Lower Thames Crossing

Neville's Farm, Thurrock © Jamie Robins

The Thames Estuary is a diverse landscape, with a rich mosaic of natural habitats and wildlife-rich brownfields that have been shaped by the region’s complex industrial past. Sadly, the Lower Thames Crossing is the latest in a series of proposed schemes and developments in the area, that threatens its special wildlife.

The Lower Thames Crossing would see huge losses of habitat within the Thames Estuary IIA, that supports nationally rare and scarce species such as the Shrill Carder Bee (Bombus sylvarum), Hornet Robberfly (Asilus crabroniformis), Large Scabious Mining Bee (Andrena hattorfiana) and Long-horned Cleg (Haematopota grandis), among dozens of species of conservation concern. Surveys have even re-found the ruby-tailed wasp Hedychrum rutilans, which has been classed as Extinct in the UK, recorded having not been seen since 1902.

The Thames Estuary areas of Essex and Kent have long been known to be special places for rare wildlife, with nationally important populations of invertebrates, including those found nowhere else in the UK. This led to the area being identified and mapped as the Thames Estuary Important Invertebrate Area (IIA).  However, it is also an area that is increasingly under pressure from intensive land management and the spread of housing and industrial developments. In recent years there have been threats to a number of high-profile sites for invertebrates, including West Thurrock Marshes, the Swanscombe Peninsula and Tilbury Power Station.

The proposed Lower Thames Crossing would see a new tunnel bored under the River Thames, running west of East Tilbury to the east of Gravesend. Importantly for wildlife, it would also see the creation of over 14 miles of new road, widening of the existing road network and create a sprawling series of work compounds.  This new scheme would have a profound impact on wildlife in the Thames Estuary, which combined with the loss of other nationally important sites in the area could prove disastrous for invertebrates.

Hornet Robberfly (Asilus crabroniformis) © Steven Falk

The proposed route would see the loss or impacts on the Shorne and Ashenbank Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a number of Local Wildlife Sites, including Low Street Pit, Blackshots Nature Area, Mucking Heath and Rainbow Shaw. This includes grassland and scrub mosaics, wildlife-rich brownfields, ancient woodland with veteran trees, and rare fragments of remnant acid grassland and heath.

Not only would the Lower Thames Crossing see the loss of yet more important sites for invertebrates, it would also further fragment the valuable habitats of the region. Many invertebrates need networks of sites to be able to move across the landscape and between habitats. The scale of the Lower Thames Crossing threatens the long-term future of some nationally rare and scarce species in the Thames Estuary.

A Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) application is expected in 2022, following the withdrawal of a previous application in November 2020.

Long-horned Cleg (Haematopota grandis) © Steven Falk