Give Our Rivers a Voice. Sign the petition for 200 river bathing waters

In just a few weeks’ time, the Environment Agency will be releasing new data on the scale of sewage discharges released by water companies in 2021. And we don’t expect this to present a pretty picture! Over 90% of sewage outflows pump sewage directly into rivers. And with rivers flowing into the sea, it’s clear that the state of our rivers directly impacts the health of the ocean.

So, we need to give rivers a voice.

Sign our new petition calling for 200 river bathing waters and demand action for our precious inland blue spaces.

At present, of the 600+ designated bathing waters in England and Wales only one is located on a river, the River Wharf at Ilkley, Yorkshire. This is despite the fact that 4.3 million people visit the UK’s inland blue spaces every fortnight. Rivers need our support.

Hugo Tagholm, CEO at Surfers Against Sewage, says:

“Designated bathing waters are a powerful tool to help bring communities together, driver water quality improvements, and protect both people and planet. More Bathing Waters, both coastal and inland, will shine a light on poor water quality in our rivers, lakes and beaches and so be the catalyst for real, systemic change. We need to see hundreds more official swimming sites throughout our rivers, to help drive a decade of ambition for clean water. The public demand rivers and beaches free from sewage pollution, and Bathing Water status is the first step to making this a reality. Action must be taken from source to sea, and we must ensure that the government and the water industry move from making good statements to making good all our blue spaces to delivering thriving blue environments for all. It’s time to end sewage pollution once and for all.”

Why is designated bathing water status important?

Achieving designated bathing waters status places a legal obligation on government to improve the water quality at these locations. Along the coastline, 98% of bathing waters now meet minimum water quality standards under the current testing regime, up from just 27% meeting the equivalent standard in the 1990s. The designated river bathing water on the River Wharf at Ilkley, however, has been classified as ‘poor’.

Our own citizen science research suggests that 75% of rivers tested would be classified as ‘poor’ under the current testing regime, posing a continuous serious risk to human health. At Ilkley, the official status of the bathing water places the onus on the regulator and water company to drastically improve the water quality for those swimming, paddling and playing in the water. But no other stretch of river is afforded the same rights.

We need to see an increase in designated river bathing waters because achieving designation is the first step to cleaning up the UK’s rivers.

Rebecca Malby from Ilkley Clean River Campaign Group says:

“Bathing Status clearly puts pressure on the Water Companies and Environment Agency to take action. The Environment Committee’s ambition for bathing sites was underwhelming. It is clear that we must have bathing sites across UK rivers to secure clean water for people and wildlife, and this must reflect the public’s real concerns that our rivers are being used as open sewers for profit”

What is the scale of the problem?

In 2020, sewage was released into the environment over 400,000 times equating to 3.1 million hours of discharge. Only 14% of UK rivers currently meet ‘good ecological status’ with none passing chemical tests, suggesting pollution from sewage discharge, chemicals and agriculture is having a huge impact on river quality. Pollution from sewage discharges, agricultural run-off and chemicals are putting the population at risk of getting sick from illnesses such as gastroenteritis, E.coli, ear nose and throat infections and eye infections.

Take action with SAS for clean rivers

We’re demanding that swimmers, paddle boarders and kayakers on rivers, lakes and streams have access to the same high standard of water as those who surf, sail and swim at the coast.

Our petition calls for the UK government to designate at least 200 inland bathing waters by 2030.