

Greater Thames Estuary

The appellation Greater Thames Estuary applies to the coast and the low-lying lands bordering the estuary itself. These are characterised by the presence of salt marshes, mudflats and open beaches: in particular the North Kent Marshes and the Essex Marshes. Rising sea levels in places may make it necessary to flood some of that land to take the pressure off the defences. Man-made embankments are backed by reclaimed wetland grazing areas; there are many smaller estuaries, including the Rivers Colnemarker, Blackwatermarker and Crouch; and there are small villages concerned with a coastal economy (fishing, boat-building, and yachting) . The Isle of Sheppey, Foulness Islandmarker and Mersea Islandmarker are part of the coastline

Where higher land reaches the coast there are some larger settlements, such as Clacton-on-Seamarker (to the north in Essex), Herne Baymarker in Kent, and the Southend-on-Seamarker area within the narrower part of the estuary

The Thames Estuary is part of Thames Gatewaymarker, designated as one of the principal development areas in Southern England.

This area has had several proposed sites for the building of a new airport to supplement, or even to replace Heathrowmarker. In the 1960s Maplin Sandsmarker was a contender; in 2002 it was to be at Cliffe, Kentmarker. The new airport would be built on a man-made island in the estuary north of Minster-in-SheppeymarkerThere is also some discussion about the need for a Lower Thames Crossingmarker in order to alleviate traffic congestion at Dartford.

Cultural references

Joseph Conrad's The Mirror of the Sea (1906) contains a memorable description of the area as seen from the Thames. It is also described in the first pages of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, as both the launching place of England's great ships of exploration and colonization and, in ancient times, the site of colonization of the British Isles by the Roman Empire. The form of speech of many of the people of the area, principally the accents of those from Kent and Essex, is often known as Estuary English.


  1. Countryside Agency definition of the Greater Thames Estuary
  2. Part of the Admiralty chart showing the sandbanks
  3. The Thames Estuary Partnership
  4. English Nature and the Greater Thames Estuary
  5. The Thames Estuary Airport Ltd

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