On Tuesday 15th September, a new partnership will host a day of intensive monitoring which will give a comprehensive picture of the water quality in the River Avon at Warleigh Weir.
The partnership, involving The Rivers Trust with Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, Wessex Water, Sewage Free Swimmers and the Environment Agency, will see a team of volunteers along with collaborators monitoring the water quality of the River Avon at Warleigh Weir and its upstream tributaries.
The monitoring is part of the race to become the UK’s first river spot to achieve designated bathing water status.
Following a training day on the 14th September, volunteers from the Warleigh Weir Project Guardians group and staff from the partner organisations will take water samples from 22 sites between Warleigh Weir and Melksham, as well as five tributaries which meet the Avon between those two points.
The samples taken will be processed at a local laboratory and assessed by UCAS-accredited analysts.
River water quality can be affected by a number of factors, with water companies having an influence along with other activities such as societal behaviours, agriculture, septic tanks, sewer misuse and road drainage.
Christine Colvin, Director of Partnerships & Communications at The Rivers Trust, said: “The data gathered through citizen science will contribute to the strong evidence base required to introduce designated bathing water status in UK rivers.
“This is a goal which requires a lot of collaboration with sometimes unlikely partners, but will improve rivers for people and wildlife alike”.
Warleigh Weir has long been a well-known river spot popular with wild swimmers and paddlers.
The landowner, Johnny Palmer, makes the site accessible to the public in order for people to connect with nature, but concerns remain about the health risks of swimming in open rivers.
He said: “This first testing day is a good start, but it is just a start. We have a lot of work to do to clean up Britain’s waterways.
“I purchased the island at Warleigh Weir to encourage sustainable and responsible use of the countryside.
“Having raw sewage flowing into our rivers undermines this vision so we setup Sewage Free Swimmers to help other sites make their waterways safer to swim in.”
Much of the recent media focus has been on combined sewer overflows (CSOs). These are designed to remove excess water from the storm water and sewer system during extreme rainfall, meaning diluted sewage can be released into rivers.
Water companies also treat sewage at water recycling centres along the UK’s waterways.
The treated waste water that is released meets effluent standards, which are deemed to be safe for wildlife, but don’t necessarily meet bathing water standards.
As recreational river use has become increasingly popular in recent months, there is concern that members of the public could be swimming, fishing or paddling in water polluted with human waste.
This has underlined The Rivers Trust’s national Together for Rivers campaign, which aims to see designated bathing water status introduced in the UK’s popular recreational river locations.
The campaign is gaining momentum, with two active groups, Sewage Free Swimmers in the Avon in Bath and Ilkley Clean River Group in the Wharfe in Yorkshire, both hoping to become the first inland river site to achieve bathing water status.
Ruth Barden, Director of Catchment and Environmental at Wessex Water, said: “We’re really pleased to be taking part in this monitoring day, which we hope will provide a vital snapshot of current water quality.
“We support efforts to make Warleigh Weir a designated bathing water but this will only be possible with collaboration and a better understanding of what affects water quality in the catchment.”
Ian Mock, Chair of Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, added: “BART are delighted to see the subject of water quality on the Bristol Avon and its tributaries in the news.
“It is vital local communities are aware of the pressures on their rivers and streams and we hope the partnership working outlined will lead to more substantive improvements in water quality for the benefit of future generations of people and wildlife.”