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Artist Michelle Reader collects River Thames litter to forge striking artwork to help save wildlife


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It is hard to stomach for fish swimming past Gravesend and Dartford – many are dying after mistaking discarded rubbish for food and swallowing it.

The shocking level of litter and driftwood collected along the 95 miles of tidal Thames amounts to 300 tonnes a year, much of it recycled at Gravesend.

Now art is coming to the aid of wildlife on the River Thames, home to 125 fish species, 300,000 wintering birds and more than 900 seals, many of them at Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Artwork made from polluted River Thames rubbish.
Artwork made from polluted River Thames rubbish.

Artist Michelle Reader has joined the Cleaner Thames Campaign, backed by the Port of London Authority (PLA), which collects the river’s floating litter to be taken to Gravesend, where it is separated and recycled at its Denton Wharf site.

To highlight the issue, she has created a range of artwork from plastic discarded in the river.

The sculptures show a shoal of smelt, made from containers, bottles, shoes and even hats.

"I wanted to make people think about what happens to their waste by drawing them in to take a closer look.” Michelle Reader.

“It was fascinating and a little disturbing to see the variety of material that collects in the water and on the foreshore,” said Michelle.

“It was an interesting challenge to turn it into something that would tell a story in a way that could capture people’s imagination. I wanted to make people think about what happens to their waste by drawing them in to take a closer look.”

Tanya Ferry, PLA environment manager, said: “This is a colourful reminder of what’s being done to our marine environment.

“For wildlife, the amount of waste is simply hard to stomach and that’s why we’re working hard to clean it up.”

Research commissioned by the PLA showed three-quarters of Thames flounder, a bottom-
feeding flatfish, had consumed plastic and more than a fifth of smelt had also swallowed it.

Because plastic does not bio­degrade, it is often digested by wildlife mistaking it for food.

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