I Hate Wild Swimming*

*Well I hate the term. No one talks about ‘tame swimming’, or ‘pool swimming’. Why label it? Sea and river swimming is normal swimming. However, although I love swimming outdoors, I’m not a massive fan of cold water. While some friends have braved lakes and oceans through every season, I’m a get-in-really-slowly-and-try-not-to-shriek kinda person. I’m more likely to be found using Wim Hof breathing techniques to help me survive in a super-hot bath.

The pandemic has led to a revival in recreational river use. A steady flow of stand-up paddleboards, swimmers and kayaks navigate the Avon near my house, and local swimming spot Warleigh Weir is like a festival on sunny weekends. Thankfully this is also leading to a wider interest in river ecology and campaigns to reduce pollution. Some great environmentally-conscious swimming gear has become available recently. The outdoor brands Finisterre and Patagonia stock a range of swimwear and wetsuits made from Yulex® Pure. This is an alternative to neoprene made from a blend natural rubber and recycled spandex and polyester. On a recent trip to Bristol I visited both of their stores on Park Street and picked up a vest in the sale at Patagonia, and some Nieuwland 2e Yulex® Pants from Finisterre.  Neon also have a range of Yulex® suits which are more affordable. I tried out my new swimwear in Cornwall and I’m happy to report that it held the cold at bay, allowing me to get fully submerged straight away and keeping my core warm so I could stay in the water longer. I still got that endorphin rush and the cold-water ‘glow’ feeling. It also helped me feel safe when I spotted a few Compass jellyfish lurking nearby. The one thing that it didn’t help with was keeping my fingers warm – but I’ve got some good info that a set of wetsuit gloves and boots are good for keeping the Reynauds away.

Another thing that I worry about is river pollution. The picture below shows sewage pollution in my local river this May. Every time it rains heavily, storm drains run into the sewers and cause them to overflow directly into the river. The Rivers Trust explains “Periods of heavy rainfall can easily overwhelm sewer systems. To prevent our homes from flooding as the sewers begin to back up, a mixture of sewage and rainwater can be discharged into rivers. This form of release is permitted by the government – however, there are no regulations as to what constitutes heavy rainfall, and some sewage outfalls have been recorded discharging without any rainfall at all.”

They have a great webpage to explain the issue and a sewage map showing the hours of sewage discharge at every location in the UK. Click through and zoom in to see what’s been happening in your area – you might be in for a shock!

Surfers Against Sewage #EndSewagePollution campaign is raising awareness and fighting for water companies to clean up their acts.  They already have over 28000 signatures on their clean rivers petition. Another great resource is the SAS Safer Seas & Rivers Service app and map to check for sewage overflow from storm drains before you swim. This currently mainly has beaches, but as more rivers are recognised as designated bathing areas they will be added to the map.

“Rivers are the arteries of our blue planet but are treated like open sewers. Only 14% meet good ecological status and 3 in 4 pose a serious risk to human health. Join us to demand 200 River Bathing Waters by 2030 to help #EndSewagePollution.”

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