The Welsh Government is asking members of the public to give their views on whether the Warren, a popular swimming spot on the River Wye just upstream of Hay, should have official “bathing status”.
The River Wye was once legendary for its clean water and abundant wildlife, including an annual migration of tens of thousands of salmon, and has protected status. But environmental groups, local politicians and swimmers alike fear that excessive pollution from agricultural run-off and sewage have put it on the brink of ecological collapse.
Last year Natural England downgraded the river’s official status to ‘unfavourable-declining’, meaning its condition is poor and worsening.
Friends of the River Wye (FORW), a group of citizen scientists and concerned citizens, decided to apply for bathing status for the Warren, because the status would force the Welsh Government to fulfil its obligations to monitor the water quality and take steps to improve it
Oliver Bullough, the FORW volunteer who has led the effort to apply for bathing status, said: “I love the Wye. I grew up swimming at the Warren, and now swim there with my kids, but it’s tragic how the health of the river has declined in recent years. Politicians in Cardiff and London alike have abdicated their responsibility to protect the river from pollution, and bathing status is the only tool we have to force them to do their jobs.
“If a stretch of river bank has this status, Natural Resources Wales are obliged to test its water quality between May and September; to publish the results; and, if the quality is poor, to take steps to improve it. This is a unique legal tool which could give real impetus to our efforts to protect the Wye.
“I’d encourage anyone who cares about the river to respond to this consultation so the politicians can appreciate how strongly people feel about this.”
FORW volunteers surveyed the number of people visiting the Warren over the official bathing season - which runs from May to September - in 2022, and then held a public meeting in Hay-on-Wye in December 2022, which approved the idea unanimously, before putting in the application.
Many sectors of the community offered comments in support of the application.
Phil Stone, Places to Paddle Manager at Canoe Wales, said: “Cleaner water benefits everyone, not just swimmers. At Canoe Wales, we support the idea of bathing designation for the Warren as a means of helping to restore the Wye to its former glory.”
Andy Fryers, Sustainability Director at Hay Festival, said: “The River Wye, from its source at Plynlimon high in the mountains of mid-Wales to its mouth in the Severn Estuary, is a beautiful and extremely important resource both for biodiversity and human use.
“Ensuring that the water quality is suitable for the life that lives in the river and the people who use it, is vitally important and Hay Festival supports this drive to ensure this.”
James Hitchcock, CEO of Radnorshire Wildlife Trust, said: “Rivers are vitally important to both people and wildlife, sources of joy and solace. And people only care about what they know. We support the great level of access people have to the Wye and want to see a healthy river – a river that has clean water and abundant wildlife, that is safe to swim in. To experience the joy of floating down the river, to see a kingfisher overhead or an otter slip off the bank should be a common lived experience for generations to come.
“Bathing water status will increase the level of monitoring and testing of the river and help us better understand what is happening as the Wye leaves Wales.”