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Society, Politics & Law

Coastal mapping: Medway

Updated Tuesday, 6th November 2007

A look at how the effects of man have shaped the River Medway over time. For a richer experience, explore these changes with our coastal mapping interactive.

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The River Medway is an important river in the south-east, playing a strategic role for the Royal Navy in the past. Large towns are situated along the course of the Medway such as Chatham and Sheerness.

Sheerness was built as a fort in the 16th century to protect the Medway from naval invasion. This area is becoming extremely urbanised, providing an extensive commuter belt on the outskirts of London.

The natural environment has been largely affected by anthropogenic disturbance, although there are still extensive areas of salt marsh and tidal flats along the Medway's flood plain. In the past, the area was much different, and the geomorphology of the site was extremely important.

The following charts show how the site has developed over time, illustrating the increasing dominance of people within a natural environment.


Medway 1840 Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Open2 team

The dominant feature of this chart is a wide and deep meandering channel with tributaries bounded by mudflats and saltmarshes.

Saltmarshes provide the classic geomorphology of tidally dominated, low energy, estuarine environments. The saltmarshes are extensive, and dominate the river system here.

Within the main channel, there are several islands and small sand bars. The main river channel varies in depth with several bars exposed at low water mark. Several spits and banks exist at creek mouths which signify substantial amounts of sediment deposition.

Other dominant landforms within this chart include the Isle of Grain (Grain means gravel), Stoke Marsh, Sheerness Harbour and Burntwick Marsh. Sheerness harbour and Sheerness dockyard are bounded by a spit.

There are also several mooring buoys as the area is a busy shipping channel for trade.

The saltmarsh and the river play an important role in the development of the area. In the 1840s, the saltmarshes were extensive, with a plentiful supply of sediment within the area. The presence of the saltmarsh depicts the importance of tidal variation within the area.

The bathymetry of the channel is complicated by the river meanders and the bars dissecting the river, although it is relatively shallow. The area is a relatively low energy environment, affected by the diurnal change in tidal elevation and the ebb and flood of the tide.


Medway 1840 - chart Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: National Maritime Museum

1840 Source map


Medway 1883 Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Open2 team

This chart illustrates a detailed mix of creeks, spits, banks and islands in a highly sedimentary system.

The triangular shaped sand bars jutting out from the shore are dominant features of this chart. These are exposed at low water.

The channel is relatively deep to enable large shipping in and out of the ports. It is also complex.

There has been little change in the channel morphology since the previous chart, illustrating the area is not very dynamic. Again, the channel is bounded by extensive saltmarshes with saltpans and drainage channels/tidal creeks.


detail from map of Medway Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: National Maritime Museum

1883 Source map


Medway 2001 Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Open2 team

This chart shows the complexity of the Medway system.

The main channel is bordered by saltmarshes, and tidal creeks. This section of the river has also undergone anthropogenic development, with substantial port development, and regeneration.


detail from map of Medway Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Controlled

2001 Source map

You can also compare all the Medway maps on one page.


This feature has been made possible by a partnership between The Crown Estate and The Open University. The Crown Estate manages property in the UK within the Marine, Urban and Rural Estates and all their revenue surplus is returned to the Treasury. The Marine Stewardship Fund, which supports this project, contributes to the good management and stewardship of the marine estate. The Open University is committed to making education available to all.

With thanks to the National Maritime Museum. Find out more about the National Maritime Museum's collections.

We would like to thank Sefton Coastal Partnership for access to and use of some of its resources .

We would also like to thank the Hydrographic Office for permission to use their charts and to ABP Humber for additional permission to use the 2001 Humber chart.





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