Green filter

The PLA has published the first ever Air Quality Strategy for a UK port, seeking to reduce emissions but also enable the growth of the port and city.

PLA Seals and Porpoises in the tidal ThamesSpreading the word – partners launching the new Seals and Porpoises in the Thames publication.

The PLA made headlines in 2017 by becoming the first UK port to offer a ‘Green Tariff’ to encourage and support ship owners that are committed to improving their environmental performance.

London was the first port in the UK to offer this kind of discount on port charges for vessels with lower emissions, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

In 2017, the PLA built on its green credentials once again, by publishing the draft of the first ever Air Quality Strategy for a UK port. This document is the result of a comprehensive, determined and detailed analysis of emissions from marine sources within the tidal River Thames; the strategy has been developed in the light of projected growth in river use over the next 20 years, and concerns about air quality on urban centres.

The aim is to reduce emissions; but at the same time, to facilitate the future growth of both port and city.

Published in December for consultation, the draft strategy features 19 proposals, including...

Exploring shoreside power

Trialling new emissions-reducing technology with MBNA Thames Clippers

Running an ‘Expo’ to share emerging best practice with Thames operators A Five Year Action Plan also includes continued research and studies, through from 2018 to 2022

“The studies that led to the draft strategy included developing the first port-wide emissions inventory for the tidal Thames,” says PLA environment manager Tanya Ferry. “The strategy sets out where we are, shows that there is a lot more work required in order to improve, and demonstrates that there are still some questions to answer before we take detailed action.

“We know that air quality is a real issue and concern for people – it is a big political and social issue. The Department for Transport has declared its interest and will be able to learn from some aspects of our work. The PLA is leading the way in this, driving forward action in the UK. Once we have the results of the consultation, we will move ahead from there.”

The PLA carried out a technical review in 2016 to collate what was known about air quality and marine/vessel-sourced emissions, and identified where there were gaps in the information available.

Is shore power always a good solution? Not necessarily. Is LNG the answer, or does it increase emissions? While freight by water reduces carbon dioxide and congestion on the roads, what is the actual figure and how does marine traffic measure up in comparison?

“We identified these challenges and, in response, we put the Green Tariff in place,” says Tanya Ferry. “We have followed up with analysis of the priorities – for example, looking at emissions from the three ship tiers the PLA owns, considering cruise traffic, and evaluating how shore power could be provided and the potential savings. That has led to more questions – for example, grid power. What type of vessels could plug into shore power? How do the potential savings balance out with the investment required?”

The Air Quality Strategy research also involved real-time monitoring of exhaust from inland freight, and comparing this model to lorries used to move freight to/ from the same sites.

“We analysed the exhaust emissions in terms of NOX, CO2 and particulates and also did an analysis of exposure i.e. how far away people would be from a ship,” says Tanya Ferry. “This gives a more useful picture, because in the model of the river, people are further away and less affected when compared to traffic in the streets.”

There has also been analysis of systems that could help to reduce emissions – for example, a significant fuel saving can be made by pushing, rather than pulling, barges. AIS data has been used to evaluate a baseline of emissions from vessels using the Thames.

Finally, face-to-face workshops have taken place with stakeholders including the DfT, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Essex and Kent county councils, port operators, and the general public.

Green Tariff

Cleaner, greener ships, based on an Environmental Shipping Index (ESI) score of 30 or above, benefit from a 5% reduction in port charges under the PLA’s Green Tariff system.

“We are really pleased with the number of ships that have qualified for the Green Tariff – but, of course, we would like to see more,” says Tanya Ferry. “We may also look to step up the incentive for ships with even higher ESI scores in the future.

“The response to the Green Tariff has been very positive. Obviously we can’t make changes and improvements without ships changing too – but we would like to encourage ships to take up the incentive and improve where they can.”

Other UK ports are following this with interest; air quality is a growing issue across the board, and they are considering what they are able to deliver that might be similar.

A sea of plastics

David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II television series propelled the issue of discarded plastics in the world’s oceans to the top of the agenda – and not before time. The disastrous impact of the huge volumes of plastics in our seas, and the injury and death they bring to marine wildlife, is finally getting the attention that it should. And in December 2017, a United Nations resolution called for greater action ‘to prevent and significantly reduce pollution of all kinds’ by 2025.

The Cleaner Thames campaign was launched by the PLA in partnership with Thames21, the Thames Litter Forum, Royal Holloway – University of London, Natural History Museum and Tideway. This was in direct response to the rise of plastic waste – bags, bottles, coffee cups, cartons – that find its way into the river, where it can break up, move downriver, and head out to sea, to end up in the stomachs of birds, fish and animals.

The campaign has used everything from artworks to visits to river-side businesses, in order to raise the profile of this issue and get across the old fashioned ‘don’t drop litter’ message.

Tanya Ferry was a member of eXXpedition Round Britain, which saw an all-female crew sail around the UK in August and September 2017, collecting scientific samples and data on plastics and chemicals in UK waters.

The vessel arrived on the Thames on August 30 – and local activities to raise awareness were kicked off by a discussion panel made up of crew members, a scientist and young environmental activists, Kids against Plastics.

The panel was chaired by marine expert and explorer Paul Rose, who presented BBC Inside Out: Plastic Seas and launched the Cleaner Thames campaign in 2015.

“The eXXpedition research on the Thames helped to improve our knowledge of microplastics and toxics, and how it compares with other marine environments around the country,” says Tanya Ferry. “Even before the laboratory analysis it was clear to the crew that the Thames is much worse”

The PLA removes up to 300 tonnes of rubbish from the River Thames every year – and much of this is plastic, adding up to the equivalent of 24,000 discarded water bottles.

The rubbish removed is either caught in one of the PLA’s ‘driftwood’ collectors in the river, or collected from the foreshore, but inevitably not everything can be intercepted.

“We are looking at expanding our passive collectors, but they can only collect a proportion; they are positioned where most of the rubbish collects but there are also areas where it collects right at the edges. We take as much as we can – there is a huge cost involved and this goes far beyond our statutory responsibilities. And clearly, educating people not to discard their litter in the first place is the best approach. It is about getting people engaged and helping them to understand the impact of their actions – how litter dropped in the road in London and surrounding towns can cause serious pollution of the ocean,” Tanya Ferry concludes

Fisheries group

The PLA is now on the board of the North Thames Fisheries Local Action Group (NTFLAG), a three-year project funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to help improve the environment of Leigh for the fishermen.

The FLAG is managed by Thames Estuary Partnership, working with the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), which administers the EMFF in England, and with local and national partners, including local fishermen and cocklers, councils and the PLA.

The area covered by this project stretches from Thurrock to Shoeburyness, with a focus on Leigh-on-Sea, which has been a fishing port for more than 1,000 years and is now the last of its kind on the North Thames.

The NTFLAG goal is to create a sustainable fishing and cockling industry and active port, in and around Leigh-on- Sea, for many years to come. Among its priorities is the environmental monitoring of the Thames Estuary, with independent research to show how the environment is changing and how that might be affecting fish stocks.

“This is an exciting and positive project,” says Tanya Ferry.

PLA Short Eared OwlA river for wildlife – a short eared owl hunting at Thamesside Nature Park

The disastrous impact of the huge volumes of plastics in our seas, and the injury and death they bring to marine wildlife, is finally getting the attention that it should

Marine mammals

‘Leave them alone’ is the clear message to people who happen to spot a seal or dolphin in the Thames or on the foreshore. “We are seeing a steady increase in the number of marine mammals making their way upriver into London; that is a good indication that the river is far cleaner than it was a few years ago, but it raises concerns about the animals’ welfare,” says Tanya Ferry.

“People want to interact with these creatures, often because they are concerned for their health. So we have done some work, with partners, to explain that seals on the foreshore are actually absolutely fine and there is no reason why they can’t stay there.

We don’t want the public going up to them – for their own safety and also for animal welfare reasons. The risk is that if you interfere, you end up with a distressed animal or get stuck yourself.

“There is a need for a conversation about what is appropriate. Our advice is to leave it be, and let the creature enjoy the river with us.”

Environment & Heritage Conference

The annual Tidal Thames Environment Conference has been set up as part of the Thames Vision’s goal to achieve the cleanest River Thames since the Industrial Revolution. The inaugural conference was held in January 2017, with the second conference arranged for January 2018.

The event has a clear aim – to highlight the positive collaboration of the PLA and other organisations on the Thames, to consider lessons learned relating to the tidal Thames, and to report on progress towards delivering the Vision’s environmental objectives. The 2018 conference focus was on the Future, looking at the role of Behaviour Change, Citizen Science and Education.