Currently testing only takes place during summer but an explosion in popularity means this is ‘no longer adequate’.
The current system of testing water quality at bathing sites during the summer months is outdated and should be replaced with year-round monitoring, wild swimmers, surfers, and environmental campaigners have told inews.
Thanks to the explosion in popularity of cold-water swimming people now swim in UK rivers and coastal waters all year round.
A 2020 survey by Outdoor Swimmer suggests the number of wild swimmers in the UK has trebled since 2019, with 65 per cent of respondents swimming outside in winter two to three times a week.
Swimmers said the current testing regime, which only monitors water quality during the summer months, has not kept pace to changes in how people are using the water. “The system hasn’t caught up with the surge in interest in wild swimming. People do now swim all year round,” said Pauline Barker, outdoor swimmer and founder of Devon & Cornwall Wild Swimming. “It’s something that needs to be reviewed in the light of things post-pandemic.”
Alice Goodridge, founder of Swim Wild, said winter swimming is becoming “more and more normal”. She said: “There isn’t so much of a bathing season anymore in terms of when people are actually accessing the water.”
Instead, it would be “useful” to know what water quality was like at popular bathing spots during the winter months, Ms Goodridge added.
Under the current system regulators across the UK – the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Natural Resources Wales – test bathing sites regularly between May and September.
Pollution Risk Forecasts, which are issued by water companies to alert bathers to short term pollution such as sewage discharges, are also only issued during the official bathing season.
But analysis from campaign group Surfers Against Sewage suggests that sewage discharges into rivers and coastal waters are more likely to happen during the winter months, when wet weather means outdated sewer networks are overwhelmed.
Earlier this week i revealed that popular swimming spots can be awash with dangerous levels of harmful bacteria, suggesting the presence of raw sewage. Pollution spikes are often during the wet winter months, local groups have discovered.
Surfers Against Sewage says real time monitoring all year round is needed. CEO Hugo Tagholm said: “The bathing season is somewhat of an anachronism in this day and age, particularly given the boom in wild swimming, cold water swimming, and the wetsuit technology that allows people to use our coastline and our rivers year round in complete comfort.” He said the system needs “reviewing and modernising”.
Some swimmers are taking matters into their own hands. Laura Owen Sanderson is the founder and director of We Swim Wild, a not for profit organization for wild swimmers that campaigns against pollution.
Next month the group will launch a 12-month project in partnership with Bangor University to monitor water quality at swimming sites around the UK. A team of 30 volunteers will take samples once a month to assess pollution from microplastics, nitrates, phosphates, and sewage.
“Post-covid people swim all the time all year round, so they should be testing all year round,” Ms Sanderson told i. “We wanted to equip people on the ground who go to these places to do it themselves,” she said.
(Story source: Inews)