person swimming

Wild swimming

Wild swimming surged in popularity during lockdown and looks set to continue to grow. We want our rivers to be fit to swim in, but that isn’t always the case. Swim safe and stay informed!

It’s no surprise that wild, open water or river swimming has surged in popularity during recent years. After all, it has been linked to a number of health benefits—both physical and mental.

  • Cold water can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol while boosting levels of dopamine and serotonin, two hormones linked to a positive mental state
  • Wild swimming allows you to connect with nature and clear your mind
  • Physical exercise in any form has fantastic health benefits – both physical and mental
  • Getting out of the house can help you to make new friends, building up a vitally important support network
Michelle Walker wild swimming

Finding a swim spot

Finding your first swimming spot can feel daunting; there are so many rivers out there, but how do you know which ones are best?

  • If you'd like to learn more about wild swimming, you can find a detailed guide here, and both Outdoor Swimmer and NOWCA have lots of information available on their websites. NOWCA also have an app that helps swimmers to identify swim sites in their area.
  • Check if there are likely to be sewage spills upstream of where you want to swim. The Rivers Trust sewage map shows how many spills happened at monitored locations in England and Wales last year and gives you the best indication of whether you’re in an area exposed to raw sewage overspills.
  • Are you trespassing? Always take care to make sure you aren't trespassing on private land.
  • Ask around the area – it’s possible that local people will know of good swimming spots. You could try putting a post up on your town’s Facebook page (if it has one)!
  • Make the most of Facebook groups. The Outdoor Swimming Society has its own Facebook group  where you could ask for suggestions, there’s Slow Swimming, Swim England and many cities have their own wild swimming groups, too!

The Rivers Trust is supporting local groups who are applying to the government for Inland Bathing Water status. There is currently only have one declared Inland Bathing water in the UK on the River Wharfe in Yorkshire. The declaration requires water companies to prevent sewage pollution upstream of the swimming site, and makes the water quality safer for recreational use. Along with our member trust Thames 21, we are supporting a new application in Oxford.

What next?

Listen to our podcast

We often talk about swimming in the Rivers Trust podcast, Rambling About Rivers. Here are two episodes you might enjoy:

  • Episode 14: We talk to Olympic silver medallist Keri-anne Payne and founder of Outdoor Swimmer Magazine Simon Griffiths about all things outdoor swimming! With Henley Swim festival fast approaching, this is the perfect preparation for all of our amazing fundraisers to get important tips and tricks from twoof the most experienced outdoor swimmers in the UK.
  • Episode 3: We chat to Ella Foote, a Contributing Editor at Outdoor Swimmer Magazine and keen wild swimmer. During December 2019, Ella completed her "Dip a Day" challenge in which she swam in a different river every day, asking the question: "are our rivers as bad as headlines suggest?".

Spotted something that doesn't look right?

While you’re out, if you spot a pollution incident, any illegal activity or anything else, please report it immediately to the environment authorities. These hotlines are open 24 hours a day:

England, Scotland and Northern Ireland: 0800 80 70 60

Wales: Natural Resources Wales hotline: 0300 065 3000

Ireland: EPA Headquarters: 053 916 0600 / Lo Call Number: 1890 33 55 99*

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