The British rivers being made officially clean enough for wild swimming

2020 saw a disturbing rise in sewage being dumped in British rivers, but new schemes are popping up to clean up our waterways — and some are even on their way to receiving Environment Agency clean-water standards. Annunciata Elwes reports.

The Teme, near Ludlow in Shropshire, and the Leam, near Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, are about to benefit from a £78 million plan that will make them among the first British rivers to meet official clean-water standards for swimming.

They follow the course set by the River Wharfe in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, which became the first to be declared an official bathing site in Britain last year after the Environment Agency pledged to test the waters weekly during the May 15 to September 30 swimming season.

A raft of water companies across the country have clean-up projects in the pipeline — and not before time. Last year, water companies dumped raw sewage into rivers 37% more often than in 2019.


Three wild swimming spots to try in Britain

Granchester Meadows, Grantchester, Cambridgeshire
A popular spot with day-trippers ever since Rupert Brooke wrote his famous poem, but not as busy as you might fear.

River Barle, Exmoor National Park, Somerset
Crystal clear and cool, the Barle’s secluded pools are heaven on a sunny day. Picnic at Sherdon Water, then plunge into its deep, shady waters. If you’re lucky, you might spot a kingfisher.

Glen Fyne, Argyll
The river that runs down Glen Fyne into Loch Fyne in Argyll has one particularly good, secret waterfall that could have been made for wild swimming a few miles up the glen. It can be accessed by a track that runs from near the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar at the head of Loch Fyne itself: it’s well worth the walk.

Emma Hughes