Overcrowding at swimming spots around the country has prompted the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) to take down its online crowd-sourced map – at wildswim.com – for the first time since its launch in 2006. Founder Kate Rew made the decision after receiving letters from parish councillors, residents and the Woodland Trust expressing concern that beauty spots were being overtaken by swimmers. Traffic to the user-generated wildswim.com reached 151,000 unique visitors in May, a record for a site that usually averages 42,000 a month.
“I have taken wildswim.com offline today, and we have removed all our top 10s and collections from public view. I want to slow down the transmission of information and I feel this is a positive thing I can do to help local communities,” said Rew.
She added: “Local swim spots and beauty spots are struggling in England right now – as one of the limited things people can do outdoors. Small villages and beauty spots are being overtaken.”
In Somerset, where Rew lives, the closure of several weir spots has pushed people to other locations, where at times visitors have outnumbered residents by 28 to one. Rew has even suggested the site may not be reinstated: “Armed as many of us are now with better common sense and better abilities around open water, we may need to go back to bush telegraphs and maps – there is a joy in finding your own swim spot, too.”
Current OSS advice includes swimming local, avoiding popular areas, swimming early or late in the day, and – contrary to its usual promotion of #sharetheswimlove – thinking twice before sharing on social media, to discourage other visitors.
The recent heatwave has encouraged people to flock to lakes, rivers and coastlines, making social distancing increasingly difficult.
The Lake District reported overcrowding over the weekend, as well as illegal camping, littering and dumping of disposable barbecues, which were also believed to have caused moorland fires in Lancashire on Saturday. Wild Haweswater, part of the Lake District national park, reacted angrily on Twitter to the littering.
THREAD We are appalled, shocked and saddened at the state in which #Haweswater has been left following this weekend. After reports of groups of campers, our limited staff visited the site to find felled trees, intentionally damaged dry-stone walls, BBQs and litter. #LakeDistrict pic.twitter.com/BIPC6eo6F5— WildHaweswater (@WildHaweswater) June 1, 2020
In a statement online, Cumbria Police said: “Significant problems were encountered over the weekend with parking in popular areas of the Lake District. In some cases emergency services vehicles were impeded or would have been unable to access some locations if required, due to abandoned vehicles.” Although the statement does not ask people to stay away, it urges visitors to respect the local community, and reminds them overnight stays are prohibited.
Despite protests from local swimmers, the bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath remain closed. City of London Corporation, which manages the ponds, has said that lifeguards would be at risk as they would be unable to rescue swimmers at a safe two-metre distance. Crowds surrounded the lakes and ponds at the Heath last weekend, with some swimmers using the non-bathing sites, prompting CLC to tweet warnings around the dangers of swimming there.
In Derbyshire police continue to tweet warnings about Buxton’s blue lagoon, after recently dying it black to deter swimmers earlier in the lockdown. It also towed several visitors’ cars that were blocking lanes last weekend. And overcrowded seafronts, including Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove in Dorset, have caused senior public health officials to call on the government to scrap further easing of restrictions. Durdle Door was closed at the weekend after three people were injured jumping from the cliffs into the sea.
The growing popularity of wild swimming saw 7.5 million people swim in open water and outdoor pools last year, according to Sport England. The easing of lockdown restrictions around exercise has given the activity a further boost, as wild swimming in lakes, rivers and coastal waters was permitted from 13 May. Swimming pools remain closed until at least July, and are likely to reopen at limited capacity, with new regulations that could include fixed time slots and limited changing rooms.