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Designate at least 22 new local inland bathing sites across England every five years to empower communities to clean up their rivers and help people swim safely

Key recommendations:

  • Designate at least two new inland bathing sites across every region of England every five years

  • Provide farmers with support to improve slurry storage and plant cover crops 

  • Ensure the data about bathing water quality is easily available at the bathing water site and clearly communicated to bathers

In the early 1990s, only 28 percent of bathing waters met the highest standards at that time. But, 93 percent now meet today’s more rigorous ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ standard, while over 98 percent meet the minimum requirement. As a result, the more than 400 bathing water sites that currently exist have been successful in helping to clean up our seas.

However, the success of bathing waters has been nearly exclusively in coastal areas. Only two stretches of English rivers have bathing water status in progress. The government should designate at least 22 new local inland bathing sites across England every five years. These five year blocks of time should correspond to the five-year pricing period that water companies operate within. This will ensure Ofwat approves the necessary investment for water companies to designate areas and improve water quality in these sites. 

The selection of potential bathing water sites and initial applications for bathing status should continue to be led by local communities. By setting a clear target for new bathing water designations, communities will be further empowered to clean up their rivers. 

Designation requires stakeholders along the river to work together to improve the quality of the bathing water. In particular, farmers should be integral to bathing water applications to ensure all sources of pollution are reduced, with adequate support provided for improved slurry storage and cover cropping. 

As the only bodies of water where bacterial levels are consistently monitored, bathing water status is an important step towards achieving cleaner waters, as it highlights to the local communities and regulators the extent of the pollution and the action required to ensure safe swimming. The more designations that can be made, therefore, the better. 

This data needs to be provided to swimmers and communicated clearly at the bathing site itself, replicating the success of initiatives like the RNLI’s flag system for safe tides. This will help swimmers avoid pollution and make informed choices about where and when to swim.


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