Landowners, councils and residents across the UK are increasingly putting in place measures to either discourage or prevent the general public from accessing waterways.
Swimming groups say the measures create more challenges for already complex roaming rights and heighten the divide between visitors and residents, who are often more affluent.
During the coronavirus closures, many locations have experienced an unprecedented influx of visitors, often resulting in littering, problems with limited parking and anti-social behaviour.
“Land owners and local authorities often don’t understand the people who swim,” said Imogen Radford, indoor access officer for the Outdoor Swimming Association. “They do not always understand that swimming is done at their own risk and that the responsibility of the landowner is limited when people willingly take these risks. Unfortunately, this unnecessary misunderstanding leads to attempts to close places to people who are swimming.”
Lake Caroline in St Aidan Nature Park, Leeds, is the latest site of a swimming ban. There has been a significant increase in the number of inexperienced swimmers at the site and signs have been placed next to the water by the RSPB, which operates the lake.
Grantchester Meadows in Cambridgeshire made headlines earlier in the summer after King’s College, Cambridge, which owned the land, forbidden swimming Restricted access to the Cam River is in the popular spot.
In Buckinghamshire, more than 50 routes that previously provided free parking and access to the Thames, Jubilee River, Lake Dorney and Burnham Beaches have imposed restrictions either banning visitors entirely or limiting parking to two hours.
Hurley Island [in the Thames] packed during a heat wave; “It’s quite understandable that residents want restrictions,” said local farmer and swimmer, Malcolm Burvet. “I sympathize with them, it’s been crazy, there are so many people visiting and there is no room for all their cars. In Hurley people seem to see the parking fine as the fee they are happy to pay for one day parking and they don’t really care if the residents can’t from entering or exiting the corridors, not to mention getting to any emergency services.”
“Land owners and local authorities cannot prevent people from taking risks in open water swimming, but they can choose to provide information to help people stay safe,” Radford said.
“They can also talk to the swimmers and discuss ways they can work together to spread safe swimming messages to people most at risk and mitigate any concerns and impacts on their territory. It is welcome that discussions with swimming groups are now beginning in many places.”