Campaigners highlight dirty rivers

CAMPAIGNERS for swimming in the Avon at Conham River Park have been dealt a fresh blow.

Their attempt to have the area opposite Beese’s cafe granted Designated Bathing Water Status (DBWS), which were backed by a petition signed by more than 5,000 people, were turned down by the city council last year – but now the authority is going ahead with a trial scheme in late spring to allow swimming in Bristol harbour. 

Up to 80 people will be allowed to pay £7 each to take part in the one-hour weekend sessions in a cordoned-off section of the city docks where there will be  lifeguards, safety boats, and water quality sampling. 

Becca Blease, from the Conham Bathing group, reacted  to the proposed pilot on Twitter: “Now I see where our river pollution campaign (@Conham_bathing) went wrong when we asked the council to support an application for bathing water status in a different stretch of the same river (and were rejected). We clearly didn’t present it as a “business opportunity”. 

Under current by-laws, swimming in any part of the river from the city centre up to Hanham Lock is not permitted. Mayor Marvin Rees said the trial scheme would “allow us to assess whether or not we can provide a designated open water swimming area that is safe and financially sustainable”.

Conham River Park is a popular spot for wild swimming, despite sometimes suffering from pollution. The nearby Wessex Water sewer overflow at Beechwood Avenue, Hanham, regularly pumps untreated waste into the river, particularly when there is heavy rain. This can put users at risk of illnesses such as E.coli. 

Obtaining DBWS would mean that signs would have to be displayed informing swimmers, paddleboarders  and kayakers when the levels of pollution in the river were low enough to be safe for swimming.

Last month, the Conham Bathing group    launched an online monitoring tool that shows live and historical data about storm sewage overflows at four spots: Conham, Hanham and two sites in Keynsham.

Meanwhile,  another group of protesters has highlighted the problem of pollution in the River Avon and other waterways in Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

Extinction Rebellion put up satirical plaques around Bristol Harbour, the River Frome and Keynsham, including a theatrical unveiling in Conham River Park by a parody of North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees Mogg as part of a national day of action.

The plaques highlighted what protesters say is the government’s continued failure to tighten environmental regulations and stop profit-grabbing by water companies.

  Daniel Juniper, 27, spokesperson for Dirty Water Bristol said: “We’ve watched in horror as our rivers and seas have become open sewers since the government voted down a proposal to stop water companies pumping waste directly into our rivers and seas. These plaques shine a light on the government’s failure to protect our waterways, the natural world, and all of us.”