Wild swimming: Bathing water status removed from 11 popular UK swimming spots over pollution

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Eleven popular swimming spots across the UK have been stripped of their bathing water status due to pollution

Bathing water status has been removed from up to 11 popular swimming spots since 2015. The Daily Express reports that at least four of the sites lost their bathing status because of poor water quality while others were "de-designated" because of low usage numbers.

The Liberal Democrats, who uncovered the figures through a Parliamentary Question, said 400,000 hours of sewage water was pumped into designated bathing water sites in the past two years, slamming the scheme as a “leaky bucket”. The Party’s environment spokesman Tim Farron MP said: “No community should lose protected swimming spots because of raw sewage. 

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“There needs to be a ban on water firms dumping sewage into swimming spots, especially during the summer months. Ministers have failed to get a grip on these polluting firms, who show utter contempt for our beaches and lakes.”

Eleven popular swimming spots across the UK have been stripped of their bathing water status due to pollution. (Photo: Getty Images)Eleven popular swimming spots across the UK have been stripped of their bathing water status due to pollution. (Photo: Getty Images)
Eleven popular swimming spots across the UK have been stripped of their bathing water status due to pollution. (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Three places in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have lost the protected status, alongside two in Wessex, and Cumbria and Lancashire. Instow, a village in North Devon, was de-designated in 2018 when the Environment Agency (EA) declared the water quality as “poor”. A site in Ilfracombe, North Devon, lost its status because of “pollution from runoff from agricultural land and urban areas and by occasional discharges from a storm overflow”.

Sites that are designated bathing water status receive regular water monitoring by the EA which involves investigating pollution sources and identifying steps to be taken in response. A Defra spokesman said: “We know that many people enjoy spending time in our rivers, lakes and coastal beaches and last year 96% of our 424 bathing waters met minimum standards with 90% now ranked as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ – up from just 28% in the 1990s. We have just announced plans to consult on the largest ever rollout of new bathing water sites across the country and have set stringent targets for water companies to reduce sewage spills, frontloading action at designated bathing waters to make the biggest difference to these sites as quickly as possible.”  

Popular swimming spots being stripped of their status comes after 27 swimming spots are set to be designated as official bathing water sites by the government. The list of 27 proposed sites includes several on the River Dart Estuary in Devon, and beaches in West Sussex, Dorset and Tyne and Wear. There were 424 designated bathing waters in England in 2023, with only a handful of them inland, and the vast majority on the coast. Defra said the sites put forward for consultation, which runs until 10 March, were chosen based on how many people bathe there and whether it has suitable facilities such as toilets.

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