Is It Legal?

HighHouse Tarn ©KateRew

In Scotland, swimmers have a clear right to swim which goes alongside their right to roam. This means you can swim freely in open spaces. The law about swimming outdoors is unclear in England and Wales. Until the law is clarified, as long as you are not trespassing, then you can swim in most public places and open spaces.

Here are some useful facts:

  • It’s legal to swim in any ‘navigable’ waters, which means waters that are open to boats.
  • If you walk across private land you will be trespassing, so always find ways into and out of the water by public paths. Trespass comes under Civil rather than Criminal law, so you will not be arrested unless you cause damage; rather you will be asked to leave. It’s best under these circumstances to comply.
  • Reservoirs are privately owned, but in England there is a duty on the owners to provide access for recreational use. Usually this does not include swimmers.
  • The land owners either side of the river officially own half the riverbed. They do not own the water. Angling clubs who own the fishing rights to a stretch of water own the fishing rights only. They do not own the water. It can therefore be assumed that you have access to the water as a swimmer provided you haven’t trespassed to get there.
  • The Environment Agency, Department of Health, National Parks, the National Trust and local councils are beginning to recognise the health benefits of allowing greater access to inland water, and the tourist income that can come from it. This is good for outdoor swimmers, who may soon see the clear rights of access, riverbank clubs and inland beaches enjoyed in other European countries. The OSS is working in a number of areas to achieve this aim, and the first inland beach on which our members have worked was opened in summer 2014 at Rutland Water. The National Trust now allows “swim at your own risk” on some of its inland water.

 

© Vivienne Rickman Poole

Adding your voice to the movement for greater inland access

Please support our campaign for clearer legal access by becoming a member of the OSS and spreading the word to others: the more members we have, the greater our voice. The OSS Inland Access Group, run by Rob Aspey and Chris Dalton, has helpful information for members wishing to campaign for local swimming access, and its members have a wealth of knowledge and experience. Get in touch via this website.

There are other good campaign groups such as RALSA and River Access for All; join and add your swimmer’s voice.

Always be polite, courteous and non-confrontational to other water users and landowners. The fact the law is grey may lead them to presume that they can forbid you from swimming, when they may not. A non-heated explanation will do far more good than confrontation.

Always be polite, courteous and non-confrontational to other water users and landowners. The fact the law is grey may lead them to presume that they can forbid you from swimming, when they may not. A non-heated explanation will do far more good than confrontation.

Words : Lynne Roper