An island rumoured to have once aided in the escape of Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War has celebrated receiving a makeover.

It may never have provided shelter for England’s Lord Protector but Oliver’s Ait on the River Thames in Chiswick is most definitely a wildlife haven. The Port of London Authority (PLA) held a tree planting ceremony, watched by local residents, on the 120 metre long and 10 metre wide island on January 30.

According to recent surveys by the London Wildlife Trust the area in question is a valuable habitat for bats and kingfishers.It also found the rare swollen spire and Thames door snails.

The work sets the island up for a long-term management programme of habitat protection and improvement developed by LWT for the PLA, in consultation with the local community. It is hoped the example it sets can then be copied and used to improve the management of the many other islands which dot the length of the tidal section of the Thames.

Working for 18 months at a cost of £30,000 from the PLA maintenance budget teams and contractors undertook extensive tree works including, felling, pollarding and planting. They also reinstated stonework on the upstream end of the Ait, which has to withstand tides running past it in excess of four knots twice a day. The trees were planted by PLA chief executive, Richard Everitt, with Kew residents, Mr and Mrs Dobai who have, for 50 years, gauged the arrival of Spring by trees on the Ait coming into leaf.

Oliver's Ait in the River Thames at Chiswick
Oliver's Ait in the River Thames at Chiswick
 

PLA planning and environment director, James Trimmer said: “Islands like these a unique feature on the Thames. They provide a natural haven for wildlife and enhance the amenity of the river for those who live locally, or row past. This project had the usual constraints of any project on an island – everything that we used, from cement and gravel to chainsaws and saplings, had to be brought to in by boat. 

“The same applied to the tree planting ceremony, where we had a two-hour tidal window to get our guests on and off the Island.“It’s been great to share the completion of the work with local people who enjoy the views of the Ait, but would rarely, if ever, have chance to visit it.”

Joining the small group who visited the island was Strand-on-the-Green Association’s Richard Griffith.

He said: “It’s fantastic finally to have had a chance to visit the Ait, Oliver’s Island, a feature of the Thames that we’ve enjoyed looking at for many years. They’ve done a great job and Oliver’s Island is now well set for many to see and enjoy in years to come.”

The island got its name due to a story Cromwell had an HQ at the nearby Bull’s Head pub which contained an underground tunnel linking it to the island so he could escape if the forces of King Charles I got too close. No tunnel has ever been found and the story has been dismissed as a myth.