This month our columnist MARTIN DOREY is breaking out the Speedos in anticipation of the start of the 2023 bathing season.
The official bathing season is almost upon us! Hurrah! It’s time to reach into the back of the cupboard for that dusty changing robe and give those crusty budgie smugglers a rinse before dashing to the shoreline like a disentangled seal pup released back into the wild.
That’s how the Environment Agency and some water companies see it. That’s why they don’t bother with the expense of testing water quality or monitoring some sewage outfalls in winter. As far as they are concerned, Britain’s bathers are fair weather wimps who shrivel at the first sign of a chill and don’t come out again until late spring.
But we know the truth, don’t we?
We know that there are thousands like us who don’t shy away from the sea come the end of September. How could we? The sea is our lifeblood and inspiration. We bathe, surf, SUP and paddle all year round and nothing (other than gastroenteritis) is going to stop us dunking to clear our heads and enjoy nature at its wildest best.
I find it ludicrous that water quality is monitored only in the summer months and that, legally, the bathing season doesn’t last all year. Today, when ever more people are finding solace in cold water, it seems wilfully negligent for the water companies, and the authorities that are supposed to keep an eye on them, to abandon us in the winter. Someone needs to shake them.
Maybe that someone is us? Certainly, with government saying that it will trust water companies to self-regulate, it falls to us, again, as the people these bonkers decisions affect, to hold these organisations to account.
Surfers Against Sewage have long been calling for the bathing season to be extended. It makes a lot of sense if your priority is people and good health. We know cold water immersion is good for mental and physical health and brings winter visitors to out of season resorts, yet it’s not being recognised. Even the knock-on effects of having a healthy coastal population – that are often far from hospitals – is less burden on the NHS. It seems so bleeding obvious, doesn’t it?
The problem, of course, is that extending the bathing season would put the onus on to the EA to spend a bit more money. Why would they, if they are not legally obliged to? Extending the bathing season may also require the water companies to do a little more. Poor them: they only managed to pay £695million in dividends in 2022, while still managing – spectacularly – to spill raw sewage for 15,012 hours* during the bathing season. Goodness knows what was happening during the off season.
I will leave that thought with you.
Now, where did I leave those budgie smugglers?
*Surfers Against Sewage Water Quality Report 2022
Read Martin’s recent columns for Coast here.