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Sudbury's River Stour Granted Bathing Water Status

In a joint effort between the River Stour Trust and Sudbury Town Council, a significant milestone has been reached. The River Stour at Sudbury has been granted Bathing Water Status.


The initiative, which began in 2022 following alarming revelations of contamination in water samples, was propelled by a shared vision to safeguard the river's pristine beauty and ecological integrity. Spearheaded by the River Stour Trust and supported by Sudbury Town Council, the campaign aimed to secure Designated Bathing Water status for the stretch of the River Stour between the Granary Cut in Sudbury and Great Cornard Lock.

But what does this mean? Designated Bathing Water status brings with it a host of protective measures. The Environment Agency will now be tasked with monitoring and safeguarding this segment of the river, ensuring that pollution levels are closely regulated, especially during the bathing season (15th May – 30 Sept). This not only enhances the safety of leisure activities but also highlights a commitment to preserving the natural heritage of the area.


Importantly, the intention behind seeking Designated Bathing Area (DBA) status was not merely to encourage more swimmers to take to the river's waters. Rather, the focus was on improving water quality for the benefit of all river users, be they anglers, boaters, or wildlife enthusiasts. With the Environment Agency mandated to conduct weekly checks on water quality, individuals will now have access to timely information, enabling them to make informed decisions about river activities.


Environment Agency Chair Alan Lovell said:

“The importance of England’s bathing waters for residents and visitors alike cannot be understated, which is why the Environment Agency provides rigorous testing to ensure that bathers can make informed decisions before swimming in one of our 451 sites.”


The journey towards achieving DBA status was not without its challenges. Concerns over pollution, stemming from sewage overflow and agricultural runoff, underscored the urgent need for action. Reports from governmental bodies and environmental organisations highlighted a worrying trend of declining water quality, prompting a call to arms from concerned citizens and advocacy groups.


In response, the River Stour Trust, in collaboration with Sudbury Town Council, embarked on a comprehensive approach. Surveys of river use were conducted, consultations with stakeholders were held, and a robust application was presented to DEFRA, culminating in the successful attainment of DBA status.


It's worth noting the significance of this achievement. Of the countless water bodies across England, only a select few hold the coveted designation of Bathing Water status. Sudbury's River Stour now joins this esteemed list, alongside the River Wharfe near Ilkley, West Yorkshire, and a stretch of the River Thames at Port Meadow, Oxford.


Dozens of new bathing water sites in England have been designated ahead of the 2024 bathing season in the government’s largest ever rollout.

Church Cliff beach, Lyme Regis, Dorset

Coastguards beach, River Erme, Devon

Coniston Boating Centre, Coniston Water, Cumbria

Coniston Brown Howe, Coniston Water, Cumbria

Derwent Water at Crow Park, Keswick, Cumbria

Goring beach, Worthing, West Sussex

Littlehaven beach, Tyne and Wear

Manningtree beach, Essex

Monk Coniston, Coniston Water, Cumbria

River Avon at Fordingbridge, Hampshire

River Cam at Sheep’s Green, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

River Dart estuary at Dittisham, Devon

River Dart estuary at Steamer Quay, Totnes, Devon

River Dart estuary at Stoke Gabriel, Devon

River Dart estuary at Warfleet, Dartmouth, Devon

River Frome at Farleigh Hungerford, Somerset

River Nidd at the Lido leisure park in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

River Ribble at Edisford Bridge, Lancashire

River Severn at Ironbridge, Shropshire

River Severn at Shrewsbury, Shropshire

River Stour at Sudbury, Suffolk

River Teme at Ludlow, Shropshire

River Tone in French Weir Park, Taunton, Somerset

River Wharfe at Wetherby Riverside, High St, Wetherby, West Yorkshire

Rottingdean beach, Rottingdean, East Sussex

Wallingford beach, River Thames, Berkshire

Worthing Beach House, Worthing, West Sussex


It is a huge achievement for all involved, to be able to get bathing status on a stretch of river over an estuary or beach, as it is few and far between. We are one of few rivers in England that has been granted bathing status.


As we celebrate this milestone, it's essential to recognise that our work is far from over. Maintaining the integrity of our waterways requires ongoing vigilance and collective effort. By continuing to work hand in hand with local authorities, environmental organisations, and community members, we can ensure that Sudbury's River Stour remains a cherished resource for generations to come.


In the words of John Kemp, of the River Stour Trust: “This is terrific news. Absolutely fantastic. A lot of people worked hard to achieve this designation and I could not be more pleased for them. It’s not only good news for swimmers, but for everyone who uses the river, as rowers, canoeists, kayakers, paddle boarders, anglers and passengers in River Stour Trust launches. It’s great news for the environment as well, benefiting everything that lives and grows in the river.

What now happens is that the Environment Agency will be required to test the water in the river Stour, adjacent to Friars Meadow, every week during the bathing season – from the Middle of May to the end of September. The results will be posted so that we can see for ourselves whether or not the water is safe to swim in. If any pollution is detected, they will have to seek its source and put an end to it.

In its recently published five-year plan, Anglian Water had already promised, provided we obtained bathing water designation, to upgrade the Sudbury sewage treatment works to make it safer for swimmers. So, we look forward to an early start on that.

I’m sorry the designation only extends the length of Friars Meadow. We had hoped it would extend as far as Cornard Lock, but this is a great start. Although hundreds of seaside beaches and a handful of lakes have bathing water status, so far only two inland rivers have such protection – one in Yorkshire and one in Oxford. We will be number three. It’s time to celebrate."

Together, let us remain committed to preserving the beauty and vitality of our beloved River Stour.

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