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"The UK River and Rowing Museum is facing the reality of climate change, as it appears to be surrounded by water."
Climate Environment World News

“The UK River and Rowing Museum is facing the reality of climate change, as it appears to be surrounded by water.”


The displays at the River and Rowing Museum showcase the significance of British rivers, ranging from the restored riverside setting of The Wind in the Willows to a traditional Georgian rowboat featured in the first Oxford-Cambridge race.

The building in Henley-on-Thames, designed by renowned modernist architect David Chipperfield, has received numerous awards. However, it is currently facing a major danger from the nearby river.

In January, the museum, which was designed by Chipperfield with raised stilts to account for its location near the Thames, experienced its highest risk of flooding when water levels rose to within 5cm (2in) of the elevated floor.

According to Steve O’Connor, the former British rowing champion and director of the museum, the significant flooding that has occurred around the museum, which is 26 years old, is no longer a rare occurrence. He believes that the increasing severity and frequency of the climate crisis is to blame.

Steve O’ConnorView image in fullscreen

“The floods, which were once considered to be a rare occurrence, are now happening every 10 years,” stated O’Connor as she observed the water-logged flood plains through the museum cafe windows.

“I believe it is unjust to claim that this is a once-in-a-generation occurrence. In reality, it happens once every decade, and we have been receiving warnings for years that our winters will be wetter. It is now time to acknowledge that these wetter winters have arrived and plan accordingly.”

O’Connor, who has a strong rowing background and won gold medals at the 2010 British Championships, is enthusiastic about rivers and the benefits they offer for promoting active lifestyles and preserving biodiversity.

Following a significant decrease in visitors from 120,000 to 60,000, he expressed his desire to renovate the museum in order to prioritize the climate crisis and its effects on rivers, while still honoring the sport of rowing and the town of Henley-on-Thames.

Our goal is to share the narrative of climate change and not necessarily persuade individuals about its cause, but rather provide evidence that the climate is indeed changing.

“If we can engage people in an interactive and entertaining manner to convey our message and encourage them to contemplate it, we may be able to reach a wider audience and spark discussions about solutions. Perhaps we should aim to eliminate any political biases and alleviate anxiety, instead directing attention towards practical actions that can be taken.”

Water surrounds the area outside the museum

Display the image in full screen mode.

He suggested reviewing planning regulations that allow building upstream without considering downstream effects, protecting flood plains, and updating Victorian sewerage systems to prevent the museum’s walls from being breached. Urgent action is needed in these areas to prevent potential breaches.

In January, the museum managed to avoid a breach, but unfortunately, the archive materials stored in containers in the parking lot were affected. The electrics also sustained damage, and as a result, the museum suffered a considerable loss in revenue due to having to close during school holidays.

O’Connor noted that from our current location, sitting in the cafe, it appeared as though we were out at sea. The area was completely surrounded by water on all sides, a sight that had never been witnessed by anyone at the museum in recent times. This was a strong illustration of the ongoing situation and the necessity of safeguarding our flood plains.

O’Connor expressed his reluctance to get involved in politics, but strongly recommended a review of planning regulations. He emphasized the importance of considering potential flooding and downstream impacts in the construction of both residential and commercial developments.

We must make sure that this is a top priority for both individuals and local governments when they approve planning requests.

Gates outside the museum submerged in waterView image in fullscreen

The museum is situated between two floodplains, known as Marsh Meadow and Mill Meadow, which are easily identified by their waterlogged appearance. O’Connor stated that if not for these floodplains, the museum would have been flooded.

In the future, he expressed his desire for the site to serve as a significant hub for hosting events centered on promoting healthy rivers and addressing the effects of the climate crisis.

“When I began, I pondered the purpose behind museums sharing tales of the past. In the end, it comes down to foreseeing the future,” stated O’Connor. “By taking a broader perspective, we can discuss the different ice ages that shaped the river, and then zoom in to examine recent years and the larger consequences of carbon emissions.”

“After your visit to the museum, you will be equipped with the necessary knowledge to take action and prevent a similar occurrence.”

Source: theguardian.com