The Manningtree Mermaid wild swimmers set up SWiM (Safe Water in Manningtree) to support their application to DEFRA for bathing water designation for Manningtree Beach on the Stour estuary. Approval would mean that the water would be tested throughout the bathing season for E.coli and intestinal enterococci. These harmful bacteria are indicators of sewage pollution, and should unsafe levels be found, targets would be set for improvement and polluters held to account.
Sewage still in the news
Sewage pollution has been big news for some time now. People are sick of our waterways being used as a dumping ground for untreated effluent while water companies pocket huge profits. At the last assessment, the Environment Agency concluded that only 14% of rivers in England were ecologically healthy, and a third of all rivers failed due to sewage pollution. There are currently only six stretches of river designated as bathing waters in England.
At the moment, there is no information about the quality of water at Manningtree Beach, although the area is impacted by three storm overflow pipes, only one of which is monitored. Monitoring of this pipe only began in April last year, and in the eight months until the end of 2022, it recorded eight sewage spills totalling 15.5 hours despite it being a very dry year.
Applying for designated bathing water status
The application is a huge undertaking and has taken all the efforts of the Mermaids to push their campaign forward. They have won the support of the local town and parish councils, Tendring District council, Sir Bernard Jenkin MP (who recently joined them for a swim), the Stour Sailing Club, the Rotary Club, and the Manningtree District Business Chamber. They maintain an open dialogue with Anglian Water and took a tour of the local sewage treatment plant. As part of their educational campaign, the group dressed up as poop to talk to primary school children about sewage pollution.
As the application requires local consultation, the Mermaids have set up an online survey to gather public opinion. They also have a stall at Manningtree Market every Saturday, where they’re available to discuss the campaign and answer any questions.
Confirming local usage and approval
Probably the most critical part of the application is the ‘water-user’ count. They need to demonstrate how well loved and used the Stour is at Manningtree. While this seems obvious to the mermaids, they have to count bathers, paddlers and others on the water for 20 days during the bathing season, which runs from 15 May to 30 September. Obviously, the higher the numbers they can count, the better.
Supporters flock in…
To get their count off to a flying start, they threw a Beach Picnic Party – and the community supported their initiative with great enthusiasm. The beach was packed and the atmosphere joyous. People danced to live music, played games, painted faces, made crafts, sold cakes. The highlight of the afternoon was a mass swim. At 6pm, streams of merfolk lined up on the slipway to take the plunge as one huge shoal. As one of the organisers, it was a truly beautiful and moving experience and proved just how deeply people care about the Stour. They counted a grand total of 369 water users, made up of swimmers, paddlers and those on boards and in boats.
…and discover the joy of wild swimming
Since their count began, many new merfolk have joined the campaign – some who have previously been too nervous to swim in the open water before but have found encouragement to have a go as part of a group. And that’s what all the hard work is about – spreading the sheer joy of wild swimming while securing the health of the Stour for generations to come.
If you would like to help the mermaids keep up the momentum:
- Get your feet in the water! Join the mermaids for a paddle or swim. Their facebook group has details of count days.
- Complete the local consultation survey.
- Spread the word about the campaign.
Find out more here.