Access & legality

The Outdoor Swimming Society has published this wonderful guide to access to inland beaches, with advice for landowners & managers, and anyone who wants to see more swimming in lakes, rivers, and other inland waters. Read about and download the OSS Guide to Inland Bathing Areas.

I have pulled together the legal issues in more detail, in this Page on Landowner liability and swimmers (and see two links bottom of this page)

See also Sixteen reasons why we need UK-wide swimming access in reservoirs

and Swimming in clay and gravel lakes

children in the river with a family sitting on the edge
Children enjoying the water in summer at St Helens

Anyone interested in negotiating to improve access, or to protect existing access, or to get advice on this, is welcome to join and discuss in the Inland Access Group – Outdoor Swimming Society group on Facebook, or to contact the OSS Inland Access Officers at inlandaccess[at]outdoorswimmingsociety.com

Access and the legality of swimming is discussed on several websites – which take a variety of lines on the issue:

Outdoor Swimming Society: Is it legal?

River Access for All website: Issues related to river access

The Right to Roam campaign

River and Lake Swimming Association (RALSA): The legal side and access

I’ve written about one aspect of the discussion in this post, Is it only legal to swim in 3% of rivers in England?

This piece by swimmer Suzie Wheway illustrates why access and legality are problematic for swimmers: Breaking The Law To Swim, https://openwaterwheway.com/2020/06/21/breaking-the-law-to-swim/

This Metro piece illustrates the issues, Wild swimming is booming – so why is access such a nightmare?

And this in the Observer, In at the deep end: the activists plunging into the wild swimming campaign.

This detailed Telegraph article by Peter Stanford looks at all sides, Murky waters: the battle for our rivers, (also here) and this is also now on the Outdoor Swimming Society website, https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/murky-waters-the-battle-for-our-rivers/

British Canoeing, https://www.britishcanoeing.org.uk/go-canoeing/access-and-environment/access-to-water, including useful downloads on Shared use and Trespass.
Also worth listening to/watching this interview with BC’s Ben Seal, on ‎The Outdoors Station: No 536 – Clear Access Clear Waters, video, https://youtu.be/zLlcXHHBIR8, or podcast, https://podcasts.apple.com/hr/podcast/no-536-clear-access-clear-waters/id205255559?i=1000507017496.

See also my Note on bylaws and how they relate to swimming, bathing and outdoor activities (Downloads Word.docx 7 pages)


Two very useful organisations and their guidance (aimed at landowners/land managers)

Visitor Safety Group guidance, ‘Managing Visitor Safety in the Countryside: Principles and Practice’, https://www.ypdbooks.com/misc/2089-managing-visitor-safety-in-the-countryside-principles-and-practice-YPD02361.html (£20); see online key points from Chapter 2, ‘Guiding Principles’ https://www.visitorsafety.group/principles/guiding-principles/; and the intro to their guidance on open water swimming, https://www.visitorsafety.group/topic-guidance/open-water-swimming/

RoSPA guidance, ‘Managing safety at inland waters guidance’ January 2019, has detailed advice on the law and practical guidance for landowners using case studies. Download from their website PDF (free), https://www.rospa.com/leisure-safety/water/inland/

Also useful, for local authorities, Local Government Association water safety toolkit, https://www.local.gov.uk/topics/community-safety/water-safety-toolkit

swims and swim places, and related issues