Warning issued over wild swimming trend after number of drownings in recent months

Emergency services have issued a warning following a recent spate of drownings after the wild swimming trend has swept across Yorkshire as people look to re-engage with nature.

Samuel Haycock, 16, died after getting into difficulty in Ulley Reservoir in Rotherham
Samuel Haycock, 16, died after getting into difficulty in Ulley Reservoir in Rotherham

Thousands of experienced swimmers and newcomers have been taking a plunge in lakes, rivers and other bodies of open water around the region.

Emma Stoney, a Yorkshire-based fitness coach, said there has been a “huge boom” in wild swimming during the coronavirus pandemic and she is working with a growing number of women who said cold water is having a positive effect on their mental and physical health.

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“It’s a shock when you’re getting in because it’s so cold and you do have to be careful,” she said.

“But I think once they’ve adjusted themselves to the temperature, it seems to have lasting effects. When they get out they have these endorphins that have been released and it leaves them feeling really happy and very alive.”

She has taken groups of women swimming in open water as part of fitness sessions and warned them about the dangers of swimming alone, diving in head first and taking a plunge in lakes and rivers they may not be familiar with.

Senior officials at the Yorkshire Ambulance Service also offered similar advice after crews attended 299 incidents involving someone struggling in open water in 2019-20 – a significant increase from the 261 cases the previous year.

The service is also warning people about the risk of cold water shock and strong currents.

It comes after four people died in Yorkshire in two months after they got into difficulty in open water.

Strategic Commander Alan Baranowski said: “Every year, too many lives are tragically lost through drowning and during the last few weeks a number of young people have died in open water in Yorkshire.

“We are reminding people to take personal responsibility near water.”

Group Manager Benjy Bush, from West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, added: “We urge everyone to be water aware and be conscious of the risks associated with open water.

“The fire service has crews specially trained in water rescue so if you are out and about and see someone in trouble in the water then dial 999 and ask for the fire service.”

In North Yorkshire where firefighters have attended 213 water rescue incidents since June 2018, people who regularly take a dip at one of the local beauty spots are being urged to remain cautious.

Prevention Station Manager Tony Peel, from North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “If people are going wild swimming we would advise them to choose the right place and make sure they are aware of tide times, rip currents and weirs. They should keep an eye on the weather forecast, don’t swim alone and don’t jump into the water, as this can cause cold water shock.”

People were reminded about the dangers of open water swimming when four people lost their lives in Yorkshire in just two months.

Lewis Howlett, 25, drowned while swimming in the River Aire in Leeds in May, a day after Samuel Haycock, 16, died after getting into difficulty in Ulley Reservoir in Rotherham.

Tomi Obi Solomon, 13, drowned after jumping into the River Calder at Brighouse on June 1, and two weeks later, Alan Rasoul, 27, drowned after he got into difficulty in Ponden Reservoir.

On average, about 400 people drown in the UK every year, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.