Port of London suspends new ‘mudlarking’ permits to protect River Thames’ ‘historical integrity’

A man walks along the Thames near Canary Wharf  (Getty Images)
A man walks along the Thames near Canary Wharf (Getty Images)

The Port of London has suspended new ‘mudlarking’ licences on the Thames to “protect the unique historical integrity” of the foreshore.

The move means that no new foreshore permits for mudlarking or associated activities will be given for an indefinite period of time anywhere on the foreshore from Teddington to the Thames Barrier.

While the announcement means permits are closed off to newcomers, current permit holders are not affected by the change. The impact of the suspension will then be assessed.

James Trimmer, the Port of London Authority’s director of planning & development, told the Standard: “Basically, there are too many permits in circulation at the moment.

“The foreshore’s historic store of treasures, rare and mundane, are in danger of just disappearing. We’ve also seen a large rise in foreshore finds being sold, which isn’t permitted.

“We’ve acted, before it’s too late.”

The permits are required for any forms of searching, digging, or for use of metal detectors, and the activities are only permitted in certain areas of the foreshore.

Discoveries of potential archaeological interest are supposed to be reported to the Museum of London.

The name ‘mudlarking’ was first given to those who searched for scraps to sell on the banks of the river during the Victorian era.

Now it also applies to those foraging on the banks for items of historical interest.

A spokesperson for Historic England said: “Historic England works closely with the Port of London Authority (PLA) and the Portable Antiquities Scheme to safeguard the historic Thames foreshore, which is owned and regulated by the PLA.

“We all wish to enable safe public access and controlled beach combing to allow people to enjoy the Thames and its rich history.

“However, the recent upsurge in interest puts the foreshore and its archaeology at risk, and Historic England fully support the PLA in pausing the issuing of new licences”.

The Museum of London added that it “works closely with the Port of London Authority (PLA) and the Portable Antiquities scheme to identify, preserve and display many of the rare and fascinating finds from the Thames foreshore.

“We were consulted by the PLA in its decision to put a temporary pause on licenses whilst they review best ways to safeguard the area.”

Licences began to be issued by the Port of London in 2016.