Last week, people across Europe celebrated their local river, lake or beach by jumping in them! This is all part of a project called ‘The Big Jump’ which does exactly what it says on the tin – encourages people to jump in their local river, lake or beach and reconnect people with their water environment.
When I first heard about this, I thought, in principle, it was a good idea. What better way to draw attention to watery places than encouraging people to get in them. I grew up swimming and think of myself as a bit of a water baby – but I have tended to stick to public swimming baths as opposed to branching out to the great outdoors. The nearest I have come to wild swimming is an early morning dip in the outside pool!
Time to take the plunge
As I’ve been working to try and improve the water environment for a year now I thought it was the perfect time to change that and get involved with the Big Jump . But I decided it was best to have a bit of a test run first. One of my friends is a keen wild swimmer and so the perfect partner for my first dip! That’s how I found myself in Shalford at 8am on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning ready to take a swim in the River Wey.
We were the only people out by the water’s edge and there was something very peaceful about it all – not a bad way to start the day. After dutifully hiding our backpacks in the reeds on the bank, I took my first very ginger steps into the water. I had all the gear – wetsuit, wet socks (not wet gloves, unfortunately, which I regretted about a second after I got in the water) but my friend, as a seasoned wild swimmer simply wore a swimsuit (a decision I think she regretted a second after she stepped into the water!!)
It took a good five minutes before I ‘took the plunge’ as it were and submerged myself – it was freezing. It reminded me of the time I took a dip in the North Sea on holiday in December (I forget why now) – and emerged blue! Slowly, my body got used to the temperature, my limbs started to function and before I knew it I was gracefully gliding through the water.
Then, for the next 30 minutes or so, we both swam side by side, up the river, with the sun shining on us. We saw lots of damselflies and dragonflies and shared our swim with a lone swan (which I gave a wide berth as it started to follow us up the river). I clambered out very cold and very wet – but it was a very enjoyable experience – one that I will definitely repeat. In fact, we’ve got the next date in the diary already.
If swimming isn’t your cup of tea, though, there are plenty of other ways you can get involved – organise a picnic on the river bank, or a gentle walk along the coast. It’s just about enjoying our watery wonders.
Healthy rivers for people and nature
Unfortunately, when I looked at the health of the river I was swimming in, it wasn’t good news. All of our water bodies, which includes rivers, bathing waters, lakes and other wetlands, are given a health status according to the standards set out in the Water Framework Directive – which is a piece of European legislation brought into force to ensure all water bodies reach good health. There are a number of reasons that parts of the Wey are failing to reach good health; pollution from waste water causing high phosphate levels and changes made to the river channels which cause issues for fish passage have been identified as some of the key problems. You can find out more about these issues in the Wey catchment summary, produced by the EA.
This is the case for many of our rivers – in fact, only 17% of rivers in England are in good health which, perhaps, is just why days like the Big Jump are so important. We need people to care about, celebrate and want to get involved with their water environment; this is crucial to ensuring they are restored and protected so that wildlife can thrive and people can enjoy them.
I am part of a project called WaterLIFE – which looks to do just that – and work towards healthy rivers for people and nature. In three catchments across England and Wales, we’re working with local communities to improve the quality of the rivers in their area. You can find about more about what we’re doing and keep up to date with our progress by visiting the WaterLIFE website.
Fancy a cool dip this summer? Make sure you check out more information about safe swimming while enjoying a dip in open water on the NHS website.
Do you enjoy your local river? Get in touch and tell us where you wild swim.