Bathing Water Designation

In October 2023 Cam Valley Forum submitted an application to Defra for Designated Bathing Water status for Sheep’s Green, in order to help clean up the sewage pollution of the Cam.

Our 10 week period of consultations resulted in 509 responses to the online consultation, 93% of which supported designation and 8 letters of support from organisations. We also received the formal support of Cambridge City Council, following consideration at the Scrutiny Committee Meeting on 5 October 2023.

The River Cam at Sheeps Green was finally granted Designated Bathing Water Status on 13 May 2024, just before the start of the bathing water season on 15 May.

Sheeps Green is now listed on the Swiminfo website here, where you can see the results of the Environment Agencies weekly water quality tests

What happens next?

About Bathing Water Designation

The principle of applying for Bathing Water Designation was overwhelmingly supported by Cambridge City council at the full council meeting on 20 July, subject to consideration by the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee on 5 October.

Bathing Water Designation is a powerful way to shine an official spotlight on water quality at a specific site. It imposes a legal obligation on the water company to clean up, while also accessing the Environment Agency monitoring and Ofwat funding to make the improvements happen.    

DEFRA’s rules restrict applications to a single short stretch that’s already a popular swimming area, with car park and toilets nearby. This is why we’re applying for a 270m stretch of the Cam at Sheep’s Green, from Hodson’s Folly to The Rush. Note that Paradise Nature Reserve is NOT included, but we expect designation to help clean up the whole river downstream of Haslingfield Sewage Works, 4km away.

Why apply for Bathing Water Designation?

If we’re successful in our application, in a few years’ time there should be less sewage pollution in the Cam 

Once the site is “Designated”, the Environment Agency will test the water quality every week throughout the bathing season, publishing the results on the DEFRA website. The Sheep’s Green page is here. These results will be very useful for swimmers and other river users.

If, as is very likely, at the end of the first year, the status is officially rated as “Poor”, under section 13 of the Bathing Water Regulations 2013, this creates a Statutory Obligation to clean it up. The Environment Agency will be required to undertake research to identify the sources of pollution. If as we expect, Haslingfield Sewage Works is identified as a major source, Anglian Water will be legally required to clean it up, and it creates a “driver” for Ofwat to release funding under the WINEP funding cycle.

The City Council will also be required to put up a notice at Sheep’s Green about the poor water quality, warning that bathing is not advised.    This is likely to be in place for several years.  This may deter some swimmers, but based on the experience of other designated sites, we expect little change in visitor numbers as a result of designation.

We expect that, once the problems at Haslingfield Sewage Works have been addressed, the water quality in the Cam should improve: something we have all been campaigning for.  We won’t see instant results, but, as at the River Wharfe at Ilkley, Yorkshire, it will help speed up the improvements. And as at Ilkley, we expect little change in visitor numbers.

Our application includes the results of our consultation and the numbers of “bathers” using the river at peak times on the two busiest days during the summer.

Other improvements

Although not part of an application for Bathing Water Designation, we are also exploring the potential to fundraise for other improvements, to go alongside the application. Ideas suggested to us include; judicious planting on the east bank of Coe Fen to improve natural habitats; replacing the older sets of steps into the river at the canoe club quayside; repairing the brick the steps and removing the graffiti at Hodsons Folly; providing some (solar) heating to the nearby Sheeps Green learner pool, in order to help kids learn to swim there.

Do let us know your ideas

Further Resources

FAQ about Bathing Water Designation at Sheep’s Green

DEFRA’s swim info website