Two more official swimming spots announced in Yorkshire in 'biggest ever' roll out

Campaigners have welcomed two more stretches of rivers in Yorkshire being designated official swimming spots in the largest ever rollout of sites.

The River Wharfe at Wetherby Riverside and the River Nidd at the Lido Leisure Park in Knaresborough join the Wharfe at Cromwheel, Ilkley, which three years ago became the first designated river bathing site in England.

It brings the total number of sites for the 2024 water bathing season, which runs between May 15 and September 30, to 451 across England.

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Water minister and Keighley MP Robbie Moore said: “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.

Visitors to Knaresborough enjoying a day out on the River Nidd on a rowing boat in the spring sunshineVisitors to Knaresborough enjoying a day out on the River Nidd on a rowing boat in the spring sunshine
Visitors to Knaresborough enjoying a day out on the River Nidd on a rowing boat in the spring sunshine

“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.”

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, who led the Knaresborough campaign, said the picturesque spot had been popular with swimmers for decades

There was still a "way to go" tackling all the sources of pollution in the river, but the move, which heralds the start of enhanced monitoring by the Environment Agency, was a "significant moment on that journey".

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Mr Jones said the campaign had been a big community effort, with up to 200 volunteers taking part.

"It is a particularly attractive part of the river. This is part of making our local river Nidd a better environment."

The Outdoor Swimming Society says bathing water designations have been "hugely important" in helping to clean up popular swimming spots, particularly as a result of detailed monitoring and targets being set for improvements.

Water quality standards are based on World Health Organisation research into the incidence of stomach upsets in people bathing in water.

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Two types of bacteria, E. coli and intestinal enterococci, which usually get into water from sewage and animal manure, are monitored, usually weekly, across the bathing water season.

However a significant change will take time, effort and investment. Three years on water quality at Ilkley remains “poor”.

Nidd Action Group chair David Clayden said there was no “silver bullet” and it was a “long term game”.

He said: “It is a great day and I am very, very pleased. I’m very encouraged – we have the Environment Agency taking samples now. We will learn more about the river and how to make it better. It takes money, effort, a community to pull together – and we have that here.”

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Pollution affecting the water quality on the Nidd comes from various sources, including runoff from agricultural farms and abandoned lead mines, as well as sewage discharges from storm overflows.

The Nidd was polluted by 870 sewage spills in 2022, according to Environment Agency figures, and during 2023's very wet summer, testing revealed “concerningly high” levels of the harmful bacteria E. coli.

Yorkshire Water said in March it is making headway with a £180m programme to reduce discharges across the region by April 2025.

Work is in progress on 62 projects, including some on the river Nidd, that will reduce discharges from some of the most frequently operating overflows.

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YW is currently working on a £19 project at Killinghall wastewater treatment works, upstream from Knaresborough, to remove phosphorus from treated wastewater.

Alan Lovell, Environment Agency chairman, said: “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.

“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.”

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