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Swim England demands urgent action to tackle ‘chemical cocktail’ polluting rivers

Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson has demanded urgent action is taken to tackle a ‘chemical cocktail’ contaminating the country’s rivers.

A damning report published today by the influential House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee has stated that ‘sewage, agricultural waste and plastic is polluting the waters of many of the country’s rivers’.

Jane gave evidence to the committee on the benefits of outdoor swimming and the need for cleaner waters so people could swim without fear of becoming sick as a result of pollution.

The report echoed a number of Swim England’s asks to Government, for instance around the designation of more stretches of river as ‘bathing waters’.

Such designation can be important both as a mechanism for encouraging more swimmers to enjoy the water and also to secure improvements to the water quality through more rigorous testing.

In the Water Quality of Rivers report, it states: “It is clear that rivers in England are in a mess.

“A ‘chemical cocktail’ of sewage, agricultural waste, and plastic is polluting the waters of many of the country’s rivers

“A step change in regulatory action, water company investment, and cross-catchment collaboration with farmers and drainage authorities is urgently required to restore rivers to good ecological health, protect biodiversity and adapt to a changing climate.”

Important report

The report also called for ‘the Environment Agency to work with water companies to ensure that easily accessible information on sewage discharges in waterways in as near to real time as possible is made available to the public, as now required under the Environment Act 2021’.

Jane said: “This is an important report and I am grateful to the committee for considering this issue in such detail.

“It is pleasing to see the MPs acknowledge many benefits of people being able to enjoy the water.

“Far too many are currently plagued too regularly by pollution incidents, damaging our environment, local wildlife and any humans wanting to enjoy the water to help their physical and mental health and wellbeing.

“The report also reinforces very clearly the urgent need for much more action from water companies, farmers, highways authorities and wider society to improve the water quality of our rivers and I hope the recommendations will be taken on board by the Government.”

Swim England remains committed to continuing to campaign for improved access to outdoor swimming opportunities and for better water quality in England’s waters.

The recognised national governing body has urged swimmers to sign its open water pledge calling for cleaner waters, better access and increased safety.

People can sign up to the pledge by clicking here.

To view the full Environmental Audit Committee’s Water Quality of Rivers report, click here.