Landowner blocks access to popular river pool – with consequences

Popular swim spot easy access blocked with a large amount of felled hedgerow trees, with implications for swimmers and the village, and in breach of wildlife guidelines. It’s not clear why but if there were issues of concern this will make things worse, as well as being horrible and upsetting.

A lovely weir pool near Lyng, Norfolk, in a river popular with local families, young people, swimmers from around the area, has suffered an attempt to block access by the landowner. He has cut down some trees and bushes at the site and brought several tractor loads of mature hedge hawthorns and other trees cut down elsewhere, cut a route through and dumped them on the edge of the pool.

See photos on Flickr: After; Maps; Before

The reason for this action is not clear. There are consequences to it, which might not have been foreseen or intended. Young people and families are particularly affected, especially those with limited money and transport and options for other activities.

The consequences of this include:

1.Impact on the previously easy access to the beach and the shallower water in the pool for those that want to enjoy the water (as they have done for generations).

  • More difficult especially for families, regular swimmers, anyone with mobility issues, those who get the impression that they are not able to access the water.

2.Those entering the water can no longer be easily seen from the path or the road. This has several consequences:

  • less chance of seeing anyone if they get into trouble, or for them to call for help
  • making the pool more isolated and hidden
  • less influence on those using the pool from those walking past on the road or path
  • being more hidden and potentially seen as ‘forbidden’ could encourage more risky behaviour

3.The act of appearing to close off access to the water is likely to cause upset and resentment, especially for young people who have few other opportunities to enjoy themselves. This combined with the possible change in who goes there will have the impact that:

  • fewer families and regular swimmers and locals around to influence the behaviour of those using the pool, or to help deal with issues of safety or litter
  • the resentment could lead to more risky or antisocial behaviour
  • when something is seen as forbidden it can be more attractive

4.Those who would previously have used the pool could be displaced to using the mill pool instead. This has consequences:

  • there is less space there for people to congregate, leading to more crowding and for them to be more likely to be on the road, which is has the potential to be less safe than in an area like that previously available next to the upper pool.

5. The action has created an additional parking space or two, but this is unsuitable with a poor visibility entry and exit from the road.

6.It looks horrible, and gives a very poor impression of the area. This is upsetting in itself along with all the other consequences.

7.It is an action that will have an impact on wildlife. Trees and hedges have been harvested during bird nesting time. (Government website advice: “Nesting birds. You must not do any work which might harm nesting birds or destroy their nests. You’ll usually find nesting birds during the main nesting and breeding season from 1 March to 31 August.” It is possible that this action has breached the funding agreement for higher level stewardship. It has been done by a landowner who claims to care about wildlife )

Why was this done, and is there another way?

It is not clear why this was done. If it was done in response to some issues, there could be a better way to resolve these, in consultation with the parish council, local people, swimmers, young people. If it was an issue of erosion then it could be possible to put in steps or similar. If it was issues of litter or behaviour or safety, then those should be addressed by talking to those involved.

Unfortunately the action that has been taken is not going to resolve such issues, but is likely to worsen any problems, and make it more difficult for any who might not be behaving ideally to be influenced or for others to help look after the area.

The action taken here contrasts with a nearby example – Falls Meadow at Swanton Morley, where the landowner has deliberately made the area more open and welcoming by cutting the grass, putting in a gate, and a notice encouraging good behaviour. That has already been seen to have beneficial effects, with more families and regular swimmers attending, and noticeably fewer antisocial behaviours. Swimmers and local people including groups of young people, have been picking up the litter left by a few, and have influenced others.

What should happen now?

I have written to the parish council asking them to discuss the implications for the village. I suggested that the material should be removed (at the expense of the landowner that put it there). Although an alternative entry point could address some of the issues, it wouldn’t solve the problem that the area has become unsightly and the water hidden, with all the consequences outlined above. If there are specific issues that are causing concern I suggest discussing those , including with swimmers and young people and as many of the local community as possible, to see what possible solutions there might be.

Is this just a local issue?

This sort of action or similar has happened in other places, usually from a misguided approach to concerns about safety, litter or antisocial behaviour, and from not understanding how important and beneficial outdoor swimming is to those involved and more widely. Because there are few places that people can go, especially young people, there can be crowding at particular spots, but if there were more alternatives this would be less of an issue. Sometimes there can be problems, but these are better resolved by discussion. See a round up from 2022 of some of the positive and negative actions affecting inland access for swimming around the country.

There are better ways to resolve issues, and as one of the Inland Access Officers for the Outdoor Swimming Society I talk with landowners and swimmer groups around the country to discuss issues of access to water to swim and all the related issues about safety, behaviour, and respecting the environment, and good practice in such situations. Presentation to national landowner organisation VSG about how swimmers and landowners can work together, and the Outdoor Swimmers Code suggests ways that swimmers can respect the environment, communities and take responsibility for their own safety.