Surfers Against Sewage campaign for Bathing Water Designation

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Following the successful launch of the Protecting Wild Waters programme by Surfers Against Sewage, the initiative can further grow thanks to funding from The Naturesave Trust.

Protecting Wild Waters is a nationwide programme which was created in response to the pollution issues people experience first-hand whilst enjoying their local inland waterways.

Swimmers, paddleboarders and kayakers on rivers, lakes and streams deserve to have access to the same high standard of water as those who surf, sail and swim at the coast. 

The first step to improving the state of our rivers, and ocean, is to make sure the legal obligations are in place to improve water quality, by gaining official Bathing Water Designation.

Historically local authorities have applied for bathing water designation but there is a growing movement of communities taking ownership of this process, this means anyone can take part and make an application themselves. The Protecting Wild Waters programme has been setup to fully support these communities and ensure they are given all the resources and guidance needed to ensure the success of their application.

Achieving this designation creates blue spaces where water quality is officially monitored for harmful bacteria and viruses (intestinal enterococci and E.coli), with legal obligations placed to ensure polluters clean up their act, and stop sewage and agricultural pollution. This provides a powerful indicator of the state of our inland waterways which in turn helps drive impactive change.

At the last assessment, the Environment Agency concluded that only 14% of rivers in England were ecologically healthy. Rivers are threatened by a cocktail of pollutants: from sewage pollution, agriculture, industry and transport. A third of all rivers are failing due to sewage pollution, and in 2021 water companies discharged untreated sewage into rivers for 375,000 hours.

Despite this, every fortnight, over 4.3 million people visit the UK’s lakes and rivers. These inland water bodies provide humans and the wider ecosystem with a range of benefits: from flood prevention to creating habitats to numerous species. Thousands of hours and millions of pounds each year are spent on water-based activities, like swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing and angling – and being on or near these “blue spaces” has been proven to improve our wellbeing.

When communities achieve official Bathing Water Designation this shines a light on the water quality at their specific site, this in turn puts polluters in the spotlight and is a catalyst for positive change to the health of our inland waterways.

The grant from the Naturesave Trust will further enable new communities to sign-up to the Protecting Wild Waters programme and connect their actions to help drive long-term systemic change.

Surfers Against Sewage is a conservation and campaigning charity that has been protecting the UK’s shorelines for 33 years – they work at the frontline of river and shoreline pollution, where sewage and plastics are destroying the very eco-systems we rely on for health, wellbeing and much more. You can learn more about their work here.