Campaign for wild swimming to be allowed in Bristol's Floating Harbour

On 31 May a group of wild swimmers took a dip in Cumberland Basin to start their campaign. Credit: Johnny Palmer

Campaigners are urging local authorities to allow wild swimming within Bristol's harbour after going for a dip on one of the hottest days of the year.

The group, led by Warleigh Weir owner Johnny Palmer, went swimming in the docks on Monday 31 May to start their campaign for a rule change in the city's waters.

Swimming is not currently allowed in the Floating Harbour and Bristol City Council warns there can be health consequences of doing so.

Despite this, regular quality tests carried out by the authority show multiple areas often score 'excellent' in the Environment Agency's river bathing criteria.

Campaigners now want swimming to be permanently allowed, following in the footsteps of European cities which have permitted similar activities in docks.

“It occurred to me that we have an incredible body of water in the middle of our city," said Johnny.

"It makes total sense for us to start the conversation about this becoming an accessible amenity for the people of Bristol to use for physical health, mental health and to increase social capital.

They weren't in the water long before the Harbour Master told them to leave. Credit: Johnny Palmer

According to Bristol City Council, swimming in Bristol's open water can cause stomach, ear, nose and throat infections.

But the campaigners argue getting to Cumberland Basin for their dip was more dangerous than the swim itself.

Soon after entering the water, they say they were told to leave by the Harbour Master.

“I get it, the Harbour Master and other bureaucracies don't want swimming in the water of our city," Johnny said.

"Many of their concerns are valid as there have been deaths and other serious incidents in the harbour. With the right education, messaging and culture we can reduce these risks though - indeed, swimming the harbour can actually make it a safer place overall.

"Simple things like regular simple training, having a designated area for swimming and zero alcohol can make it so much safer.”

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: "The health and safety of all harbour users is our first priority and, along with other members of the Bristol Water Safety Partnership, our harbour staff work hard to maintain a safe environment along the waterway and prevent accidents and so that people can enjoy the range of attractions on offer.

“As the Harbour Authority, the council conducts regular safety checks and has ensured measures such as life rings, improving visibility of quayside ladders and installing more life chains in certain high-risk areas are in place.

“As with any large harbour or waterway, we cannot completely remove all risks and would urge people not to endanger themselves and others by swimming in this area.’’

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