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West Norfolk Council urges people not to take part in Right to Swim event at Bawsey Pits

People have been urged not to take part in a wild swimming event at a “notorious” location where four people have drowned in the past decade.

West Norfolk Council and Bawsey Country Park are together pleading for members of the public not to take place at a Right to Swim event which has been scheduled for this Sunday at Bawsey Pits. Reports suggest children are set to participate.

The organiser of Sunday’s event has put together a web page with an assessment of ‘risks and myths’ about the site, but the borough council says it is concerned that some of the information on this assessment is wrong, – including a statement which says there is no evidence for risks beyond the usual risks of swimming outdoors in cold and deep water.

People have been urged not to take part in the wild swimming event at Bawsey Pits. Picture: Ian Burt
People have been urged not to take part in the wild swimming event at Bawsey Pits. Picture: Ian Burt

Bawsey Country Park has emphasised that it has very clear rules and swimming is not allowed.

These rules are displayed on signs across the site in text and pictorial form, as well as on the park’s website and social media platforms.

However, members of the Right to Roam group say they are using the location in order to show that “swimming can be done safely” in places such as this.

Cllr Sandra Squire, the borough council’s cabinet member for the environment, said: “We are asking anyone who has seen this event advertised not to take part.

“Whilst we would not want to prevent people from taking part in wild swimming altogether, we must discourage people from doing it in a location with a history of drownings.

“It’s particularly shocking to discover that as well as organising this for adults, Right to Swim are involving children who are not in a position to make an informed choice about what is safe.

“Anyone new to the area or not familiar with its history may not be fully aware of the risks. It is the combined opinion of the borough council and Bawsey Country Park that this is not a safe place to swim.”

A spokesperson for Bawsey Country Park added: “We do not wish to paint Bawsey Country Park as dangerous as it is not dangerous if people respect the rules. In the same way as a road is not dangerous if people respect the rules of the road.

“We are concerned that if this activity is promoted to the public as going to occur at Bawsey, or frankly any inland water be it the River Thames or Loch Lomond, that more people may think that they would like to participate and break the rules thus increasing the chances of tragedy.

“We urge that people respect the park rules and respect the park.”

The council says it has has learned that at least two similar events have already taken place at the site.

Back in July 2013, the park was the scene of a double tragedy when a 16-year-old boy and a local man both drowned, with further fatalities occurring in August 2020 and June 2021.

Imogen Radford, a spokesperson for the Right to Roam group, says members want to challenge the policy which “denies people the chance to swim in beautiful lakes with all the benefits that would bring for swimmers”.

She said: “The lakes at Bawsey have fewer risks for swimmers than the sea or rivers – without tides, waves, currents, and with easier points importantly for safe exit from the water – particularly important in winter when they are more likely to be cold.

“Swimmers enter the water at their own risk, and take responsibility for their own safety, and parents or carers take responsibility for that of any children in their care and that might go swimming with them – this is very well established position in law.

“Because it has been said that the lakes at Bawsey are particularly ‘dangerous’, a number of local swimmers have looked into the risks mentioned and assessed them carefully.

“A number of things mentioned such as machinery, weeds, and water freezing cold even in summer do not stand up to examination, so I compiled this list so that swimmers can have accurate information, including how they can stay safe and avoid harm from particular risks.

“In doing so we also listed a number of risks that haven’t been mentioned and should be better known, particularly swim failure or cold incapacitation – which can be easily avoided by swimming within your capability, not getting too cold, staying near to the shore and being aware.

“We believe that giving people constructive information is much more effective than swimming bans that simply do not work and do nothing to keep people safe, but in fact can even encourage risky behaviour as they alienate people and don’t encourage them to respect the water.”

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