The Thames is alive with nature: mammals, birds, fish and plants abound. Here we give you a taster of what you might see whilst walking the Thames Path.
It may not be very obvious but there are mammals in abundance as you walk the Thames Path. Badgers are one of the most common, being the largest land predator in the UK. Deer are commonplace, especially in forested areas – although they are usually only spotted at night. Watch out for the small Muntjac Deer. They are not native to England but are normally found in Asia. The English tribe apparently descended from escapees at Woburn Abbey in 1925. They can often be seen straying into residential areas. Otters are semi-aquatic mammals preying on fish and shellfish. Foxes are plentiful and, like us, are omniverous. More often heard than seen, the female fox, or vixen, makes a spine-chilling scream at night.
Mammals can be hard to spot. But birds are much easier. The most striking bird which you will almost certainly see, particularly between Oxford and Windsor, is the Red Kite. This magnificent bird almost became extinct. The current population is descended from birds brought over from Spain in the early 90’s. The Kingfisher is a rare spot but is found by the river as it feeds on fish. The Grey Heron is, surprisingly, quite common place. They often sit quite still on tree trunks in the river so look carefully. You will encounter plenty of ducks, geese and swans. But one you should look out for is the Egyptian Goose. Native to sub-Saharan Africa they can now be found in England, colonies having descended either from migrant birds or from zoos. Similarly, Mandarin Ducks can also be spotted.
Fish (and sea mammals)
Fish are plentiful in the Thames but vary depending on where you are. Roach, Perch, Chub, and Pike can all be found between the Source and Oxford. Brown Trout can also be found but above Lechlade. Salmon is rarely seen despite the presence of salmon ladders at the weirs as far up as Mapledurham,exactly half-way up the river.
A species that is prevalent in the Thames which may surprise you is the Signal Crayfish. This shellfish is native to America and was introduced to Britain in 1976. It is now widespread across the UK. They can be found throughout the length of the river. Crayfish Bob, who traps and cooks crayfish, is based in Abingdon. Don’t be surprised to see shell remains on the Path!
In the middle sections of the Thames (Oxford to Teddington), Bleak, Roach, Perch, Chub and Bream are found. At Teddington, the river becomes tidal. The variety of fish expands to include include Barbel, Bass, Flounder and Sea Trout. All make for a good day’s fishing. Eels can be seen as far up as Greenwich but they are rare and considered to be critically endangered. Eels used to be a common source of food for Londoner’s.
Finally, as we approach the Thames Barrier, you may be lucky enough to see seals. These have been known to swim upstream as far as Richmond but generally stay downstream of Tower Bridge.
There is an enormous variety of plant life along the Thames: from trees, crops, and wild flowers are found everywhere. We’ve picked out our highlights.
The Willow is perhaps the tree most synonymous with the Thames. No surprise that Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows was inspired by the Thames. Teasels (not to be confused with Thistles which are also plentiful) can be found along much of the Thames Path. Fine examples can be seen at Shillingford (72 miles from source) on land that the Earth Trust are managing; and also at Shiplake (100 miles from source). In autumn, mushrooms can be found. Many of these can be eaten – but not the one in the picture! Finally, and to show that nature can also be seen in London, the Plane Tree. The Plane Tree originated from the 17th century, being a hybrid of the American Sycamore and the Oriental Plane. They were planted in large numbers during the industrial revolution. There are fine examples as you walk along the left bank through Fulham. These trees may now be more than 400 years old