A popular swimming and paddling spot in Yorkshire has become the first designated river bathing site in England.

The stretch of the River Wharfe, between Main Bridge and Beanlands Island in Ilkley, will be added to the list of waters in England granted bathing status by the Government from 2021.

The river will be monitored by the Environment Agency from May, helping to make the water cleaner and safer for swimmers.

The decision was made following a public consultation and means that samples will regularly be taken from the river between May and September to assess if action is needed to cut bacteria levels.

Summer weather Aug 11th 2020
People swim in the River Wharfe (Danny Lawson/PA)

Bathing water sites, on the coast and on certain lakes, have been monitored by the Environment Agency since the 1990s and have seen a significant improvement in water quality during this time.

Any surface water can be designated as a bathing site if it is used by a large number of people and meets requirements and there are currently 12 inland bathing waters in England – all on lakes.

The announcement comes as Yorkshire Water confirmed a new multi-agency partnership to improve water quality in the River Wharfe, with plans to reduce storm overflow discharges by 20% and increase the use of smart tech to predict and prevent pollution incidents.

The partnership, which includes the Environment Agency, Bradford Council, NFU, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and landowners upstream of Ilkley, aims to look more widely at the overall health of the river to ensure that improvements are made for the natural environment across the catchment.

Rebecca Pow, Environment Minister, said: “The residents of Ilkley and the surrounding area have shown their overwhelming appreciation for the River Wharfe as an asset to enjoy and protect.

“I am delighted that this stretch of river will be the first river to host a designated bathing water site.

“Unfortunately, we all know that the water quality won’t change overnight. It will take time and we need farmers and businesses to commit to achieve the necessary improvements.”

Ben Roche, director of wastewater at Yorkshire Water, said: “The health of our rivers is an issue that has really captured the attention of the public recently.

“This, combined with the impacts of climate change mean we need to look at what we want our rivers to be like in future.

“Bathing water status puts the focus on the public health aspects of river quality but we also need to look at the bigger pictures to ensure the wider environmental health of the river is addresses.

“We hope this partnership on the Wharfe will play an important part in helping to improve the health of the river for both people and wildlife.”

Martin Christmas, area environment manager for the Environment Agency in North Yorkshire, said: “This announcement is an important milestone for the Yorkshire region and its river users and a nationally significant one as it is the first designated river bathing water in the country.”

He added: “We will be monitoring the river and collaborating with our bathing water partners on this landmark project.”