Hampshire Open Water Swimmers repair riverbank

“We are thrilled to be able to help protect the beautiful river that we swim in.” An open water swimming group has repaired a riverbank in part damaged by swimmers entering and exiting the water.

When Hampshire Open Water Swimmers contributed to the erosion of a riverbank by entering and exiting the water, they decided to take action. Now, after raising the money needed to make the repairs, the open water swimming group has completed the riverbank restoration with the help of Kieran Gillingham from the Anglers Trust.

The outdoor swimming group meets just upstream from the Hub at Bishopstoke, in the River Itchen. It’s a popular spot, used by a range of river users.

The Council built wooden steps to improve access to the water some time ago, but erosion of the riverbank around the steps had been getting worse. In April 2022, Hampshire Open Water Swimmers fundraised over £600 so they could reverse the damage, and do their bit to protect the local ecosystem.

A sense of duty

The fundraising campaign reached its £500 target within 24 hours. The restoration project then went through a legal stage with help from the Environment Agency, before specialists were contacted to organise the repair. Volunteers from the Hampshire swimming group then offered to help with the labour.

Rachel Whitfield, who led the campaign, said: “I feel so proud of Hampshire Open Water Swimmers. We raised the money (over £600) and carried out the repairs to the steps over four sessions with the help of Kieran Gillingham from the Anglers Trust.”

“The River Itchen is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and so all repairs were sympathetic and in line with the local environment. We are thrilled to be able to help protect the beautiful river that we swim in.”

Rachel said there was a sense of duty among the swimming community to preserve the much-loved area. “This is a really exciting opportunity to make a real difference to a local environmental issue which is dear to all of us. The Itchen is a unique ecosystem, and we can play our part in helping to preserve it.”

A responsibility to respect and preserve our rivers

The project comes at a time of increasing awareness around the importance of river conservation, and highlights the responsibility we all have as swimmers and river users to respect and preserve the local spots we enjoy.

The damage to the River Itchen riverbank wasn’t exclusively caused by swimmers, but Rachel and the Hampshire group still felt that repairing the steps was the right thing to do: “We were teaching new swimmers not to get in from the bank, but the damage has been done in a lot of ways. I know that other things had caused that damage, but some of it was us. So the right thing to do was to fix it,” she said.

“A little bit of thought could change the culture of swimming groups so that damaging the bank isn’t acceptable. I don’t think that’s a big ask, if you look at how much people get back from nature and how much we gain from swimming outside. It’s about trying to make those little adjustments so that we can make sure that the riverbank is still beautiful in 10 years time.”

For more information on safe river swimming, see our River Swimming Guide. Find out more about the Hampshire Open Water Swimmers (HOWS) via their Facebook page.

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.