Two Somerset wild swimming spots designated as 'bathing waters'

Two Somerset wild swimming spots in England which are set to be marked as 'bathing waters' will undergo rigorous testing for safety. The surge in public dissatisfaction over the pollution affecting our rivers and coastal waters have raised concerns mainly about sewage outlets and agricultural runoff.

Post a public consultation, 27 fresh bathing water sites have been singled out ahead of the 2024 bathing water season, that commences on 15 May and lasts till 30 September. Upping this number to 451, marks the largest collection of bathing waters across England till date.

The new bathing waters – which include a dozen river sites – can be found right across the country from Church Cliff Beach in Dorset to Derwent Water in Cumbria, to the River Dart in Devon and the River Nidd in North Yorkshire. The River Frome at Farleigh Hungerford, Somerset, and River Tone in French Weir Park, Taunton, Somerset, are on the list.

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Closely monitoring water quality at designated bathing sites, the Environment Agency works closely with local communities, farmers and water companies to improve these locations. However, environmental activist Feargal Sharkey cautioned: "Every single stretch of river currently designated as a bathing area has a 'Do not swim' advisory posted. you have been warned."

The government is set to launch a consultation later this year on proposals to reform the Bathing Water Regulations for England. The proposed changes aim to improve bathing water quality, enhance monitoring and provide more flexibility around the dates of the bathing water monitoring season, reports Nottinghamshire Live.

For instance, the proposals will include increasing monitoring outside of the bathing water season and preventing automatic de-designation of existing bathing water sites. Defra will also seek public and stakeholder views on extending the definition of 'bathers' to include a wider range of water users in addition to swimmers such as rowers, kayakers and paddle boarders. More details on this consultation will be released in due course.

Water Minister Robbie Moore stated: "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. I am fully committed to seeing the quality of our coastal waters, rivers and lakes rise further for the benefit of the environment and everyone who uses them."

Alan Lovell, Chair of the Environment Agency, highlighted the significance of England's bathing waters, stating: "The importance of England's bathing waters for residents and visitors alike cannot be understated, 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."

He also noted the improvements in water quality, saying, "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."

Lovell acknowledged the challenges and time required for improvements, adding, "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."

In the previous year, an impressive 96% of England's bathing waters achieved the minimum standards, with a commendable 90% rated as 'good' or 'excellent'. This marks a significant rise from the 76% in 2010, even with the introduction of more stringent classification standards in 2015.

Additionally, the government refined its guidance last year to simplify and clarify the application process.

List of new bathing sites:

  • Church Cliff Beach, Lyme Regis, Dorset

  • Coastguards Beach, River Erme, Devon

  • Coniston Boating Centre, Coniston Water, Cumbria

  • Coniston Brown Howe, Coniston Water, Cumbria

  • Littlehaven Beach, Tyne and Wear

  • Manningtree Beach, Essex

  • Monk Coniston, Coniston Water, Cumbria

  • River Avon at Fordingbridge, Hampshire

  • River Cam at Sheep’s Green, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

  • River Dart Estuary at Dittisham, Devon

  • River Dart Estuary at Steamer Quay, Totnes, Devon

  • River Dart Estuary at Stoke Gabriel, Devon

  • River Dart Estuary at Warfleet, Dartmouth, Devon

  • River Frome at Farleigh Hungerford, Somerset

  • River Nidd at the Lido Leisure Park in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

  • River Ribble at Edisford Bridge, Lancashire

  • River Severn at Ironbridge, Shropshire

  • River Severn at Shrewsbury, Shropshire

  • River Stour at Sudbury, Suffolk

  • River Teme at Ludlow, Shropshire

  • River Tone in French Weir Park, Taunton, Somerset

  • Wallingford Beach, River Thames, Berkshire

  • Derwent Water, Crow Park, Keswick, Cumbria

  • River Wharfe at Wetherby Riverside, West Yorkshire

  • Goring Beach, Worthing, West Sussex

  • Worthing Beach House, Worthing, West Sussex

  • Rottingdean Beach, Rottingdean, East Sussex