Cam Valley Forum urges Cambridge City Council to pledge to support a Bathing Water Designation Application for the River Cam at Sheep’s Green, because of the environmental benefits that it will bring.
This (shown in yellow) is the popular swimming stretch on council owned land, near the Lammas Land carpark, café, toilets and playground, Canoe Club, Learner Pool and Paddling pool. Subject to further consultations, we envisage applying for designation of the stretch from Hodsons Folly (just upstream of the footbridge) downstream to the popular childrens paddling area of The Rush. Our aim is to submit this in October 2023
A successful application would genuinely help clean up the Cam.
Cam Valley Forum has been campaigning for a Bathing Water Designation for the Cam at Sheeps Green since 2021. During the pandemic we carried out an initial consultation to understand the issues and counted bathers. Since then we have been monitoring the water quality, both as a citizen science project, and with Anglian Water. In September 2022 we were very pleased to see that Cllr Pippa Heylings’ motion about investigating a Bathing Water Designation was passed by South Cambs District Council.
A successful Bathing Water Designation application would have real benefits for both the environment and for residents.
As Surfers Against Sewage point out, “Bathing Water Designation shines a light on the water quality at a specific site which puts polluters in the spotlight. Once designation is granted there is a legal obligation for polluters to clean up their act and also a requirement that the government agency for your region tests the water quality throughout the bathing season. Your bathing water will be tested for Intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli, otherwise known as E.Coli. At the end of the bathing season the designated site will be given a classification of: Excellent, Good, Sufficient or Poor”
If the quality of the water is “poor”, as our monitoring suggests the Cam will be, this will be publicised on the DEFRA swiminfo website (as in Oxford) This may deter some from swimming, but people need to know.
Importantly, the rating of “Poor” should also release the OfWat funding that will help fix the sources of pollution (we think Haslingfield Sewage Works is a major part of the problem).
We also think the City Council also has a moral duty to support an application.
In summer hundreds of city residents a day enjoy swimming in the Cam, paddling in the Rush or jumping into the river at the Sheeps Green footbridge, while hundreds more enjoy the river on punts, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, some of whom also fall or dive into the water at times. We know wild swimming brings huge benefits in reducing stress, improving fitness and wellbeing and contact with nature. Importantly, its also free. This is a vital source of recreation in our highly unequal city, with many city residents terrified about how they’ll survive the cost of living crisis.
Swimming at Hodsons Folly
A summer evening outside the Canoe Club
The Children’s Paddling Area at “The Rush”
Nevertheless we know the pollution level is frequently unsafe, and at times people become seriously ill. Swimmers at Newnham Riverbank Club further upstream and our rowing teams downstream are also affected. We think the City Council has a moral duty to support an application, both to inform swimmers about the state of the water, and because it will unlock the funding that will help provide a solution.
Although, during the pandemic, some were concerned that designation would result in swarms of visitors, we think this is most unlikely. Our likely rating of “poor” would be more likely to deter rather than encourage visitors. Many other inland sites now have bathing water designation, including Oxford, the River Deben in Suffolk, the Serpentine in London and several Country Parks. Cambridge would just be one of many designated sites.
Surely we can’t let Oxford outdo us in taking serious action to clean up our river?