A hot, but very pleasant day on Saturday 9 September, counting a total of 478 bathers in 4 hours at Sheeps Green. This is our record for the 2023 bathing season.
We already had two user surveys showing 184 and 278 bathers, which is well over Defra’s requirement of a minumum of an average of 100 bathers in 4 hours, in order to apply for Bathing Water Designation. However, as Saturday was forecast to be the hottest day of the summer, we decided to do another count.
As the afternoon temperature peaked at 32C, it was a joy to be in, on or near the river. We counted 478 bathers (ie swimmers, or children paddling) in just 4 hours.
Kids and adults swim from the quayside
Teenagers congregate at Hodsons Folly
Small children and their parents enjoy paddling in the Rush
Worryingly, some people believe that the Rush is a fresh water spring (despite the clear notice saying that its river water). We were told someone had even been drinking from it. This is not a good idea (particularly as there’s a drinking fountain near the cafe)
Very pleasant on the grass by the quayside…
and the Sheep’s Green picnic area was peaceful….
while the Lammas Land paddling pool was heaving…
the Cafe was busy..
and as usual, a few people had parked in stupid places.
Ably and fairly chaired by Jeremy Sallis (formerly of BBC Radio Cambridge), the room was packed with 62 attendees. A wide range of views were heard: Friends of the Cam handed out leaflets and spoke powerfully about their opposition to the principle of designation and their outrage at Anglian Water. Others spoke equally powerfully about the benefits of designation, particularly for the health of swimmers, Cambridge’s young people and their access to nature.
The main concerns related to increased visitor numbers. DBW would be a minor factor in increasing visitor numbers but there are a lot of other factors related to warming climate and less long distance travel for leisure that are likely to be stronger, given that the designation will result in advisories against swimming until improvements in quality can be achieved. Many people in the audience felt that visitor numbers to all green spaces in Cambridge are increasing and likely to increase for multiple reasons and this is good, and obviously will in the long-term need managing – but this should not be stopping us cleaning up the river.
The overall feeling of the meeting was supportive of designation.
One participant emailed us with her reaction to the event as follows
“Many local residents came along and put paid to the oft repeated fallacy that local people don’t want designated bathing water at Sheeps Green. The overall feeling was supportive……. every attendee received FotC leaflet, and I felt counterarguments most certainly were heard and given space to be expressed. Overall the takeaway was ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good’ – all these local pressure groups can and should campaign on many issues for better river health, changes to environment legislation and designation process, but just because DBWs don’t fix all problems all at once does not mean it’s not worthwhile.“
Michael Goodhart, sharing some of the 400+ year history of swimming in the Cam
Anne Miller, explaining why Cam Valley Forum proposes applying for designation
Simon Spooner explaining how the water industry works
Olwen Williams sharing her concerns for Paradise Local Nature Reserve
We are very pleased that at the full Council Meeting on 20 July 2023, Cambridge City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve Cllr Katie Thornburrow’s motion (with a supportive Lib Dem amendment) in support of our proposed application for bathing water designation, subject to consideration by the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee on 5 October.
The key section of the approved, ammended motion included the statement that : “This Council.. Agrees to evaluate the potential of a formal application to Defra for an inland water stretch along the River Cam within Cambridge City Council boundaries to be designated as a bathing site, working with Anglian Water and local partners such as Cam Valley Forum, in order to secure an improvement in water quality while also taking into account the impact of any increased usage and avoidance of significant additional cost; and requests a report on this to the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee to inform a balanced decision by the Executive Councillor.”
We welcome this addition to our consultation process.
Why do we want to apply for bathing water designation?
Cam Valley Forum wants to apply for designated bathing water status for Sheep’s Green, because this is the most powerful way we have to improve the water quality in the Cam, for the benefit of swimmers, paddling kids, punters, kayakers, our rowing crews, other river users. We hope that a reduction in sewage pollution will also benefit our wonderful natural habitats.
The requirements for designation were changed a few weeks ago, and there is some confusion about this, because the DEFRA website is confusing. However we’ve had clarification from DEFRA that they want to see evidence that an average of at least 100 “bathers” a day use the proposed stretch, at least briefly during the peak 4 hours, averaged over just the 2 peak days of the summer bathing season. We are currently gathering this evidence, so you may see CVF volunteers out counting bathers at peak times at Sheep’s Green. Our impression is that, assuming we have some nice weather this summer, the current bather numbers at our proposed stretch (from Hodsons Folly to The Rush) are sufficient to achieve designation.
It is important to note that designation is about protecting the health of existing “bathers” not attracting new ones. The experience of other inland river groups, such as at the river Warfe at Ilkely in Yorkshire is that designation results in no change in visitor numbers, not least because it highlights the “poor” water quality (as we currently have in the Cam)
This “poor” classification then creates statutory obligations under the Bathing Water Regulations 2013 that should accelerate the much needed improvements in Haslingfield sewage works.
This is why councils and community groups across the country are applying. Sixteen inland sites have already achieved designation, including Wolvercote Mill Stream in Oxford, the River Wharfe at Ilkely, and the River Deben at Waldringfield in Suffolk. Hundreds of coastal sites have of course, had designated bathing water status for years.
The data thats just been released by the wonderful Rivers Trust, shows a concerning and increasing duration of Sewage Overflows from our local Sewage Treatment Works into the Cam and Rhee.
Haslingfield still has a high level of sewage overflows, although this may be due to problems with a sensor being incorrectly positioned. As the sensor was relocated in September 2021, shortly before Cam Valley Forum’s vist, we hope to see a very much reduced duration of overflows in 2022.
Melbourn overflows are increasing worryingly, which maybe explains why we saw very high levels of E-coli in the River Mel just downstream of the Sewage Works when we tested it on 19 January 2022. Anglian Water say this is due to “Ground water inundation”, but the River Mel Restoration Group are right to be concerned.
Concerningly, over the last 3 years, the duration of Sewage Overflows from Cambridge Riverside has been steadily increasing, although from a low level.
The Cam from Grantchester to Cambridge: A much loved river in need of our care.
This report is an appreciation of the River Cam from Grantchester to Cambridge, outlining the threats it faces and the context and importance of the river. It illustrates the entire 2.8 miles length of the “upper river”, from Byrons Pool to Kings Mill Weir in Cambridge, and may provide a better understanding of the river’s rich history and precious ecology. It is hoped that it may motivate more people to want to protect it from damage, now and in the future.
This is first of the documents that has been prepared as part of Cam Valley Forum’s “Cam Safer Swim Initiative” (CSSI) If you would like to commment on the report, or get involved in our work to make the Cam safer for swimming, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cam Valley Forum recently consulted about designating part of the River Cam as a “Bathing Water”. This would benefit river users by prompting work to improve the quality of the water. Our proposals are here:
Cam between Littlebury and Little Chesterford, 19 Oct 2019 (c) Mike Foley
We are horified to discover that the Environment Agency is proposing, once again, to blanket spray herbicide along large stretches of our precious rivers and streams. We object strongly to this, and urge the EA to put their money and resources to better use.
You can see a summary of our progress (or not) below, and a full log here of the reports that we have received of damage caused by blanket herbicide spraying
Update 26 June 2020
We understand that discussions are ongoing in the Environment Agency and hope for a positive outcome. In the meantime we would welcome any further views and evidence from river users to help us press our concerns home and ensure that the funds earmarked for spraying are instead used for positive work to enhance our rivers.
Update 4 June 2020
In early June, we were horrified to discover that the Environment Agency is proposing, once again, to blanket spray herbicide along large stretches of our precious rivers and streams. They say this is “to maintain sinuosity within the channel to help reduce flood risk”
They sent this out for consultation to selected key conservation organisations a few weeks ago, with a deadline for responses of 5 June. However, as many staff are on furlough, it has only just come to our attention.
You can read our formal consultation response here
Despite floods, cold weather warnings and even a few flurries of snow, our contractors ML Partnership start the massive task of pruning back the overhanging trees that have been causing such trouble trapping pennywort on the upper Cam.
It’s going to be a big job!
Wet weather has made the access track on the east bank impassible, so they’re working from 2 large punts on loan from Scudamores.
These were brought up river by two Cam Valley Forum volunteers, Simon and Alec, a few days before