Environment

How to respect the environment when wild swimming

Wild swimming has seen an explosion of interest in recent years. But how can you make sure you're keeping the environment safe?

Four people swim in brown, murky river water

Wild swimming has seen a spike in popularity in recent years. Image: Dushan Hanuska/Flickr

With temperatures exceeding 30 degrees in recent heatwaves, the popularity of wild – or outdoor – swimming that acted as an antidote to pandemic loneliness, has moved up a gear, as people head to Britain’s lakes and rivers to cool down and reap the many physical and mental rewards of swimming in the great outdoors.

And it’s not just in Britain. Around the world open swimming has become hugely popular in recent years, partly due to its positive impact on wellbeing. In the ‘constantly connected’ online age, wild swimming provides the chance to digitally detox, reconnect with nature, and experience a unique sense of freedom.

Such is the growing popularity and prestige of wild swimming that the FINA World Aquatics Championships 2022 in Budapest is hosting Open Water Swimming events from 26 – 30 June.

If you are planning on enjoying some wild swimming this summer, it’s worth remembering that sharing water with the UK’s impressive wildlife should be done so in an environmentally conscious and sustainable way, with respect for the climate and environment.

True, water companies have been doing a very good job of trashing the country’s rivers and waterways in recent years (sop you should always check that your desired location is actually safe), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look out for the ducks, fish and other water life too.

How to respect the environment when outdoor swimming?

Use an eco-friendly sunscreen

Ingredients found in many sunscreen products, such as octinoxate and oxybenzone, can be toxic to marine species. Being chemical-free, made from organic ingredients, while offering protection from UVA and UVB rays, environmentally friendly sunscreen is the perfect choice when swimming in environmentally sensitive ecosystems.

Avoid leaving anything behind

Litter has a seriously detrimental effect on wildlife and plants. By 2050, experts estimate that there will be more rubbish in our waters than fish.

It might sound obvious but avoid leaving anything behind at the water’s edge, such as leftover food, drink, or plastic bags. If you see any litter, pick it up and discard it in an appropriate place, to help keep wildlife protected from the dangers of litter.

Avoid altering the natural environment

Human presence can potentially damage delicate natural areas, so wild swimmers should be careful to avoid altering natural habitats. Swimmers should only use appropriate access points to enter the water and avoid climbing on natural features, such as dry-stone walls and hedges.

Taking a pebble or shell as a keepsake of your wild swimming adventures might sound harmless, but it could have an impact on coastal erosion, natural flood defences and wildlife habitats. Removing stones from public beaches is, in fact, illegal under the Coastal Protection Act 1949.

Watch out for reeds

Avoid swimming into dense weeds and reeds, which can not only be dangerous for swimmers but it can also potentially be damaging to fish, such as pike, which like to hide in submerged freshwater vegetation.

Keep your distance from nesting sites

Witnessing the diverse and wonderful birdlife that live near Britain’s freshwater sites is another captivating charm of wild swimming.

Though it’s important to be mindful of the presence of birds, particularly during nesting season. Riverbanks, fallen wood, trees and sand dunes are common places for birds to nest. Noise or movement can cause adult birdlife to abandon nests, something wild swimmers should be aware of. 

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