wild or wanton swimming

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04/06/2019 by Carl Reynolds

This is going to annoy some of you; perplex others and chime with a few. We live in a delusion of the human being prime on this planet. Whether derived from Judeo-Christian narratives of the Earth being for our use, or the rampant desecrations of neo-liberalist capitalism; these are the forces behind our notions of what is normal and everyday. But there is no ‘norm’, only that which we create or have created for us. And who is more honest – the citizen living an uncritical life; or the citizen with critical faculties who fails to act against their self(ish) interest and for the biosphere as a whole? We don’t like to think (or believe) we’re moulded by social circumstance, by the people who bring us up, by the social conditioning we inhale as a citizen of a post-industrial state, but we are. And all of those who believe otherwise, who think they have complete agency, are trapped shut in the jaws of the monster that has brought us to this sorry state. A state where we are in the final stages of killing off both most other species, and the habitats in which they, and we, need to live.

So to party – “it’s the end of the world and I feel fine” – or, to make some effort to halt the rollercoaster before it pitches us all into oblivion. But if our individual actions have minimal impact without concerted and drastic international cooperation; what if anything makes a difference? Other commentators suggest not flying, driving less (or not at all), removing plastic use from our lives, consuming much much less, being vegetarian or vegan. And while, if we all do this, there will be some beneficial impact, it will be as effective as putting out an inferno with a water pistol. But…it will provide some model for others. It may even give us a certain satisfaction, so worth looking into and pursuing.

To swimming then. Know this. Tramping on habitats impacts the life there. The chain from the microscopic to larger fauna. Our walk up a bank to a ‘secret’ pool may have little immediate impact. But when I (or you) write about it and encourage others to do the same, then before long there is an eroded bank, a scoured bed, a less diverse place. It strikes me that the organisers (whether formal or informal) of wild and open water swims give no or little consideration to the impact of mass human incursions into the few spaces left for undisturbed species…can ten, twenty people really be good for a pond or pool that you can’t swim in?

Because after just us, comes another few and before you know it, it’s all of us. What responsibility do we have to find out, to avoid, to consider that our actions are cumulative (eg worn steps in a castle)? An example, a recent OSS article on regulation avoided any mention of boundaries or thoughts about the environmental impact of hundreds of swimmers in a river, estuary etc…not only the land based impact, but the impact on the biota in said river, estuary, sea shore.

So I think it’s time we left well alone…time to stop searching for and publicising the secret, the hard to reach. Thoughts please.

From Ju Lewis, an explorer and DOE mentor –

One or two folk I follow on other social media have begun stating clearly that they will not geotag (hashtag location) specific places because of the growing issue of over visiting ‘secret’ spots, and I’ve seen them replyingng to comments requesting information about where waterfalls, pools etc are with to the point responses “find it yourself “.

I’m in agreement with the latter half of your post, particularly from an ecological POV, and as a LNT trainer…not enough educational opportunities, seemingly increasing numbers of people exploiting the nice places for their own self-publicity or commercial reasons, with little or no regard for the life that is there or the next visitor’s experience. Applies to formal and casual use as you have said. Currently engaged with discussion within DofE on the subject of going beyond the (imo not fit for purpose) countryside code in compulsory training for expeditions, and making LNT the forefront of consideration when showing the next generation how to ‘be’ in the outdoors.

From Una Brandreth, a wise and thoughtful person –

I’m reminded of the recent picture of a line of people waiting to climb the Hillary Steps on Everest.

Less than a hundred years ago, Everest was inaccessible. Now it’s a tourist destination, with seemingly anyone with sufficient money being permitted the attempt.

When we discover a beautiful place or exciting experience, it’s natural for a human to want to share it. But in this age of social media and overcrowding, that impulse to share can rapidly become destructive.

To some extent, Everest protects itself by killing those who overreach. But even there reports talk of erosion, crowds and rubbish left on the mountain – so what chance do our English wild places have, such as they are?

It feels selfish to deny others a unique or tranquil experience, but IMHO it’s necessary to do so or we will have none left. The crowds now appearing at Sharrah on fine days in summer are evidence of that. Publicity is anathema for peaceful, secluded places and training is a poor substitute for secrecy. Once a place becomes public in this country no amount of training, no matter how well-intentioned, will prevent it being ruined.

From Lynda Wilde, a swimmer of seas in all weathers –

Outdoor swimming is very fashionable right now + huge growth in social media images = all the risks you describe. Big difference between Dart 10k and a Facebook group meeting for an occasional swim or guidebooks encouraging people to explore.

I’m tired and not as eloquent as you but…
People should get outside. It is healthy, physically and mentally. Those of us lucky enough to live and be brought up enjoying the outdoors shouldn’t resent/restrict the fact that others are catching on…. what we should do is manage the issue. Newbridge kayakers, Spitchwick barbecuers, Sharrah dippers, Park runners, SW coast path…all an issue but how sad it would be to stop them. They need managing.

Guidebooks have always existed. People have always made money from writing and sharing about what they love. Crossings guide to Dartmoor and Wainwright’s way? Probably not as accessible to read but then I’m reluctant to be elitist about who can access the same areas I love. I would manage it though. Social media has created foci for attention e.g. Durdle door, Sharrah etc. Guidebooks might help by spreading the footprints?

I’d definitely have parking controls, litter patrols, dog wardens in heavily affected areas. There will be plenty of wild areas without any of those needed….just walk 15 minutes away from your car often does it! Yes it means change but Haldon forest vs Spitchwick…? Spitchwick in the sun is ruined. You’re never going to undo that but offer a managed version and then leave the wilder spots to those who want to explore. I don’t suggest traffic wardens etc lightly. But the Newbridge and Spitchwick area is one that needs something.

From Emma Pusill, co-author of The Lido Guide –

I think there is a difference between searching for and publicising.

I have no difficulty with the former, and some discomfort with the latter. But not enough to consider an outright prohibition on the latter realistic or necessary. Not least as it would be unenforceable.

I think I fall into Ju’s camp. And, FWIW, I think that encouraging exploration in young people is helpful. They are the next generation of custodians. If they are encouraged to be curious, to see and experience the quiet stillness of a wild place they have not seen before, to discover, to learn, to care… that can only foster an interest in the world. A sense of it as separate from us, necessary for us, and dependent on us as never before to ensure its survival.

Their curiosity and commitment will drive them to do better than we have, to find better solutions. To protect, conserve and restore.

As for LNT… there isn’t really any such thing. Our individual traces should be minimal, but they can’t be nil. However, if we can get the traces down to nothing more than gradual path erosion (the steps in a castle scenario) then that can be managed.

I fear that what can’t be managed easily or quickly, however, is the selfishness of our species. But I’m in no doubt that education, and fostering a love for the wild places, is key to that.

I do think that the impact of mass swims / expeditions as tourism and so on needs a great deal further study. We can see path erosion, we can’t so readily see aquatic erosion. There may be an argument that putting several hundred swimmers down an estuary just one weekend a year doesn’t cause gradual damage… but without evidence one way or another it’s hard to know.

I think that what we can know, however, is that the environmental impact of several hundred vehicles moving about to bring the swimmers, and supplies, to a mass swim, isn’t helpful. The ripples spread wide.

And this https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/19/after-everest-we-have-to-rethink-the-places-we-are-loving-to-death?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other


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