The OSS and lockdown swimming

Swimming spots and communities are taking the brunt of overcrowding - here's what the OSS is doing to help

Photo: Tomek Baginski

For the outdoor swimming community in the UK, the past week has presented several visions of hell. Aerial shots of beaches showing more people than sand. Photographs of riversides strewn with litter and abandoned inflatables. Several deaths at weirs, sea and rivers. Footage of people leaping from Durdle Door as they are cheered on, watched in the knowledge that those people sustained serious injuries.

The relaxation of lockdown to various degrees across the UK has coincided with many other factors which have led to unprecedented pressure on our waterways and the land around them. Everyone wants to be in water during a heatwave; schools have been closed and children at home; furloughed workers are free to satisfy their renewed thirst for nature after weeks within four walls; and many of the places to which we would normally disperse (pubs, pools, shops, gyms, other countries) are still out of bounds.

There has been a huge increase in popularity of outdoor swimming in recent years, in which The OSS has played a significant role by providing a peer to peer community for swimmers, a platform for groups, and information on swimming spots.

115,000 unique users visited, a crowd-sourced guide to swimming spots around the world that we partner, in May, up from a monthly average of 42k in May. 14k unique users searched the map on Saturday 29th May alone (a site record). Last week, 11,500 people looked at our online guide to UK local wild swim groups.

So, how are we tackling this issue, as an organisation and as a community?

OSS Action

While doing a raindance (a break in the weather would solve a lot of the issues) The OSS team has been looking at ways it can help support both the swim and wider community during this time:

  • To protect the communities that have been swamped by visitors, we have taken offline. Read more about the closure of in The Guardian.
  • The OSS has also hidden all content relating to sensitive swim locations. We will be working on increasing alternative resources for swimmers in their place – if you are a journalist and can create listing guides, please contact the Club Secretary (please note all writing positions are voluntary). In England, many open water venues are reopening, and pools are due to open in July.
  • While our core philosophy is to share the swim love, now is not an ideal time to start swimming outdoors – nor is it an ideal time to meet new people. Some of our community materials have therefore been changed for this summer: on the OSS FB group all posts now need approval (and posts of people looking for new swim spots are not currently allowed). On Instagram, locations will not all be shown.
  • We’ve started to make community resources, including an open water lake directory. Please help us to develop this resource by adding your local open swimming lakes.

Individual action

The OSS is advising swimmers to:

  • Swim local – visit nearby places. Walk or cycle if possible.
  • Litter pick – in and out of the water. Pack rubbish sacks, gloves, and/or an empty tow float.
  • Reduce crowding – consider swimming early or later in the day. If it’s crowded, be prepared to go home.
  • Social distance – follow advice at all times.
  • Think twice before sharing – for the time being, don’t tag locations on social media.
  • Stay safe – and respect the local environment and people at all times.
  • Avoid honeypots – avoid iconic and idyllic spots and those known to be overwhelmed.
  • Think small – if you usually swim in a group, consider swimming with fewer people than usual.

Local wild swim groups action

  • Some local swim groups are now temporarily closed to new members. Social distancing measures mean group members cannot be asked to support new swimmers
  • OSS volunteers have worked with groups to develop shared materials to address issues in their area and support national policies during the pandemic. 
  • Some groups have been taken offline entirely as administrators are unable to cope with the demand.
  • Some groups are organising local litter pick rotas to assist the landowners in what has become a daily issue.
  • The Wild Swim Groups: The UK List is being maintained in line with local needs.

Read more:

Beth Pearson