Swimmers denounce increasingly difficult access to UK waterways

Landowners, councils and residents putting measure in place to discourage or ban general public

Landowners, councils and residents across the UK are increasingly putting measures in place to either discourage or ban the general public from accessing waterways.

Swimming groups say the measures are creating further challenges to already complex rights to roam and increasing division between visitors and residents, who are often wealthier.

During coronavirus lockdowns, many sites have had an unprecedented influx of visitors, which has often led to littering, problems with limited parking and antisocial behaviour.

“Landowners and local authorities often don’t understand people swimming,” said the Outdoor Swimming Society’s inland access officer, Imogen Radford. “They don’t always understand that swimming is done at people’s own risk and the landowner’s liability is limited when people willingly take those risks. Sadly, these unnecessary misunderstandings lead to attempts to close places to people who swim.”

Caroline’s Lake at St Aidan’s nature park, Leeds, is the most recent location to ban swimming. There has been a significant increase in the number of inexperienced swimmers at the site and signs have been placed waterside by the RSPB, who manages the lake.

A swimmer at Grantchester Meadows, Cambridge.
A swimmer at Grantchester Meadows, Cambridge. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Grantchester Meadows in Cambridgeshire hit the headlines earlier in the summer after King’s College, Cambridge, which owns the land, banned swimming and restricted access to the River Cam at the popular spot.

In Buckinghamshire, more than 50 roads that previously provided free parking and access to the River Thames, Jubilee River, Dorney Lake and Burnham Beeches have had restrictions introduced either banning visitors completely or limiting parking to two hours.

“Hurley Island [in the Thames] is packed during a heatwave; it is totally understandable that residents want restrictions,” said a local farmer and swimmer, Malcolm Burfitt. “I do empathise with them, it’s been crazy, there are just too many people visiting and there just isn’t room for all their cars. In Hurley, people seem to see the parking fine as the fee they are happy to pay for a day’s parking and don’t really care if residents can’t get in or out of their driveways, let alone get any emergency services access.”

Radford said: “Landowners and local authorities can’t stop people taking the risk of swimming in open water, but they could choose to give information to help people stay safe.

“They could also talk to swimmers and discuss ways they could work together to spread messages of safe swimming to those most at risk and mitigate any concerns and impacts on their land. It is welcome that discussions with swimming groups have now begun in several of the places.”

Ella Foote

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
I swam 31 rivers in 31 days and survived, but we need a clean-up | Ella Foote
Millions swim in open water and outdoor pools in the UK and we must press for better water standards

Ella Foote

07, Feb, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
UK increasingly shuns sofa for outdoor activities during 'Twixtmas'
Period between Christmas and New Year is utilised for activities from ice-cold swimming to birdwatching

Sarah Marsh

26, Dec, 2019 @4:28 PM

Article image
'It’s a social lifeline': swimmers frustrated as UK lidos stay shut
Open-air bathers say estimated 130 venues should be allowed to reopen as Covid-19 lockdowns are relaxed

Libby Brooks

26, Jun, 2020 @10:39 AM

Article image
'I cannot wait': England's gym-goers and swimmers react to reopenings
After months of coronavirus hibernation, people can start to return to normality

Mattha Busby

24, Jul, 2020 @11:13 AM

Article image
Kate Rew: Swimming as nature intended – outdoors

Kate Rew: Watching the Olympics gives some indication of the ease of life underwater: but it's so much better outdoors

Kate Rew

17, Aug, 2008 @10:00 AM

Article image
Water in UK’s first official bathing river to be designated poor-quality
Yorkshire Water says it is committed to improving River Wharfe as swimming season approaches

Sandra Laville

06, Apr, 2021 @10:25 AM

Article image
Consultation launched into making UK's first river bathing spot in Ilkley
Plan is to turn stretch of River Wharfe in Ilkely into a swimming area where water quality is regularly monitored

Sandra Laville

07, Aug, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
UK near bottom of European bathing waters league table
Just 63.2% of Britain’s beaches meet most stringent water quality standard

Sandra Laville

06, Jun, 2019 @11:35 AM

Article image
David Walliams begins Thames swim for charity

The Little Britain star, who has already conquered the Channel, is aiming to swim the river's 140-mile length for Sport Relief

Alexandra Topping

05, Sep, 2011 @1:32 PM

Article image
Swimmers and anglers should unite now to campaign for clean rivers | Letter
Letter: Margaret Dickinson on the polluted Wharfe, London’s oversubscribed swimming ponds and the urgent need to demand action as we leave the EU

Letters

22, Jan, 2020 @5:33 PM