Bathing Water Designation: Success!

Cam Valley Forum is delighted that the River Cam at Sheep’s Green has received Bathing Water Designation, alongside 26 other sites across the country.

Cam Valley Forum has been working towards this since 2020, and our application was supported by a wide range of local organisations, from the local Women’s Institute to Cambridge Canoe Club, Cambridge City Council and South Cambs District Council, as well as 93% of over 500 respondents to the consultation.

This is because it is a practical way to help protect the health of local swimmers and those punting, kayaking, canoeing, rowing and paddleboarding on the river.

Jean Perraton, a former Chair of Cam Valley Forum said “When I saw what the river group at Ilkley had done, in getting bathing water designation for the River Wharfe in 2020, I thought why don’t we do it too.. I’m so pleased at last it’s succeeded”

Anne Miller of Cam Valley Forum says “Given our dysfunctional water regulation system, this is one of the few effective tools we have to help clean up the River Cam.  Now that the River Cam has been designated as Bathing Water, the Environment Agency will provide swimmers with weekly information on the cleanliness of the water, and there will be the investigations and investment to reduce the sewage pollution at source

Michael Goodhart has a special affection for Sheep’s Green, as it is where he learned to swim in the 1960s. He says that “for 150 years, between 1820s and 1970s, this was the much-loved Town Bathing Place. I am delighted that Sheep’s Green is again recognised as a Designated Bathing Place.”

Local swimmer, Simon Crowhurst says “This is great news for the wildlife and plants in and around the river, and for everyone who enjoys swimming in the river Cam. At last the river water quality should be properly monitored, and eventually improved.”

Why does Bathing Water Designation help?

Bathing Water Designation was designed by the EU as a powerful mechanism to help protect the health of swimmers.

Designation makes it safer for swimmers, firstly, because Designated Bathing Water sites receive weekly monitoring for faecal bacteria by the Environment Agency during each Bathing Season (15 May – 31 September). The results are published on the national Swiminfo website ( ) typically within a few days. This shines a spotlight on poor water quality and will help us all decide if we want to swim in the River Cam.

Secondly, after the first season’s monitoring, the water quality will receive an official classification, which will be displayed by the City Council on a noticeboard at Sheep’s Green. 

Thirdly, because the water quality here will almost certainly be rated as “Poor” it will impose statutory obligation on industry to investigate and reduce the faecal pollution. Cam Valley Forum’s work suggests that a major source is the aging and overloaded sewage infrastructure in the Haslingfield area.. Assuming this is confirmed by the official “apportionment study” the improvements in the Haslingfield area will benefit all of the river downstream of Haslingfield.  This includes the popular swimming spots Grantchester Meadows, Newnham Riverbank Club and Sheep’s Green.

Anne Miller says “ Bathing Water Designation doesn’t solve all problems and it will take a few years to see the results, but we know that the water industry takes Bathing Water Designation seriously. Yorkshire Water have just completed a massive £15M new sewer as a result of the River Wharfe receiving Bathing Water designation in 2020, so we hope to see similar investment and improvements here”.   More information about the Yorkshire Water project and photos here

We know that in October 2024 Anglian Water put around £5M in the budget for investigations and improvements at Haslingfield sewage treatment works, subject to the River Cam receiving Bathing Water Designation.

This will be welcome, even though we will probably have to wait until the end of 2027 to see an improvement in the water quality.

We are keen to see Anglian Water incorporate nature based treatment processes where possible, for example wetlands, rain gardens, swales and ponds, because these will both reduce the impact of wet weather, and create new habitats.

£5 Million is welcome, but we question whether it will be sufficient to upgrade the ageing and overloaded sewage infrastructure at Haslingfield.  Our recently released report “Sewage Sleuthing” shows that the problems are not confined to the sewage treatment works: the pressurised rising main from Haslingfield village to the sewage treatment works burst 3 times in 2022, and the pumping stations in Harston and Haslingfield were overwhelmed 6 times in 2021 and 4 times in 2023, releasing dilute sewage into the streets.

Note that despite speculation to the contrary, the City Council has confirmed several times that there is no requirement or intention to promote ‘Bathing’ at Sheep’s Green, nor to increase facilities.  Designation is not expected to make much difference to visitor numbers, and Paradise Nature Reserve should be unaffected.

It is simply a practical way to help protect the health of existing swimmers and other river users, young and old.

FAQ answering popular misconceptions about Bathing Water Designation at Sheep’s Green here