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Cambridge City Council

Council supports application for bathing water designation on River Cam

6 October 2023

On Thursday 5 October, Cambridge City Council’s Environment and Community Scrutiny Committee agreed to support the Cam Valley Forum’s application for bathing water designation along a stretch of the River Cam.

The proposed 270m stretch is located on Sheep’s Green, which is within the council’s boundaries.

The Cam Valley Forum application will be submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which will assess it and carry out a public consultation before making the final decision over whether to approve the bathing water designation.

The application will note the council’s support on the matter. The application has also received support from South Cambridgeshire District Council, the Cam Conservators and Scudamore’s.

The report presented to committee follows a motion presented at the Council meeting held on 20 July 2023. The motion noted that sewage discharge events have been causing high pollution levels to the city’s rivers and chalk streams, causing damage to the watercourses with health implications for those that bathe in them.

A bathing water designation would result in the Environmental Agency regularly testing the quality of the water. This would help to make users aware of the water quality and track if it is improving or not. It would also mean that water companies would have to reduce sewage pollution until a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ water quality level is achieved.

If approved, the council will have to manage the risks associated with river swimming – whilst river swimming offers benefits to both physical and mental health, there are also health and safety risks such as hypothermia from the cold water or the risk of drowning. However, a user survey carried out by Cam Valley Forum, showed that Sheep’s Green is already being heavily used for swimming, with an average of 300 people during its busiest two days of the year in 2023.

Like other local authorities that have designated bathing waters, the council can help to manage risks by displaying the Wild Swimming Code to advise swimmers on what they can do to stay safe whilst swimming and make informed decisions on whether to swim at all.

Cllr Sam Carling, Executive Councillor for Open Spaces and City Services said: “It’s important that we do what we can to protect and preserve our rivers and chalk streams, while keeping users of the river safe.

“By supporting the Cam Valley Forum application for a stretch of designated bathing water, we are taking an important step towards reducing the water pollution in our river and thereby improving the quality. As well as reducing the risks to people that choose to swim in the river, this will preserve and support the wildlife and plants that depend on our chalk streams.

“Protecting and enhancing our chalk streams is part of our Biodiversity Strategy, which is why we have carried out improvements to Cherry Hinton Brook and Coldham’s Brook, as well as why we are working with partners to understand the main problems affecting water streams and the key opportunities to improve them.”