Among the happiest results of the modern feeling about birds is the conversion of the whole of the Thames above the tideway into a "protected area." This was not done by an order of the Secretary of State, who, by existing law, would have had to make orders for each bit of the river in different counties, and often, where it divides counties, would have been obliged to deal separately with each bank. The Thames Conservancy used their powers, and summarily put a stop to shooting on the river throughout their whole jurisdiction. The effect of this was not seen all at once; but little by little the waterfowl began to return, the kingfishers to increase, and all the birds along the banks grew tamer. Then the County Councils of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Berkshire forbade the killing of owls and kingfishers, and this practically made the river and its banks a sanctuary.

The water-hen are so numerous that at Nuneham Lock they run into the cottages, and at other locks the men complain they eat all their winter cabbages. As many as forty at a time have been counted on the meadows. Mr. Harcourt has also established a wild-duck colony on and about the island at Nuneham. The island has a pond in the centre, with sedges and ancient willows and tall trees round. There the really wild ducks join the home-bred ones in winter. Lower down, the scene on late summer days is almost like a poultry-yard, with waterfowl and wild pigeons substituted for ducks and chickens. Young water-hens of all sizes pipe and flutter in the reeds, and feed on the bank within a few feet of those rowing or fishing, and their only enemies are the cats, which, attracted by their numbers, leave the cottages for the river and stalk them, while the old water-hens in vain try to get their too tame young safe on to the water again.

Though kingfishers have increased fast they are less in evidence, being naturally shy after years of persecution. In summer they keep mainly at the back of the willows, away from the river, so long as the latter is crowded with boats.

It was not till November, 1899, that I saw the kingfishers at play, as I had long hoped to do, in such numbers as to make a real feature on the river. It was a brilliant, warm, sunny morning, such as sometimes comes in early winter, and I went down before breakfast to Clifton Bridge. There the shrill cry of the kingfishers was heard on all sides, and I counted seven, chasing each other over the water, darting in swift flight round and round the pool, and perching on the cam-shedding in a row to rest. Presently two flew up and hovered together, like kestrels, over the stream. One suddenly plunged, came up with a fish, and flying to the other, which was still hovering, put the fish into its beak. After this pretty gift and acceptance both flew to the willows, where, let us hope, they shared their breakfast.

In a row down the river extending over ten miles I saw more than twenty kingfishers, most of them flying out, as is their custom, on the side of the willows and osiers averse from the river, but some being quite content to remain on their perches from which they fish, while the boat slipped down in midstream. As they sit absolutely motionless, and the reddish breast, and not the brilliant back, is turned to the water, it needs quick eyes to see these watchers by the stream.

The total prohibition of shooting on the water or banks is also producing the usual effect on the other birds and beasts. They are rapidly becoming tame, and the oarsman has the singular pleasure of floating down among all kinds of birds which do not regard him as an enemy. Young swallows sit fearlessly on the dead willow boughs to be fed by their parents; the reed-buntings and sedge-warblers scarcely move when the oar dips near the sedge on which they sit; wood-pigeons sit on the margin and drink where the pebble-banks or cattle-ways touch the water; and the water-rats will scarcely stop their business of peeling rushes to eat the pith, even if a boatload of children passes by.

The return of the birds, and especially of wild fowl, to the London river is the result partly of the same causes which have restored the fish to its waters; partly, also, of measures affecting a wider area, but carried out with far less physical difficulty. Their presence is evidence that the tidal Thames now yields them a stock of food so abundant as to tempt birds like the heron, the water-hen, and the kingfisher back to their old haunts. It shows, secondly, that the by-laws for the protection of birds passed by the counties of London, Surrey, and Middlesex, and by the Thames Conservancy (which was the pioneer in this direction by forbidding shooting on the river), are so far effective that the stock is rapidly increasing; and, lastly, that the birds are preserved and left in peace to a great extent on the London river itself. The following are the most marked instances of this return of river fowl which have come under the writer's notice; but in every case there have been preliminary advances on the part of the birds, which show that what is now recorded is only one step further in the general tendency to resume their old habits, or even to go beyond their former limits of place and time in resorting to the river. The herons from Richmond Park have extended their usual nightly fishing ground, which formerly ended at Kew Bridge, four miles further down the river, almost to Hammersmith Bridge, and in place of coming late at night, under cover of darkness, have made a practice of flying down at dusk, and pitching on the edge of Chiswick Eyot.[1] Their regular appearance led to various inquiries as to the nature of the "big birds like geese" which flew down the river and made a noise in the evening, questions which were answered, in one case, by the appearance of one of the birds as it swung round in the air opposite a terrace of houses, and dropped in the stream to fish, not twenty yards from the road. As the heron is naturally among the shyest of all waterside birds, and seeks solitude above all things, these visits show that the quantity of fish in the lower river must be great, and also that the London herons, now never shot at, are losing their inbred dislike of houses and humanity. Their footprints have been found on the mud opposite a creek in Hammersmith, round which is one of the most crowded quarters of the poorer folk of West London. The birds had been fishing within ten yards of the houses, which at this point are largely inhabited by organ-grinders and vendors of ice-creams, callings which do not promote quiet and solitude in the immediate neighbourhood. In the evening and early morning a few wild ducks accompany the herons as low as the reach above Hammersmith Bridge, and single ducks have been seen even at midday flying overhead. At sunrise one Midsummer Day I saw a sheldrake (probably an escaped bird) flying down the river, looking very splendid in its black, white, and red plumage, in the bright light of the morning. It haunted the reach for some days, and was not shot. Among other visitors to this part of the river and its island during spring were a curlew, which fed for some time on the eyot during the early morning, and a pair of pheasants, one of which, an old-fashioned English cock bird, was subsequently captured unhurt. A flock of sandpipers remained there for some weeks, and during the summer numbers of sedge-warblers have nested on and around the eyot; the cuckoo has been a regular visitor to the osier-bed in the early morning, probably with a view to laying its eggs in the sedge-warblers' nests. As a set-off to these early visits of the cuckoo, a nightjar has hunted round the islet for moths, both at dusk and during the night, when its note may often be heard. This is a fairly long list of interesting birds revisiting a portion of the river which the London boundary crosses. At a distance of less than half a mile, on some ornamental water near the river, an even more unexpected increase of the bird population has been noted. A pair of kingfishers nested and reared their brood in an old gravel-pit, while several nests of young dabchicks hatched by the pool.[2] There also during the spring a pair of tufted ducks appeared, and remained for some days before going on their journey to their breeding haunts. One lamentable event in the bird life of the Thames deserves mention. A pair of swans ventured to nest within a few hundred feet of the London boundary. The hen, a very shy young bird, laid three eggs on Chiswick Eyot, and the pair, being supplied with material, diligently built up their nest day by day until it was above the tide level. They sat for five weeks, the cock bird keeping anxious guard day and night, while the hen would probably have died of starvation unless fed by kindly neighbours, for the river affords very little food for a swan, and this required far longer time to find than the bird was willing to spare from her nest. This was then robbed in the night, and the cock bird maltreated in defending it. The return of fish and fowl to the London Thames shows by the best of tests that the efforts of the Thames Conservancy to preserve the amenities of the river, of the Sewage Committee of the County Council to maintain its purity, or rather to render it less impure at its mouth, and of the adjacent County Authorities to protect bird life, are all yielding good results, and justify the courage with which such an apparently hopeless task was undertaken. To the Conservancy I would offer one or two suggestions, which County Councillors might also consider. The river is the only large natural feature still left in the area of London and Greater London. Now that it contains water in place of sewage, there is a guarantee that its main element as a natural amenity in a great city will be maintained, and as it becomes purer, so will the facilities which it offers for boating, fishing, and bathing increase. But it should not be embanked beyond the present limit at Putney. Stone walls are not a thing of beauty, and a natural river-bank is. At present, from Putney to Richmond the greater part of the Thames flows between natural boundaries. If these can be maintained, the growth of willows, sedge, hemlock, reeds, water ranunculus, and many other fine and luxuriant plants affords insect food for the fish and shelter for the birds, besides giving to the river its natural floral border. If this is replaced by stone banks the birds and the fish will move elsewhere.

[1] Mr. J.E. Vincent tells me that in 1902 the herons were heard as far down the river as Chelsea.

[2] In the beautiful grounds of Chiswick House, where the present occupier, Dr. T. Tuke, carefully preserves all wild birds.