RESPONSIBLE SWIMMING: Biosecurity

Invasive Species can ruin natural environments - CHECK, CLEAN AND DRY to stop the spread

James Armes

Getting outside, in every form imaginable, is the aim for Summer 2021. With exploring, making the most of long summer days and rediscovering the outdoors being top of many outdoor swimmer’s lists, how can we be responsible swimmers and keep our environment safe?

New challenges that have been added to the post-lockdown list might include swimming holidays, swim safaris, long swims, multiple dipping, and even challenges like the Frog Graham. But how can we do these responsibly, with the least impact on our environment? Following The OSS Outdoor Swimmers Code is a start, but an ever increasing issue is biosecurity, and awareness of cross contamination of invasive species through swimming in different water bodies is something all water users need to consider.

Inland water bodies of all kinds are used by a wide variety of people, and are stores for water travelling off urban areas, farmland and hills and mountains. Anything in the water that reaches rivers, is likely to end up in a lake or the sea. So sediment, rubbish, and invasive species (in the forms of pieces of plants, microscopic organisms and invertebrates) accumulate in these water bodies. For lakes, this includes invasive species such as New Zealand Pygmy Weed, which outcompetes native flora and can create areas of water that are difficult to swim through. Invasive species are a particular issue in the Lake District, where there is a big campaign called  #sharethewordnottheweed. The three stages the campaign shares is: 

  • CHECK your equipment and clothing for living organisms. Pay particular attention to damp or hard to inspect areas. 
  • CLEAN and wash all equipment, footwear and clothes thoroughly. If you do come across any organisms, leave them at the water body where you found them or on a hard surface to die out.
  • DRY all equipment and clothing. Some species can live for many days in damp conditions.

We don’t want to be responsible for moving invasive species between lakes, wherever we are, so once you’ve finished you swim give the kit a wash in the water you’ve swum in to get rid of anything you can see, then when you get back to where you’re staying wash it in the bath or using an outside tap to get rid of what you can’t see. Don’t wash it in a pond or nearby stream as this will contaminate this water body. Then dry your kit before you use it again. 

Another consideration is if you’re intending on doing a swim walk/run with multiple dips, such as the Frog Graham or From Whitton, or a swim safari, where you swim in multiple water bodies you can change equipment or be hosed down thoroughly between swims. More details of undertaking such a challenge and the biosecurity issues, and how to deal with them, can be found at froggrahamround and frogwhitton, and West Cumbria Rivers Trust also offer advice and help. 

Whilst the issue of biosecurity is most severe in specific spots, such as the Lake District in the UK, you should follow the same rules wherever you go – with the increased popularity of swimming it is likely that invasive species will spread into more and more water bodies, but if we can prevent the issue, rather than having to cure it, by washing and drying our kit (and ourselves) between swims we can be responsible swimmers.