Shropshire Star

Wild swimmer and campaigner hails success over bathing status for county rivers

A wild swimmer has hailed the hard work from campaigners after a decision to designate three 'bathing water' sites on county rivers.

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Wild swimmer Alison Biddulph is one of the volunteers who has led the campaign to secure bathing status for the Shropshire sites.

The government confirmed today that two sections of the River Severn – at Shrewsbury and Ironbridge, and the River Teme in Ludlow, have all been granted the status.

It means water quality will be monitored by the Environment Agency (EA) throughout the bathing season, which runs from May 15 to September 30.

It is tested for two types of bacteria, E. coli and intestinal enterococci, and then categorised as ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’ or ‘poor’ based on bacteria levels.

Where water quality is found to be less than satisfactory the EA will investigate to find out what is causing the issue.

Alison Biddulph, a wild swimmer and one of the volunteers who have driven the campaign to secure the status, said they were thrilled at the official designation.

Alison, who was one of those collating vital information needed for the applications, said there is a hope that the status will clean up the rivers – and provide people with information to know they are safe to swim in.

She said: "We’re delighted to have been awarded all three sites. They are all longstanding bathing locations, and it might not make any difference to the number of people who swim in the river, but the idea is that it should clean up the river and it should provide people with the information to keep themselves safe.

"Currently there is little, if no, information on river water quality.

"People do get sick from swimming in the river, and there is a lot of evidence from swimmers and anglers that shows that water quality is deteriorating to the detriment of the wildlife.

"Having Bathing Water Status will mean that the Environment Agency will test the water every week and share the results with the public.

"And where the water quality is less than satisfactory they will investigate the sources of pollution and endeavour to reduce or eradicate them."

The issue of pollution in rivers across the country has become an increasing concern for the public in recent years – particularly in relation to the discharge of sewage into waterways.

Alison, from Shrewsbury, said that for the county there were concerns over a variety of types of pollution.

She said: "In Shropshire, this has a lot to do with agricultural run off and storing and spreading muck close to water courses.

"There are also over 30 sewage outflows into the river within Shrewsbury itself, and Ironbridge and Ludlow have fewer, but still experience sewage spills."

Alison praised the efforts of all the volunteers who had been working on the applications for the status, saying that a group of up to 20 people had been involved across all three sites.

Their work has included counting the numbers of swimmers on days through the season, canvassing local opinion, getting input and permission from the landowners by the river, conducting a survey, and producing a map showing the good level of facilities next to the swimming location.

They also had to fill in an application for each site, with an appendix – which ran to around 100 pages for each site.

Alison said: "Lots of the swimming community have got behind this campaign and agreed to be counted and have their photos taken for inclusion in the applications. Demonstrating that the sites are established popular swimming sites is key to obtaining bathing water status.

"On top of that, volunteers have been testing the river water quality against Bathing Water standards.

"Ludlow is excellent already, Shrewsbury is satisfactory, but Ironbridge is poor.

"As a World Heritage Site, it will be great to improve the river in Ironbridge. Severn Trent have also been working with us at grass roots level and have already helped to sort out some quick fixes to improve water quality."

The move has also been welcomed by Ludlow's Conservative MP, Philip Dunne, who was praised by Alison for supporting the campaign.

He said: "Having campaigned for years now on water quality, including working with Severn Trent to boost investment in water quality on the River Teme for several miles around Ludlow, I am delighted that the stretch of the River Teme upstream from Dinham Weir has now received designation as a bathing water quality site by Defra.

"This designation will mean enhanced monitoring by the Environment Agency, giving swimmers and other river users the confidence that the water is clean and safe.

"This is a big step forward in water quality of our rivers in Shropshire, with the River Severn, both in Shrewsbury and at Ironbridge being designated alongside the River Teme at Ludlow. I am really pleased that the government has responded so positively to all our campaigning work in Shropshire, where three of the 12 new river sites being designated bathing waters across England are located.

"I look forward to working with the Environment Agency, Severn Trent Water, Shropshire Council and Ludlow Town Council and other local riparian owners to help bring safe and secure river swimming back to Ludlow this summer."