Thames Estuary
The Thames Mouth is the estuary
An estuary is a partly enclosed coastal body of water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea....

 in which the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 meets the waters of the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...


It is not easy to define the limits of the estuary, although physically the head of Sea Reach, near Canvey Island
Canvey Island
Canvey Island is a civil parish and reclaimed island in the Thames estuary in England. It is separated from the mainland of south Essex by a network of creeks...

 on the Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

 shore is probably the western boundary. The eastern boundary, as suggested in a Hydrological Survey of 1882-9, is a line drawn from North Foreland
North Foreland
North Foreland is a chalk headland on the Kent coast of southeast England.North Foreland forms the eastern end of the Isle of Thanet. It presents a bold cliff to the sea, and commands views over the southern North Sea.-Lighthouse:...

 in Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

 via the Kentish Knock lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways....

to Harwich
Harwich is a town in Essex, England and one of the Haven ports, located on the coast with the North Sea to the east. It is in the Tendring district. Nearby places include Felixstowe to the northeast, Ipswich to the northwest, Colchester to the southwest and Clacton-on-Sea to the south...

 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 Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

. It constitutes a major shipping
Shipping has multiple meanings. It can be a physical process of transporting commodities and merchandise goods and cargo, by land, air, and sea. It also can describe the movement of objects by ship.Land or "ground" shipping can be by train or by truck...

 route, with thousands of movements each year including large oil tanker
Oil tanker
An oil tanker, also known as a petroleum tanker, is a merchant ship designed for the bulk transport of oil. There are two basic types of oil tankers: the crude tanker and the product tanker. Crude tankers move large quantities of unrefined crude oil from its point of extraction to refineries...

s, container ship
Container ship
Container ships are cargo ships that carry all of their load in truck-size intermodal containers, in a technique called containerization. They form a common means of commercial intermodal freight transport.-History:...

s, bulk carrier
Bulk carrier
A bulk carrier, bulk freighter, or bulker is a merchant ship specially designed to transport unpackaged bulk cargo, such as grains, coal, ore, and cement in its cargo holds. Since the first specialized bulk carrier was built in 1852, economic forces have fueled the development of these ships,...

s and roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ferries entering the estuary for the Port of London
Port of London
The Port of London lies along the banks of the River Thames from London, England to the North Sea. Once the largest port in the world, it is currently the United Kingdom's second largest port, after Grimsby & Immingham...

 and the Medway Ports
Medway Ports
Medway Ports, incorporating the Port of Sheerness and Chatham Docks is part of Peel Ports, the second largest port group in the United Kingdom. The Ports authority is also responsible for the harbour, pilotage and conservancy matters for of the River Medway, from the Medway Buoy to Allington Lock...

 of Sheerness
Sheerness is a town located beside the mouth of the River Medway on the northwest corner of the Isle of Sheppey in north Kent, England. With a population of 12,000 it is the largest town on the island....

, Chatham
Chatham, Medway
Chatham is one of the Medway towns located within the Medway unitary authority, in North Kent, in South East England.Although the dockyard has long been closed and is now being redeveloped into a business and residential community as well as a museum featuring the famous submarine, HMS Ocelot,...

 and Thamesport
London Thamesport is a container seaport on the River Medway, serving the North Sea. It is on the Isle of Grain, in the Medway unitary authority, Kent, England in the United Kingdom. It is sited on the former Port Victoria.-History:...


The Thames sailing barge
Thames sailing barge
A Thames sailing barge was a type of commercial sailing boat common on the River Thames in London in the 19th century. The flat-bottomed barges were perfectly adapted to the Thames Estuary, with its shallow waters and narrow rivers....

 worked in this area, designed to be suitable for the shallow waters in the smaller ports. One of the largest wind farm
Wind farm
A wind farm is a group of wind turbines in the same location used to produce electric power. A large wind farm may consist of several hundred individual wind turbines, and cover an extended area of hundreds of square miles, but the land between the turbines may be used for agricultural or other...

s in the UK has been developed in the estuary, located 8.5 km north of Herne Bay
Herne Bay, Kent
Herne Bay is a seaside town in Kent, South East England, with a population of 35,188. On the south coast of the Thames Estuary, it is north of Canterbury and east of Whitstable. It neighbours the ancient villages of Herne and Reculver and is part of the City of Canterbury local government district...

. The farm contains 30 wind turbines generating a total of 82.4MW of electricity. The much larger London Array
London Array
The London Array is an offshore wind farm under construction in the outer Thames Estuary in the United Kingdom. With 1,000 megawatt capacity, it is expected to become the world's largest offshore wind farm. The site is off the North Foreland on the Kent coast in the area of Long Sand and...

 of up to 1GW capacity is also planned.

This area has had several proposed sites for the building of a new airport to supplement, or even to replace Heathrow. In the 1960s Maplin Sands
Maplin Sands
The Maplin Sands are mudflats on the northern bank of the Thames estuary, off Foulness Island, near Southend-on-Sea in Essex, England, though they actually lie within the neighbouring borough of Rochford...

 was a contender; in 2002 it was to be at Cliffe, Kent
Cliffe, Kent
Cliffe is a village on the Hoo peninsula in Kent, England, reached from the Medway Towns by a three-mile journey along the B2000. Situated upon a low chalk escarpment overlooking the Thames marshes, Cliffe offers the adventurous rambler views of Southend-on-Sea and London...

. The new airport would be built on a man-made island in the estuary north of Minster-in-Sheppey
Minster is a small town on the north coast of the Isle of Sheppey and in the Swale district of Kent, England.-Toponymy:The name of the town derives from the monastery founded in the area...

There is also some discussion about the need for a Lower Thames Crossing
Lower Thames Crossing
The Lower Thames Crossing is a proposed new crossing of the Thames estuary linking the county of Kent with the county of Essex at or east of the existing Dartford crossing.-Description:...

 in order to alleviate traffic congestion at Dartford.

The Thames Estuary is part of Thames Gateway
Thames Gateway
The Thames Gateway is an area of land stretching east from inner east London on both sides of the River Thames and the Thames Estuary. The area, which includes much brownfield land, has been designated a national priority for urban regeneration, taking advantage of the development opportunities...

, designated as one of the principal development areas in Southern England.

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 marsh
Salt marsh
A salt marsh is an environment in the upper coastal intertidal zone between land and salt water or brackish water, it is dominated by dense stands of halophytic plants such as herbs, grasses, or low shrubs. These plants are terrestrial in origin and are essential to the stability of the salt marsh...

es, mudflats and open beaches: in particular the North Kent Marshes
North Kent Marshes
The North Kent Marshes, located in the north of the county of Kent on the Thames Estuary in south-east England, is one of 22 Environmentally Sensitive Areas recognised by the UK government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs...

 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 Colne
River Colne, Essex
The River Colne is a small river that runs through Colchester, England. It is not a tributary of any other river, instead having an estuary that joins the sea near Brightlingsea.-Source:...

, Blackwater
River Blackwater, Essex
The River Blackwater is a river in England. It rises in the northwest of Essex as the River Pant and flows to Bocking, near Braintree, from where its name changes to the Blackwater. Its course takes it near Stisted, and then via Bradwell Juxta Coggeshall and Coggeshall and near Witham where it is...

 and Crouch
River Crouch
The River Crouch is a river that flows entirely through the English county of Essex.The distance of the Navigation between Holliwell Point which is north of Foulness Island and Battlesbridge is 17.5 Miles, i.e. 15.21 Nautical Miles.-Route:...

; and there are small villages concerned with a coastal economy (fishing, boat-building, and yachting). The Isle of Sheppey
Isle of Sheppey
The Isle of Sheppey is an island off the northern coast of Kent, England in the Thames Estuary, some to the east of London. It has an area of . The island forms part of the local government district of Swale...

, Foulness Island and Mersea Island
Mersea Island
Mersea Island is the most easterly inhabited island in the United Kingdom, located marginally off the coast of Essex, England, to the southeast of Colchester. It is situated in the estuary area of the Blackwater and Colne rivers and has an area of around...

  are part of the coastline

Where higher land reaches the coast there are some larger settlements, such as Clacton-on-Sea
Clacton-on-Sea is the largest town on the Tendring peninsula, in Essex, England and was founded in 1871. It is a seaside resort that attracted many tourists in the summer months between the 1950s and 1970s, but which like many other British sea-side resorts went into decline as a holiday...

 (to the north in Essex), Herne Bay
Herne Bay, Kent
Herne Bay is a seaside town in Kent, South East England, with a population of 35,188. On the south coast of the Thames Estuary, it is north of Canterbury and east of Whitstable. It neighbours the ancient villages of Herne and Reculver and is part of the City of Canterbury local government district...

 in Kent, and the Southend-on-Sea
Southend-on-Sea is a unitary authority area, town, and seaside resort in Essex, England. The district has Borough status, and comprises the towns of Chalkwell, Eastwood, Leigh-on-Sea, North Shoebury, Prittlewell, Shoeburyness, Southchurch, Thorpe Bay, and Westcliff-on-Sea. The district is situated...

 area within the narrower part of the estuary

Cultural references

Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad was a Polish-born English novelist.Conrad is regarded as one of the great novelists in English, although he did not speak the language fluently until he was in his twenties...

 lived in Stanford le Hope close to the Essex marshes. His 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
Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness is a novella written by Joseph Conrad. Before its 1903 publication, it appeared as a three-part series in Blackwood's Magazine. It was classified by the Modern Library website editors as one of the "100 best novels" and part of the Western canon.The story centres on Charles...

, 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
Estuary English
Estuary English is a dialect of English widely spoken in South East England, especially along the River Thames and its estuary. Phonetician John C. Wells defines Estuary English as "Standard English spoken with the accent of the southeast of England"...

. The term is a euphemism for a milder variety of the "London Accent". The spread of the London Accent extends many hundreds of miles outside London and all of the neighbouring home counties around London have residents who moved from London and brought their London Accent with them. The London Accent or its londonised variants called “Estuary English” can be heard in all of the New Towns, all of the coastal resorts and in the larger regional cities in the southern half of England.
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