Call for change of heart over river swimming

July 28 2022

Enjoying the water at Conham River Park

Enjoying the water at Conham River Park

EFFORTS to inform wild swimmers about sewage dumps into the river at Conham River Park have been blocked – because swimming is banned there.

Bristol City Council’s support would be needed for campaigners to apply for the area opposite Beese’s cafe to be granted Designated Bathing Water Status (DBWS.)

This would mean that signs could be put up to update swimmers, paddle boarders and kayakers about the water quality. 

The nearby sewer overflow at Beechwood Avenue, Hanham, regularly pumps untreated waste into the river, particularly when there is heavy rain. This can put anyone using the river park at risk of illnesses such as E.coli.

Conham River Bathing Water group formed last year to try to submit an application for DBWS but hit a snag when members realised they needed permission from landowner Bristol City Council.

A council spokesperson said: “The stretch of river all the way up to Hanham Lock, including Conham River Park, is covered by our 2009 byelaws, under which swimming is prohibited and there is a right to navigation.

“Entering the tidal River Avon presents a number of risks including cold water shock, boat strike, hazardous objects under the water, strong currents, and illness and infection.

“We are therefore unable to support the application for bathing water status at this time, which would encourage prohibited activity and carry significant risk from boats on the waterways.”

Conham River Bathing Water group has now started a petition to the council, asking them to amend the byelaw to allow swimming so they can apply for DBWS. 

Group spokesperson Becca Blease, 32, said they had proved the popularity of the area by counting the number of people swimming, which had sometimes exceeded 50 people at once. They have also had 900 responses to a public questionnaire.

She said: “This underscores what a precious resource this river spot is for many Bristolians and how deserving it is of our commitments to enhance and protect its water quality.

“Those of us who swim there regularly perhaps don’t need to be told how excellent it can be, but the crucial element is not knowing when the quality drops so drastically.”

Water sampling on 18 occasions this year and last shows that sometimes the levels of E.coli in the water are more than nine times the safe limit for swimming. On other occasions, they are well within the limits.

Ms Blease said: “I sincerely hope the council recognises how much public support there is both to improve the water quality of the river and to recognise it as an integral part of many Bristolians’ physical and mental health.So many of us turned to our local, outdoor spots during the pandemic and relied upon access to green and blue spaces for our well-being. I think it would be short-sighted and a real shame simply to continue the prohibitive approach.”

The petition, which runs until 12 August, has attracted more than 1,400 signatures.

Bristol City Council’s spokesperson said: “If a petition contains 3,500 signatories or more from people who live, work or study in Bristol it can then trigger the right to be debated by the full council.”

The petition is at: bit.ly/ConhamRP