The Living Thames. Review by Jane McChrystal.

Premier of The Living Thames Documentary

On Sunday 28th October film maker, Dorothy Leiper, launched her documentary The Living Thames at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. She co-produced the film with Amy Pryor, marine scientist and Programme Manager for the Thames Estuary Partnership (, a non-campaigning organisation established in 1999 to create a framework for the sustainable management of London’s chief waterway.

With an introduction by David Attenborough, the film highlights the work of the individuals and organisations who conserve and maintain the waters, beds and banksides of the Thames for the benefit of all those who live, work and play there.

Chris Baines, independent environmentalist and President of the Thames Estuary Partnership, takes the audience on a journey along the tidal Thames from Teddington to its estuary where it joins the North Sea, interviewing the people who ensure that the river will continue to provide the kind of environment where 125 species of wild life thrive today, including seals, porpoises, elvers, smelt and baby bass and bream.

Previous generations of working-class Londoners were bound to the Thames by their daily labour in its docks and factories which slumped after the Second World War and finally disappeared in the 1970’s.  The relationship between them and their river eroded along with industrial decline and one of the film makers’ main aims is to re-establish a connection between them.

They also recognise that the state of the river Thames has an impact on the lives of many who live beyond the city boundaries, so they are keen to find a wider audience for The Living Thames and increase their awareness of its importance to them.  Wider distribution of the film could also stimulate research into the unique habitats formed by tidal riverways and estuaries, such as the Thames, areas which have attracted relatively little scientific investigation so far.  They hope to realise these ambitions by entering the documentary into international film festivals.

The film makers have also made The Living Thames available free on Vimeo ( to encourage teachers to show it to school students and inspire a new generation of environmentalists drawn from more socially and ethnically diverse backgrounds.

Amy Pryor explained why this is a priority during the Q&A session after the screening.  Careers in conservation tend to provide opportunities for a fairly narrow demographic: those who can afford to spend years in higher education gaining relevant qualifications, and then, fill volunteer roles while they build up experience that could lead to paid employment in the field.  In other words, children from affluent, white, middle class families.

The Living Thames actually shows one way in which integrating environmentalism with education can change the status quo.  Students at St. Pauls Academy, a school located a mile and a half from the south bank of the river in Abbey Wood, regularly go litter-picking on the foreshore under the supervision of their geography teacher.  Chris interviewed a group of university students who had attended the school and were still showing up during the vacation to clear rubbish washed up on the shore.  They talked about how their environmental awareness influenced their choice of degree and the kinds of career they are considering now.

Amy acknowledged that young people don’t all aspire to a university education and proposed that apprenticeship programmes in relevant trades and professions should include conservation-related components.

The Living Thames is the result of enormously hard work and perseverance on the part of those who created it and it was a real pleasure to be part of an audience filled with people who had supported its production and share their pleasure in seeing it come to the big screen at Rich Mix.

Jane McChrystal © 2018.