River quality for swimming

Miranda Higham
👍 1

Fri 23 Aug 2019, 18:32 (last edited on Mon 3 Feb, 13:24)


Hannen Beith
👍 1

Fri 23 Aug 2019, 12:51



When I was a lad growing up in Bexhill-on-Sea, my friends and I would occasionally go fishing in the local streams.  Well, it was a pretty amateur excursion, with home made rods and hooks made out of old bits of wire.  We never caught anything!

I remember how clear the streams were - you could see right down to the river bed.

Why anyone would even think about swimming in rivers or streams which are not crystal clear beats me.  After all, would you drink tap water that wasn't clear?  So why immerse yourself in what is obviously filth?

andrew shaw
👍 4

Fri 23 Aug 2019, 09:43

Yes Malcolm, the report suggests the reason for the high concentration of solids in suspension recorded (that opaqueness and brown colour you can see rather the crystal clear stream we used to have) is caused by elevated levels of phosphate in the river from sewage effluent. Without wishing to inject hyperbole into what is a serious problem, if the recent news reports are correct and only 3% of rivers in the Thames catchment have satisfactory water quality, with the hard data recorded up until 2013 mentioned in my earlier post, you might conclude the River Evenlode is the most phosphate affected (sewage polluted) river in the Thames catchment. At least that is one way of looking at it. Never mind Brexit whichever side of the divide you are on in that argument, we should all be up at the barricades over this ongoing issue, it is pretty outrageous. Thames Water was fined £2m in 2015 for dumping raw sewage into our river upstream of Charlbury, they were caught on that occasion. How many other unrecorded episodes have there been to get the river into the state it is now I wonder.

Malcolm Blackmore

Thu 22 Aug 2019, 18:38

Oh, dear. Andrea, did the report indicate anything about the origin of the "highest concentration of solid matter in suspension" in the local river? 

Hannen Beith

Thu 22 Aug 2019, 17:21


I think Hans beat you to it by about 4 hours, but thanks for the contribution!

Simon Walker

Thu 22 Aug 2019, 12:41

A report on the BBC today gives a wider perspective on the issue.  It does not make for particularly encouraging reading.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-49131405 ; "Rivers used as 'open sewers', says WWF charity"

andrew shaw
👍 1

Thu 22 Aug 2019, 11:04

Well done for flagging that excellent report up Hans. Also available online is a scientific paper published only last September and anyone with a scientific bent might want to read it "Weekly water quality monitoring data for the River Thames (UK) and its major tributaries (2009–2013):the Thames Initiative research platform". This paper suggests that the highest concentration of solid matter in suspension for any Thames tributary and the Thames itself is found in the River Evenlode. This presents hard data not just opinion.

Nicola Leyland
👍 1

Thu 22 Aug 2019, 10:10

OK - I feel pretty sure that raising the issue about river swimming I Charlbury was a legitimate concern. The truth represents a great shame for people all over the country.

Hans Eriksson
👍 1

Thu 22 Aug 2019, 08:42

Bad news about rivers I'm afraid.


andrew shaw
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Mon 12 Aug 2019, 12:55

The water quality of the Evenlode is a disgrace. Local sewage treatment plants, old infrastructure and abstraction are a likely cause. The Windrush and Cherwell are no different. For anyone interested I think the best campaign information can be found at: www.windrushwasp.org. This is not a political point but since water privatization in 1989 the West Oxfordshire rivers have declined immeasurably and I suspect there is a direct correlation - just ask any fisherman - I would not swim in the Evenlode and have urged my grandchildren to show caution just paddling with minnow nets.

Hannen Beith

Mon 5 Aug 2019, 14:18

Liz, I agree.

However, as I've said before I am a non-swimmer, but if others want to swim there that's great.

I think the water should be tested with one of those kits, but I suspect it's fine.

I doubt that whoever now controls/owns those ponds would let the residents of Charlbury swim there for free.

Perhaps the Town Council could take this good idea forward?


Liz Puttick
👍 3

Mon 5 Aug 2019, 12:31

Wouldn't it be nice if the Cornbury lakes could go on being used as a local resource for wild swimming after the festival. A bit murky but presumably pollution free. 

Hannen Beith
👍 1

Sat 3 Aug 2019, 10:21

The Times report makes grim reading:


Leah Fowler
👍 1

Sat 3 Aug 2019, 09:03

Hheadline in The Times "No rivers in England are safe to swim in "

Leah Fowler
👍 2

Fri 2 Aug 2019, 07:27

People have always swum in the Evenlode but in the 1970's a teen age boy was extremely ill after contracting Weils disease 

Maggie Watts
👍 1

Thu 1 Aug 2019, 20:57


I was merely agreeing with Russel’s Post and lamenting the many inaccuracies in this thread.

I am sorry that you are unwell at present and really hope that you feel better soon.


Russell Robson
👍 6

Thu 1 Aug 2019, 18:10

It's highly likely that there will be a number of people that become ill whilst swimming in rivers, canals, lakes and the sea. These are not sterile environments like highly monitored swimming pools.

Anyone with any form of open wound, minor illness or suppressed immune system would be best advised to not swim in open water. The same guidance as for swimming pools. 

All the way up the Evenlode catchment yours, and your neighbours waste is discharged into the river, together with that of cows, sheep, frogs, fish and waterfowl.

With that information 

As they say

The choice is yours

Nicola Leyland
👍 2

Thu 1 Aug 2019, 16:45

I'm not sure I understand what you are referring to Maggie? the responses have been debating the issue of whether the river is suitable for swimming, for me they have been very helpful in debating the issue. 

Of course everyone needs to exert caution regarding water safety in general, and I appreciate that advice, but also we do need to consider the quality of the water. I genuinely have an illness which *could* be attributed to swimming in the Evenlode in charlbury. The lingering symptoms which I'm concerned about are sore eyes and sore skin on my face which seems unlike previous colds I have suffered.

Maggie Watts
👍 2

Wed 31 Jul 2019, 22:36

Thanks Russell for speaking some sense on this thread.

As someone who has been involved with rivers for decades, it has been truly painful reading some of the postings here.

Peter Kenrick
👍 1

Wed 31 Jul 2019, 16:59

Russell:  Many thanks for that sound advice.  While not wishing to spoil anyone's enjoyment, the town council does not encourage wild swimming in the Evenlode or Mill Cut accessed from the Mill Field so anyone doing this does so at their own risk.

stephen cavell
👍 1

Wed 31 Jul 2019, 16:45

My recommendation is not to swim in Lake Victoria - I did twice and both times came out with Bilharzia. Don't think one can catch it in the Evenlode!

Russell Robson
👍 8

Wed 31 Jul 2019, 13:08

There are no bathing water regulations for inland rivers in the UK.

Nitrates cannot be absorbed through the skin and will have limited impact on bathers even in a heavily farmed catchment like the Evenlode.

Also swim upstream of the village water treatment works and don't go in the river after heavy rain as it is likely to have a heavy load of animal and human matter.

Top tips

Don't jump or dive in as the depth may vary and there can be unseen hazards. Many bridges are now popular fly tipping sites and all sorts of debris can be found under the water.

Rivers contain all sorts of underwater nasties. Roots, fishing line, pipes, cans and bottles near popular locations. Its always best to wear something on your feet when going in river and lakes

Don't go in near weirs, locks, pipes and sluices. These and some other water features are often linked with strong currents. Keep away from the Mill Field Sluice

Inland waters can be very cold no matter how warm the weather. Those going into cold water can get cramp and experience breathing difficulties very quickly.

Most importantly, parents and guardians can help keep children in their care safe by:

· Teaching them to swim

· Warning them not to go into water alone, or unsupervised

· Ensuring they know where the children are and what they are doing

· Supervising them closely when near any open water

· Remember drowning can occur very quickly even in shallow water and the key to keeping safe is to take all necessary precautions to avoid getting into difficulty in the first place.


Hannen Beith

Tue 30 Jul 2019, 09:54 (last edited on Tue 30 Jul 2019, 09:55)

This is an interesting site:  https://freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/projects/thameswaterforwildlife/

I wonder if they have looked at the Evenlode?  Lots of volunteers involved apparently.

Part of the report states:

"Even in the heavily urbanised and intensively farmed Thames region, clean water can still be found in the landscape. It appears that most is concentrated in the ponds and lakes, with almost all rivers and most streams suffering serious nutrient pollution. The likely reason for this difference is that river networks drain water from such huge areas of land."

It also refers to water testing kits that you can buy yourself.

Hannen Beith

Tue 30 Jul 2019, 09:42

The EA report is here:


Part of it reads: "Investigations by the Environment Agency revealed Thames Water was aware the pumping station failed several times in the 12 months up to and including the incident in August 2015."

I wonder if there are any kits one can buy to check what "nasties" (including nitrates etc.) are in the water?

Hannen Beith

Tue 30 Jul 2019, 08:26 (last edited on Tue 30 Jul 2019, 08:27)

The report of the sewage leak is from the EA website. 2015, so a few years ago. 

If you go on the EA website and search for “Evenlode” you’ll find it. 

Weil’s disease quote from NHS website. 

Huw Mallins-Brown
👍 1

Mon 29 Jul 2019, 22:24 (last edited on Mon 29 Jul 2019, 23:19)

Personally, I would be careful about swimming in the Evenlode. The sewage treatment works at the head of the streams leading into the river (Kingham) is the first of a number of similar plants that feed (discharge) into the river.  Whilst the discharge is no doubt intended to be clean, the river has quite a low flow to be able to quickly dilute any unplanned excursions (discharges).

I suspect that it also has a high level of nitrates from run off, judging by the level of weed et at downstream from Catsam bridge

Rod Evans

Mon 29 Jul 2019, 22:00

Yes, date & source of quote would be helpful.  That is far from being an isolated incident however, as can be seen at the link I posted earlier.  Am straining to hold back a rant - but locally suggest Nanny's advice is don't play or swim just downstream from a sewage treatment plant, including quite possibly our own.

Jody O'Reilly

Mon 29 Jul 2019, 21:47

Was that excerpt recent Hannen? My kids were happily in the river for hours last week with no ill effects thus far but I too have thought it’s been very murky this year and am more than a little concerned by the thought of sewage leaks. 

Hannen Beith
👍 1

Mon 29 Jul 2019, 13:31 (last edited on Mon 29 Jul 2019, 13:47)

"Can Weil's disease kill you?

Symptoms can range from none at all to a mild flu-like illness, or a more severe illness called Weil's disease, with jaundice and kidney failure. In most cases, with antibiotic treatment, the person will make a complete recovery. But for a few, it can be fatal even with the best hospital care."

"Thames Water has been fined £2million after raw sewage polluted two Oxfordshire streams, killing almost 150 fish. The sewage also flooded a nearby garden.

Numerous failures in the management of a sewage pumping station operated by the company led to sewage created by two villages emptying into two brooks leading to the River Evenlode, a tributary of the River Thames, for up to 24 hours."

Call me squeamish if you want but I prefer not to swim in sewage and rats' urine and Lord knows what else.  Academic, as I am a non-swimmer!  

Nicola Leyland
👍 1

Sun 28 Jul 2019, 18:26

I've swum a few times up at the weir in Charlbury in the past few weeks, I didn't think it smelt particularly wonderful (though more a fishy smell than a sewer smell). We have both had mild flu like symptoms this week which does concern me a little as I'm sure that Weils disease begins like that. However the illnesses do seem to be temporary and are more likely to be unconnected to the swimming.
I too think it's a beautiful luxury to have wild swimming on the doorstep, also good to be informed of any health risks.

Katie Russell
👍 2

Sun 28 Jul 2019, 13:43

Our kids have always swum in both the Windrush and Evenlode, but both rivers have been particularly murky this year. In Fawler, we are currently very concerned about sewage fungus and are waiting for the EA to get back to us. At the moment, we are not letting the kids go in the river until we get the all clear.

Miles Walkden
👍 1

Fri 26 Jul 2019, 20:05

We have spent the week swimming in various rivers. All well and happy. 

Vickie J

Fri 26 Jul 2019, 18:49

My children have been swimming in the river this week and they had great fun! No illnesses to report either.

Catherine Ball

Fri 26 Jul 2019, 18:11

My boys swim in the Evenlode regularly, as do plenty of their friends,  and this week, one of them has been there all day for the last 3 days. He has not developed any ill effects that I can see or that he has reported, and personally I’d much rather he was splashing around in the river hanging out with friends than indoors on a screen. Good summer fun I think. 

Kathryn Fairhurst
👍 1

Fri 26 Jul 2019, 16:36

I’ve been in lots, though not in the last couple of years. Go upstream from near the weir at the end the Mill Field. It’s lovely and I’ve never had any ill effects. I’ve generally worn a wet suit, and it can be a bit weedy in full summer. I could probably put you in touch with people who swim in the river if you’d rather go with someone.

Rod Evans
👍 3

Fri 26 Jul 2019, 10:00

A subject close to my heart if more as a fisherperson than a swimmer...  According to that FT article, none of our rivers are now safe to swim in.  A lot of the problem goes back to a decision in 2010 to allow the water companies to monitor their own discharges - like asking the poacher to let the game keeper know how many pheasants he's nicked!  Will leave you to work out who politically was responsible for that but if it makes you feel cross, read more here: 


Birgit den Outer
👍 2

Fri 26 Jul 2019, 09:42

I would not risk it. And Windrush is not the only river with a problem. "Only 14 per cent of rivers in England met the minimum “good status” standards according to an Environment Agency report in 2018 as defined by the EU Water Framework directive — down from almost 25 per cent in 2009".

Reported on in FT: https://www.ft.com/content/5c1a33e4-8939-11e9-97ea-05ac2431f453

Mind you, after we leave the EU we can have our own standards of cleanliness and what is considered "dirty" today will be clean tomorrow. Take back control of our rivers, yay.

Helen Chapman
👍 1

Fri 26 Jul 2019, 07:53

But then again an outdoor swim in our beautiful countryside is one of the best experiences to be had. I don’t know if the water is very clean but have a good shower afterwards and enjoy it! (Although maybe avoid the Windrush at the moment - campaigners are saying that it may have raw sewage in it)

Hannen Beith

Thu 25 Jul 2019, 19:02


No info, but thoughts.

We no longer know what pesticides are leached into our rivers.  Also, even strong swimmers can drown if they get tangled up in weeds or what not.  And how does one know what lies on a river bed these days?  Tins, broken glass, and other nasties.

I've also read that Weil's disease is none too pleasant either.

Just thoughts.


Nicola Leyland
👍 1

Thu 25 Jul 2019, 18:23

What are peoples thoughts about the river quality in charlbury for swimming? does anyone have relevant info or thoughts?   thanks - Nicola

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