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Wild Swimming in Bristol Harbour Returns

After recent pilot efforts in the Bristol harbour this spring and summer, Bristol Council has announced that wild swimming is now reopened and legal.

Bristol Harbour - Maud Humphries

By Maud Humphries, News Digital Editor

After a pilot in Spring 2023, open-water swimming is to begin again in Bristol Harbour.

It has been illegal to swim in the harbour due to it being a working harbour and other dangers.

The Bristol Council website states the hazards of swimming in the open water to include 'cold water shock, getting hit by a boat, hazardous or discarded objects under the water, occasional very strong currents due to the tides, occasional poor water quality".

Poor water quality is an issue being seen throughout the country as a reason for certain waters to be banned for swimming. The Avon, the river that runs through Bristol, has seen problems with raw sewage being dumped into it. Again, this is a worrying trend seen throughout England's rivers.

However, the council have been frequently testing the river for bacteria and its safety levels have come out as 'excellent'.

Campaign group Swim Bristol Harbour, which has been central in gaining the opening, has been challenging the council's decision for a long time as well as trying to change the narrative on the poor quality of the water, suggesting it is not as bad as one may think. Part of their campaign included holding illegal swims in the river to protest against the Council's position.

Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, was keen to ensure the safety of the area before the river could be used by swimmers.

Bristol Harbour - Maud Humphries

For Swim Bristol Harbour, and other open water swimming groups in the area such as the University of Bristol Wild Swimming Society, the opening is a success and a great step in the right direction.

When asked what the opening of the harbour meant to them, the University of Bristol Wild Swimming Society commented:

'Wild swimming spots in the countryside are lovely for wild swimming and city escapism, it is really exciting to have a more urban spot that is closer to Bristol, so more accessible!'

'It is exciting to have it be part of the city centre so more people are aware of it and can take part.'

The University society also hopes that swimming in the harbour will incentivise local authorities to look after the water quality and safety more.

Wild Swimming has increased hugely since lockdown, being promoted for its mental health benefits.

On their website, Swim Bristol Harbour argues that the harbour being open for swimming is vital '[...] for the people of Bristol to use for physical health, mental health and to increase social capital.'

Despite the success of the pilots, swimming in Bristol Harbour is only to be run on Weekends from 8am-10am from Baltic Wharf, at the price of £7.50. The pilot sessions were priced at £7, which was criticised, many believing it should be free, just as swimming in any other river would be.

However the council insist on the need for payment, Marvin Rees's blog says the money will be used for 'covering the costs of improving the registration system with wristbands on top of the provision of water safety measures.'

This is a step in the right direction for campaigners, and the opportunity to swim in the Bristol Harbour will be taken by many students and locals alike.

Will you be going wild swimming this autumn?