May 28, 2024

Twenty-seven new bathing sites will be designated in England ahead of this summer’s swimming season, the government has announced.

Giving waterways bathing status means the Environment Agency has to test them for pollution during the summer months, putting pressure on water companies to stop dumping sewage in them.

Twelve rivers are among the new sites. There are three river areas in England designated for swimming, far fewer than in many other European countries. In France, for example, there are more than 570 river bathing sites.

Bathing status is no guarantee the waters are safe to swim in, however. Last year, testing by the Environment Agency found that England’s three river swimming areas all had “poor” status due to pollution. This means people should not swim in them and risk getting sick if they do. Sewage spills and agricultural runoff mean swimming sites can carry E coli and intestinal enterococci, which could make swimmers ill.

Bathing sites map

The water campaigner and former Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey told the Guardian: “Every single stretch of river in England currently tested carries a ‘do not swim’ advisory. This lot will simply join that ignoble, floundering list of failure.

“It’s clearly not a strategy to deal with the decaying state of our rivers, it’s simply panic from a decaying government, it’s making excuses all before exiting stage left in the run-up to a general election.”

Water companies were criticised for record sewage discharges into England’s waterways last year. Recent data showed raw sewage was discharged into rivers and seas for more than 3.6 million hours, more than double that in the previous 12 months.

Bathing sites are only tested in the summer months but the government has promised a consultation later this year on proposals that would include extending monitoring outside the bathing season, as some people use the rivers recreationally all year.

The water minister, Robbie Moore, said: “The value our bathing waters bring to local communities is incredibly valuable – providing social, physical and positive health and wellbeing benefits to people around the country – and I am pleased to have approved a further 27 new bathing water sites for this year.

“These popular swimming spots will now undergo regular monitoring to ensure bathers have up-to-date information on the quality of the water and enable action to be taken if minimum standards aren’t being met.”

The chair of the Environment Agency, Alan Lovell, said: “The importance of England’s bathing waters for residents and visitors alike cannot be overstated, which is why the Environment Agency provides rigorous testing to ensure that bathers can make informed decisions before swimming in one of our 451 sites.

“Overall bathing water quality has improved massively over the last decade due to targeted and robust regulation from the Environment Agency, and the good work carried out by partners and local groups. Last year, 96% of sites met minimum standards, up from just 76% in 2010 – and despite stricter standards being introduced in 2015. We know that improvements can take time and investment from the water industry, farmers and local communities, but where the investment is made, standards can improve.”

The new bathing sites

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  • River Wharfe at Wetherby Riverside, High St, Wetherby, West Yorkshire

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