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Sustainable Projects along the Thames Path

From hydro schemes powering local communities and businesses to wildlife restoration projects, you will find sustainable and environmentally-conscious projects along the Trail. Read about harnessing the power of the river to generate electricity and how the Port of London Authority is cutting carbon emissions to achieve net zero. Find out about the restoration of wildflower meadows to store carbon and floodwaters. Discover the best places on the Thames Path to see wildlife and refill your water bottles. Click on the links below to download pdfs.

Community-funded and commercial micro-hydro schemes

The power of the River Thames was harnessed for centuries by the mills on the river’s banks.

Now only one, Mapledurham Watermill, is still using river power to grind flour.

Instead, the power of the river is driving Archimedes screws and power turbines in eight microhydro projects – some community-owned, others privately or commercially owned.

The fall of the river, position of weirs and other technical issues like fish passes and access to the National Grid have to be considered when installing microhydro schemes.

Osney Lock Hydro in Oxford is the first community-owned hydro scheme on the Thames. It was set up by local residents on Osney Island, just west of the city centre, and supported by West Oxford Community Renewables.

The hydro building, where the Archimedes screw operates, is located just off the Thames Path near Osney Lock.  A fish pass alongside the turbine building enables fish to swim upriver beyond Oxford to spawn.

The 49kW Osney Lock Hydro scheme started generating electricity in May 2015. http://www.osneylockhydro.co.uk/

Sandford Hydro south of Oxford opened in 2017. This is community-owned through the Low Carbon Hub in Oxford.

Three Archimedes screws are within this 450kW hydro scheme across the river at Lasher Weir by Sandford Pool.  The Thames moves into channels above Sandford-on-Thames, and the Thames Path passes the Lock.

Take a virtual tour of Sandford Hydro https://www.lowcarbonhub.org/p/sandford-virtual-tour-now-live/

At Culham, south of Abingdon, a privately-funded 394kW hydro scheme with three Archimedes screws was opened in 2016 at Sutton Pools. This is another location where the river braids into separate channels.

The Thames Path follows the Culham Cut, which was engineered in 1809 to enable boats and barges to reach the busy trading wharves at Abingdon. There is a footpath from the Thames Path to Sutton Courtenay, which goes past Culham hydro.

The fish and eel pass was installed by Fishtek, video here  https://www.fishtek.co.uk/culham-hydropower-scheme/

Mapledurham hydro scheme powers the watermill which still grinds locally-grown flour. There’s been a watermill at Mapledurham since before the Domesday Book, which records three mills here.

The Archimedes screw was fitted in 2012, and at the time was the most powerful single-screw hydro scheme at 99kW. It replaced an old vertical turbine installed in the 1920s, and provides power to the Mapledurham Estate as well as the National Grid. https://www.renewablesfirst.co.uk/project-blog/mapledurham-watermill-turbine/

Although the Thames Path is on the opposite bank of the river, there is a bridleway from Caversham to Mapledurham where the Estate runs guided tours of the Watermill. https://www.mapledurham.co.uk/the-water-mill

Reading Hydro scheme opened in August 2021 and is the newest community-led hydro on the River Thames. It is funded through a community shares scheme run by Reading Hydro Community Benefit Society. https://hydro.readinguk.org/

The 46kW twin Archimedes screw system is located between Caversham Weir and View Island. Volunteers worked on many elements of the project, including installing the fish pass. This and the turbines are located next to a public footpath from the Thames Path to View Island.

The turbine house has colourful murals of water droplets at the gym, making energy from Mother Thames. One wall shows Climate Stripes created by Ed Hawkins, professor of climate science at University of Reading, to highlight the climate crisis and the need for more renewable energy schemes.

The nearby Thames Lido swimming baths and spa complex are powered by the electricity generated and help this venture reduce its carbon emissions. Surplus energy is sold on to the National Grid.

The Mill at Sonning Dinner Theatre installed the first microhydro scheme on the River Thames in 2005. The 18.5kW turbine powers enough electricity to power the theatre’s numerous powerful lights, restaurant, offices and backstage areas.

http://www.millatsonning.com/Hydro.html

The Thames Path passes close by The Mill, the only Dinner Theatre in the UK. It’s well worth visiting for a meal and take in one of their exceptional productions.

Waterpride Estates installed a 99kW single screw microhydro scheme in 2017 at Sonning Weir. Enough energy is produced to offset the company’s annual energy usage, making it the only carbon-neutral moorings business in the UK. https://www.waterwayleisure.com/

Romney Weir Hydro opened in 2013. The twin Archimedes screws replaced two of the weir gates. This 300kW scheme was funded by Southeast Power Engineering and provides electricity to the Royal Household at Windsor Castle, with any surplus going to the National Grid.

Romney Island is accessible from the Thames Path, and the turbines are an impressive sight. Follow Romney Weir on social media @RomneyWeir

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Photo: Fish Pass, Osney

Hydro Schemes along the Thames

Refill your water bottles here

Plastic water bottles are top of the pollution statistics. Water bottles make up nearly half of all plastic drink bottles found in the River Thames. Let’s banish them from the Thames Path! Take a reusable water bottle on your walk.  Many Environment Agency’s Locks on the Thames have drinking water taps where you can top up for the next section of your walk.

Download the Refill app to find your nearest water refill station in towns and cities along the Thames Path https://www.refill.org.uk/

Some shops and cafes display Refill signs so you can refill your water bottle for free.

Refill Oxford has signed up more than 200 sites where people can top up water bottles, including many pubs, cafes and shops in the city centre.

Abingdon-on-Thames has a public water fountain set into the outside wall of the Guildhall, just a few strides off the Thames Path at Abingdon Bridge. Many cafés and pubs are also part of the Refill scheme.

The Chocolate Café in Henley is one of the town’s water bottle refill stations. You can also refill at the River and Rowing Museum, just by the Thames Path on Mill Meadows.

Marlow Town Council is committed to sustainability and recently installed two water refill stations. One at The Causeway is alongside the Thames Path. The other is at Higginson Park, west of the town centre.

Reading Refill app shows the shops and cafes where it’s easy to top up your water bottle. Reading Council is considering opening up its public water fountains too.

In London a network of more than 150 drinking water fountains is being set up in busy and accessible areas. Last year 82% of Londoners used refillable bottles, often topping up at the #OneLess refill stations. https://www.onelessbottle.org/impact/

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Refill water

The Thames Barrier protects London

The Thames Barrier is the main structure that protects London from tidal surges and fluvial flooding. The Thames Barrier is where the Thames Path National Trail currently finishes, or starts, depending on which direction you’re walking the Trail.

Completed in 1983, it spans 520 metres across the River Thames at Woolwich and has 10 steel gates that can be raised into position across the river. When fully raised each gate is as high as a five-storey building.

Over £321 billion worth of property and 1.42 million people are protected from flooding by a complex network of tidal defences including flood walls, embankments, smaller barriers, pumping stations and flood gates. These structures are all having to work harder as climate change accelerates.

In February 2021, the Government published this 10-year review of the Thames Estuary 2100 Plan

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/thames-estuary-2100-te2100/thames-estuary-2100-key-findings-from-the-monitoring-review

The Thames Barrier Information Centre is open to visitors https://www.visitgreenwich.org.uk/business/thames-barrier-information-and-conference-centre/

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Thames Barrier

Tideway Tunnel cleans up the Thames

The 25 kilometres Super Sewer or Thames Tideway is London’s largest construction project, and most of it is hidden beneath the river! The £4bn Thames Tideway project is transforming the way drainage from housing, offices, hotels and restaurants is managed.

From Acton Storm Tanks in west London to the Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in the estuary, the Super Sewer will dramatically reduce pollution in the River Thames, cleaning up the river for London, everyone who lives and works here, and the city’s wildlife.

Over the last 30 years the Thames has been getting cleaner making it a prime example of a recovering ecosystem. But the millions of tonnes of raw sewage that still overspills into the river each year represents its last major source of pollution.

All aspects of construction are managed to reduce carbon emissions, including the transportation of I million tonnes of material delivered to the tunnels by a fuel-efficient tug towing barges on the river instead of lorries on the city’s streets. Tideway’s £54m More By River strategy cuts the number of HGV movements by 72%, and improves the city’s air quality too. GPS Marine, the main marine contractor, is delivering materials such as tunnel lining segments with GPS Vincia, a tug that uses GreenD+ ultra-low emission sustainable fuel.

GreenD+ fuel is available from GPS Marine barge for other vessel operators on the Thames. This is a significant contribution to the Port of London Authority’s goal of cutting emissions by 60% by 2025 and net zero by 2040.

The Thames Tideway project is more than a Super Sewer.  The project will leave an environmental legacy that goes beyond the physical structures. Working with academics and ecologists, they are improving understanding of the river and provide a broader knowledge of habitats and aquatic ecology. Read about the project’s work with local communities, art, education, jobs and the public spaces being created along the Thames embankments and parks. https://www.tideway.london/

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Thames Tideway

Electric Boats to Hire

The banks of the Thames have always been the perfect locations for boat builders, repairers and restorers and also for visitors who fancy a day on the river – a place to hire self drive boats, kayaks, canoes, rowing boats and Stand Up Paddle boards. Electric boats are popular for day hire on the River Thames, combining no pollution from diesel or petrol engine emissions with silence as the boats move through the water.

Oxford Punts Hire electric punts and paddle gondolas from the garden of The Rose Revived Inn at Newbridge.

AV Boats at Abingdon and Benson, hires electric cruisers, kayaks, canoes, rowing boats and Stand Up Paddle boards.

Pure Boating based at The Boathouse pub in Wallingford and Beetle and Wedge Inn, Moulsford offers self-drive rental day boats suitable for families to use for a day or afternoon’s cruising.

Hobbs of Henley will have five electric launches for hire by the hour or the day this summer.

The Thames Electric Launch Company is based at Goring

Thames Solar Electric Co, based at Surbiton is the UK’s only supplier of solar electric canal boats. Cruise the waterways using 100% renewable solar electric power.

London

Uber Boat by Thames Clippers is the main River Bus company on the tidal Thames in London, calling at 23 piers.

Thames Clippers is researching hybrid electric ferries. The company is a key part of a 2020 EU-funded Horizons research and development project to develop a 150-passenger high-speed fully electric ferry. In 2019 Thames Clippers Hurricane boat was fitted with a greener Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) engine. The NOx and SOx emissions have been reduced by up to 70%.

Comet Clipper is a joint partnership with DHL and ferries parcels across the River Thames between Wandsworth Riverside Quarter Pier and Bankside Pier. Parcels are delivered by bicycle, helping to keep larger transit vehicles off central London streets.

Transport for London has appointed Thames Clippers to run a temporary ferry service at Hammersmith Bridge while the bridge is closed.

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Electric boats

Port of London Authority is cutting carbon

The Port of London Authority (PLA) keeps navigational channels open along the tidal Thames, 95 miles from Teddington to the sea, provides pilot services, and regulates traffic on the River Thames. In November 2020 the PLA announced plans to more than halve its carbon emissions within five years and achieve Net Zero by 2040 or sooner. The first phase of the plan will see emissions cuts projected to exceed 60% by 2025 compared to the baseline year of 2014.

Read more: http://www.pla.co.uk/Port-of-London-Authority-to-more-than-halve-emissions-by-2025

The Sustainable Innovation Fund is a catalyst for trials of new and emerging technology that provide solutions suitable for recognised needs on the tidal Thames.

The initial call for innovation relates to establishing the port’s first zero emission berth. The target date for the berth to be operational is 2025, or before, subject to availability of suitable technology and finance. https://www.pla.co.uk/Port-of-London-Authority-launches-Sustainable-Innovation-Fund

The Thames Green Scheme encourages inland vessel operators to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. Find out more https://hubs.la/H0JRdwc0

Cleaner Thames aims to stop the tide of rubbish in the river. 200 tonnes of material was recovered from the river in 2019, most of it single-use plastic disposable items. Research with Royal Holloway, University of London scientists shows that up to 75% of fish in the river have plastic fibres in the gut.

The Air Quality Strategy includes reducing the diesel and petrol emissions from PLA vessels and vehicle fleet.  https://server1.pla.co.uk/assets/airquality2020v1.pdf

The Environment Fund provides grants to community groups for projects that reduce litter in the river and improve biodiversity alongside the river. https://www.pla.co.uk/Environment/Environment-Fund

Watch the 2021 PLA Environment Conference https://www.pla.co.uk/Events/PLA-Environment-Webinar-Series-2021

Freight on the river instead of roads

The river is used to transport vast quantities of rubbish generated by Londoners. Cory Riverside Energy has four river-based transfer stations with wharf access on the Thames, at Wandsworth, Battersea, the City of London and Tower Hamlets.

Waste from households and businesses is loaded into containers at the sites and transported to Cory’s energy-from-waste site at Belvedere, by its fleet of more than 50 barges towed by five tugs, using the power of the tides to reduce their engine emissions. Although the tugs are currently diesel-powered, Cory is trialling the use of HVO (biofuel from waste).

The river is the perfect way to bring extra-large construction components to building sites. Very large steel elements for the stands at Fulham Football Club’s new Craven Cottage football ground were transported upriver on barges from the docks.

Tidal energy

The Thames could provide local tidal energy opportunities, though it is unlikely to be via traditional turbine technology. This is because the space available is constrained by development on the banks and commercial traffic in the river.

The PLA is seeking to encourage the use of microgeneration in ways that suits the Thames in use of existing infrastructure and meet requirements. https://server1.pla.co.uk/Environment/Alternative-Energy/Tidal-energy-and-its-importance

During 20121 full and small-scale trials of different types of schemes will be located at a site in the river in Gallion’s Reach at Thamesmead, on the south side of the river in the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

PLA Environment Report published 11/05/2021

Visit link below for PLA work on cleaning up the river and cutting carbon emissions in their own and other vessels.

https://www.pla.co.uk/Environment/Environmental-Reports-and-Strategic-Documents

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PLA

Estuary Edges restoration with Thames Estuary Partnership

The Thames Path National Trail is part of the Thames Estuary Partnership 

Collaboration is key to securing sustainability along the Thames, and many different organisations, local authorities, utilities, community groups and charities work together through the Partnership with the common goal of a sustainable, wildlife-rich river through London and along the coastal estuary.

The Partnership supports environmental and sustainable projects, campaigns and programmes across arts, education and the natural environment.

Estuary Edges is one of the most visible by the Thames Path. Replacing brick, concrete, and metal tidal walls with a variety of habitats is what the Estuary Edges project is about. The project aims to restore the natural reedbeds and salt marshes alongside the embankments wherever possible.

Another is the Thames Catchment Community Eels Migration Project led by the Thames Rivers Trust with Action for the River Kennet, South East Rivers Trust and Thames 21.

Using citizen science and engaging with schools and community groups this project will raised awareness of eels in the Thames and its tributaries, to gain a better understanding of the barriers that eels face as they swim upstream to breed.

Information collated will contribute to the Partnership’s Fish Migration Roadmap and the Thames River Basin Eel Management Plan.

The Thames Litter Forum campaigns include #OneLess for London and Cleaner Thames https://www.thamesestuarypartnership.org/thames-litter-forum

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Thames Estuary Partnership

Colourful Floodplain Meadows Store Carbon

Floodplain meadows beside the River Thames are capable of storing more carbon than woodland.

They provide essential floodwater storage during times of heavy rainfall, and slow the flow of the river.

And they host hundreds of species of plants that attract pollinators, & provide a nutritious source of forage for pasture-fed cattle and sheep.

Floodplain meadows beside the Thames are now the focus of a three-year research project – the Wildflower Meadow Restoration project – led by the Open University working with the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust, and Long Mead at Swinford to create beautiful meadows filled with flowers and buzzing with insects.

The project aims to provide scientific evidence to show floodplain meadows are a more effective, reliable and longer-term carbon store than other habitats, and an important nature-based solution to mitigate climate change.

Thanks to funding from Ecover’s #FertiliseTheFuture fund, the Wildflower Meadow Restoration project will restore 50 hectares of floodplain meadows in Oxfordshire.

Long Mead will lead the way by working with local farmers to create a continuous wildflower corridor alongside the River Thames with connected habitats of international importance.

This is particularly wonderful for everyone walking the Thames Path because the National Trail runs through the Wildlife Trust’s Chimney Meadows nature reserve and opposite Long Mead at Swinford, as well as ancient meadows in Oxford.

Find out how to get involved http://www.floodplainmeadows.org.uk/projects-and-events/ecover-fertilise-the-future

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Floodplain Meadows

Yellow Wagtail Project

Beautiful yellow wagtail birds used to be a familiar sight in fields alongside the River Thames.

Now the Yellow Wagtail Project is studying the insect population of fields beside the Thames Path at Clifton Hampden and Little Wittenham with the aim of restoring habitats for these delightful birds.

They eat small insects and spiders found where cattle graze, and dip into the muddy edges of streams, the river and ditches to forage for insects.

The floodplain meadows in south Oxfordshire are perfect places for the restoration of insect-rich habitats to attract the wagtails when they return to the UK from their winter homes in Africa.

Research ecologist Sophie Cunnington is working with Dr Robin Buxton of Church Farm Partnership to find out more about the insects that live here now, and what improvements could be made to encourage the yellow wagtails to return to these meadows.

The Yellow Wagtail Project is supported by Wild Oxfordshire. The research data is recorded with Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) so that other wildlife conservation projects will be able to use it.

Watch the Yellow Wagtail Project video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1M25Ui1ewqA

Photo credit: RSPB

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Yellow Wagtail Project (2)

Nature Reserves

Your essential guide to discovering the wildlife of the natural Thames is ‘Exploring the Thames Wilderness’ by Richard Mayon-White and Wendy Yorke. Richard walked the entire length of the river researching this wonderful book, which is an essential guide to enjoy before and during your Thames Path walks.

Here are a few highlights with links to the organisations that look after these precious and vital places for wildlife. All of them contribute to the mitigation of climate change, mainly through carbon stores as floodplain meadows, marshland and woodland. They help to increase biodiversity through the extensive range of restored and managed habitats for wildlife.

More nature reserves feature on the Thames Path interactive map https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/en_GB/trails/thames-path/trail-information/

Cotswold Water Park is a vast area of 180 lakes, many of them former gravel pits, with the Thames Path winding along the banks and bridges. The Park hosts national and internationally-important flocks of wildfowl including great crested grebes. 177 lakes in the Water Park are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for their importance to birds, dragonflies and aquatic plants.

There are several wildflower meadows of which two are Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Limestone rivers and streams, including the Churn, Coln and Leach, flow through the Water Park into the River Thames and support healthy fish populations as well as otters, water voles and kingfishers.

https://waterpark.org/things-to-do/nature-reserves/

North Meadow Cricklade is an old, traditional hay meadow on the northern edge of Cricklade. The reserve covers an area of 44 hectares. It is a National Nature Reserve, one of the finest examples of lowland hay meadow in Europe, and is protected as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Special Scientific interest (SSSI). https://crickladecourtleet.org.uk/north-meadow/description/

Chimney Meadows is a Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust reserve of 308 hectares which includes a National Nature Reserve. The Wildlife Trust created permissive paths off the Thames Path to enable walkers to enjoy the beautiful wildflower meadows. This reserve is noted for over-wintering wildfowl and the iconic curlew that nests here. https://www.bbowt.org.uk/nature-reserves/chimney-meadows

Hartslock is one of the oldest nature reserves, identified in 1915 by Charles Rothschild and George Claridge Druce as ‘worthy of preservation’ when they created the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, now The Wildlife Trusts.

The reserve is at the most southern point of the Chiltern Hills where the River Thames cuts through the chalk at the Goring Gap. In this idyllic site you will find lady and monkey orchids, and their unique hybrids, as well as many other chalk downland plants and butterflies.

https://www.bbowt.org.uk/nature-reserves/hartslock

Leg O’Mutton nature reserve at Barnes in West London was created from a Victorian reservoir and is now looked after by the Friends of Barnes Common. It provides an important haven for wildlife and, with its circular walks, is popular with local people.

https://barnescommon.org.uk/about-us/our-sites/leg-o-mutton-nature-reserve/

London Wetland Centre is on the eastern side of Barnes. The Wetland Centre, managed by Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, shows the value of bringing nature into the heart of a city and offers many view points in hides and on the boardwalks to see birds, dragonflies, grass snakes and amphibians.

https://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/london/

East London Docklands restoration created several parks, community spaces, city farms and green spaces. These include Surrey Docks Farm, Lavender Pond Nature Park, Mudchute Park and Farm, Bow Creek Ecology Park, East India Dock Basin and Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park.

Crossness Nature Reserve is a small but significant natural wild oasis of 25.5 hectares within an industrial urban environment on the Thames estuary. It is one of the last remaining grazing marshes in London and carefully looked after by the Friends of Crossness Nature Reserve. https://www.bexleywildlife.org/friends-of-crossness-nature-reserve/  Visit the nearby Erith Marshes as well to see more of the diverse wildlife of tidal mudflats and salt marsh with its populations of migrating birds in summer and winter.

‘Exploring the Thames Wilderness’ by Richard Mayon-White and Wendy Yorke, published by Bloomsbury is usually stocked in bookshops in Oxford, Reading and Wallingford, and can be ordered online.

Photo: Chimney Meadows BBOWT new hide : Lucy Duerdoth

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Nature reserves

Hotel Boats and Cruises

Hotel boats and cruises on the River Thames are cutting carbon emissions in all aspects of their services.

The Wessex Rose hotel boat operates on the Kennet & Avon Canal as well as the River Thames and the Grand Union Canal. Hosts David and Karen are working towards achieving carbon neutral status and actively support the local economy.

Their Environmental Policy covers eco-friendly toiletries, low-energy LED lights, and a large battery bank to avoid running generators.  https://www.wessexrose.co.uk/waterways/environmental-policy/

City Cruises operates on the tidal Thames in London. These spacious boats are a wonderful way to see the sights from the Thames.

The company aims to ensure the Thames is in a better condition than it was more than 30 years ago when City Cruises began.

They have cut out as much single-use plastic as possible and encourages passengers to use refillable water bottles. Boats are operating more efficiently since the energy-saving engines were installed.

https://www.citycruises.com/blog/sustainability-on-the-river-thames/

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Hotel boats_cruises

 

Elm Trees for Butterflies in Historic London

The Thames Path in London takes people from the heart of the city and the sounds of urban life into the leafy countryside with historic palaces, just within a few miles.

In 2020 the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham planted disease-resistant elm trees alongside the Thames Path. These will attract the rare White Letter Hairstreak butterfly which lays its eggs on elm leaves for their caterpillars to feed on.

This project is one element of the Thames Strategy – Kew to Chelsea which aims to make the National Trail more accessible for everyone while improving wildlife habitats.

The riverside through Richmond and Twickenham is known as the Arcadian Thames because of the beautiful scenery, majestic houses and palaces, including Hampton Court Palace and Marble Hill House.

Walking along the Thames Path beneath the spreading tree canopies is the perfect way to visit these unique attractions with their gardens, parkland and cafes.

Marble Hill House https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/marble-hill-house/

Ham House – take the Hammerton’s Ferry https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden

Visit Strawberry Hill  https://www.visitrichmond.co.uk/

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Elm trees_Arcadian Thames