River and Water Quality for wild swimming

1) Identify the postcode of the area of the river where you would like to swim. (You can generate a postcode from an Ordnance Survey grid reference or long lat reference at, or from a street address at Royal Mail. You can find the long lat reference from a location on Google Maps by right clicking and then chosing ‘get directions from here’. The two 8 digits numbers after the ‘@’ are the long lat).
Environment Agency Water Quality Map2) Type your postcode it into the Environment Agency’s water quality map homepage (on the right handside under ‘Is you local river healthy?’) and clik GO.

Environment Agency Water Quality Map3) Navigate around the map (by using the arrow keys, dragging the map or zooming in and out) until you find a blue triangle on the river close to your area of your interest. They are usually located every 5 miles or so. Blue Triangles represent the Envrionment Agency’s river water quality monitoring sites.

4) Click on the Blue Triangle you are interested in. Sometimes the results will be for a tributary of the river, not the whole river. Often the test will be done at the junction of two rivers. Data is provided for:

* Chemistry (A-F)
* Biology (A-F)
* Phosphates (1-6)
* Nitrates (1-6)
* Year of sampling

A or 1 is the best, F or 6 the worst.

Environment Agency Water Quality MapNitrates and Phosphates are not poisonsous but they can make the river green (eutrophication).

You should not swim in a river with a Biological or Chemical rating of D, E or F.

You should exercise caution in a river of level C by covering cuts with a plaster and trying to keep your head above water.

A and B are good or very good water quality rivers – enjoy!

Water Quality and Ecology

Our rivers and lakes are cleaner today than at any time in living memory. Industrial and agricultural pollution almost succeeded in killing our rivers in the 1960s but the success of the 1974 Control of Pollution Act and subsequent European legislation has been remarkable.

The Environment Agency monitors all our rivers, streams and lakes regularly at over 7,000 locations. River quality targets are assigned based on biological, chemical and nutrient testing. Over 70 per cent of the rivers of England and Wales are very good (target 1 or A) or good (target 2 or B) on a five-tier water quality scale.

Most people’s first concern is usually sewage but with the new European Water Framework Directive in place all effluent now undergoes at least two treatments before entering a river and, increasingly, a third to make it completely sterile and pure. Any bacteria that do remain are quickly killed by the sun’s UV rays, or eaten up in the micro-foodchain of the river so, the further downstream of the treatment works you are, the cleaner the water will become. Treatment sites are indicated on OS maps as a little cluster of four or six circles by rivers near towns.

WWF UK Freshwater Program
Although the water quality of almost every swim in the Wild Swimming book is A or B there’s still much to be done to make every river and lake in the UK clean enough to swim in. The World Wide Fund for Nature is taking action to improve water laws and policies, demonstrate better management of rivers and wetlands, develop sustainable land management practices and build capacity in community organisations to protect their own rivers. Why not get involved in supporting their work?

See their new report on the state of the Thames – this is a clean river but climate change is creating new challanges from flooding and drought.

Getting Started Health

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