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Sports come together for clean water and form Clean Water Sports Alliance

Swim England is one of seven national governing bodies of water-based sports who have come together to form an alliance calling for clean open water across the UK.

Swim England has united with Angling Trust, British Rowing, British Triathlon, GB Outrigger, Paddle UK and Royal Yachting Association to create the Clean Water Sports Alliance to highlight the issue of water pollution and setting the vision to achieve healthy and nature rich blue spaces across the UK for everyone to enjoy water sports.

Collectively, the organisations represent almost 450,000 members, elite athletes, participants and many more water users across the country who rely on UK waters for sport and recreation. They are now joining forces to call for change to protect those they represent and the natural world in which they participate.

Pollution from various sources contaminates UK inland and coastal waters, damaging ecosystems and causing illness within people who take part in sport and physical activity in, on or around these waters. Water that is unfit to host water-based sport has also caused events, training sessions and activities to be cancelled or postponed because it has not met the standards for safe participation.

By uniting, the Clean Water Sports Alliance will work together to influence decision makers and drive positive change, working collaboratively to highlight issues and create solutions to help return the UK’s blue spaces to be where nature can thrive and sport and recreation can be enjoyed.

Swim England chief executive officer, Andy Salmon, said: “We’ve come together with other sporting governing bodies as all our sports and activities are impacted by poor water quality.

“We are united over the need to promote and protect the UK’s blue spaces and will continue to push for quicker action to improve the health of our waterways for the benefit of swimmers, all water users, wildlife and the environment alike.”

Priorities and asks

The Alliance has set out three priorities that will inform its actions:

  1. Further and faster action on pollution. Improving the health of UK waters by 2030.
  2. Enable people to make real-time informed choices about where and when to participate in water-based sports and activities.
  3. Recognition of all recreational water users across decision making and policy.

Aligned to its own priorities, the Alliance is making three asks of regulators and decision makers:

  1. Regulators to be adequately funded to monitor, investigate and hold polluters to account, harnessing nature-based solutions.
  2. Enable accurate access to real-time water quality information all year round including the compulsory monitoring of all sewage outlets; recognition of open source science relating to water quality and the creation of a centralised information hub for all water sports users.
  3. Advocate a change from ‘bathing waters’ to ‘recreation waters’ within government policy to recognise the wide range of activities that depend on clean water.

The UK has continued to score near the bottom of the European bathing water quality index, with the limited action currently being taken not making significant improvements.

Biodiversity is also being put under immense pressure, threatened by pollution as well as by invasive species which alter our ecosystems, introducing new pathogens and costing the UK £4 billion a year according to a 2023 paper.

Advocating for the restoration of the UK’s blue spaces for the enjoyment of all, the Alliance want to see these environments free of pollution and havens for wildlife, as well as places for everyone to be active in sport and recreation.