Medway Islands get an Autumn clean

Every September for the last three years the islands on the Medway have been given a clean up by the Living River Foundation and its volunteers. Thanks to support from Peel Ports, Jetstream Tours, and MDL Marinas the volunteers were able to clear twice as much again!

Access to the islands is restricted to avoid disturbing the important number of birds that use them for breeding and feeding for the rest of the year.  So, the foundation focusses effort every September, with small teams of willing volunteers, to clear as much as possible before the winter feathered visitors arrive to the estuary.

A lot of litter gets discarded every year, lost from the waste system; some of it gets cleared up but experts now think that over 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our seas from land, including via rivers and estuaries. Estuaries will hold on to the litter for longer as the tide will push it back up into the habitats that are important for flood storage, carbon and many of our important marine animals and plants. 

Starting in 2019, joined by the Mayor of Medway the foundation ended up getting a bigger litter boat to accommodate the volume of litter that even the small teams of volunteers were collecting each time. Last year they estimated volunteers collected over thousand bottles in one day.  Armed with more bags than ever before, new litter pickers from Waterhaul made from recycled plastic, and volunteers from the foundation and Toward Plastic Free Medway, the impact made this year was huge.

Living River Foundation founder and Jetstream Tours Director Richard Bain said; “To quote a famous film this is the second year I have said; ‘I think we will need a bigger boat!’ , it amazes me how some of these items to get out to the estuary in the first place.”


Peel Port’s Marine Compliance Officer Paul Cousins said…. “ We are proud to support the foundation removing litter that has escaped into the estuary, it is really important to us to help local communities improve the environment and increase safety by removing these items from the river.”


Almost 2000 items of litter was collected and 20 larger items like crates, watering cans and flooring were also removed.  Items that are collected may be surprising, car bumper, mattress, ripped inflatable boat and a dolls arm amongst the strangest items. There are always plenty of gloves and shoes, but never a pair. Two tonne bags were filled with smaller recyclable plastics with another tonne bag full of large items like barrels and crates.  A skip provided by Peel Ports was filled with one tonne of non-recyclables, including some large items that could cause safety issues on the estuary.   Items like balls and fenders are offered back to the community and life rings are returned to Medway Council for reuse. 

Notes for Editors

  • The Medway Estuary is protected for estuarine and wetland habitats for over wintering and breeding birds and nursery areas for fish, they are protected by National, European and International regulations and managed by Natural England, Landowners and NGO’s such as the RSPB
  • Disturbance is one of the largest issues for the birds in our urban estuaries, for more information on how to act responsibly see the local Kent and Medway council project
  • Access to the wilder parts of the estuary is not an easy task, with strong currents, thick mud and sand, the public must be well equipped before attempting to access more remote areas where mobile signal may be limited. Most islands are privately owned and permission should be sought before accessing them.
  • The Living River Foundation is a not for profit organisation set up to raise awareness to protect and improve the local estuaries.  It helps create awareness of the impact that our way of life is having on the environment and how everyone can do something to improve the environment. 
  • Projects include volunteers monitoring microplastics, carrying out litter picks and working with the community to encourage change and improving awareness in Chatham.
  • Peel Ports London Medway is the statutory harbour authority for the River Medway and Swale and is responsible for approximately 40miles of waterway. As part of it’s conservancy responsibilities the port authority routinely engages in debris clearance operations through a contracted marine services provider who utilise a multi-cat vessel and a specific, all electric water-witch craft for marine rubbish collection.