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Clean rivers for people and wildlife

The 2023 WI campaign is ‘Clean rivers for people and wildlife’. The aim is to improve the quality of river water through campaigning for bathing status:

‘ Water quality in our rivers is shameful. Legally designated bathing waters must be regularly monitored for pollution. The NFWI urges its members, the wider public, local authorities, and Government to make, support and promote applications for officially designated bathing sites on appropriate stretches of rivers in their area. This will be instrumental to the clean-up of rivers as it has been for water quality improvement at coastal beaches ‘

Arnside is flanked by a 2-mile stretch of the Kent estuary, as it runs into Morecambe Bay. Arnside is part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the whole of Morecambe Bay is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, so we are justly proud of our waterfront and want it to be its best.

As the Kent flows past it includes not only its own flow of water, but has water from numerous other rivers, it has most recently been joined by the Gilpin and Bela rivers. 

There are 3 Sewer Storm Overflows in Arnside and we are down-river from the sewage treatment plant near Milnthorpe. The South Cumbria Rivers Trust sewage map shows that in 2022 there was some overflow, but that this was not excessive [], so we do not know if this adversely affects the quality of our water or not – this is something that an active campaign would help us to find out.

Does Arnside need or want bathing status?   This is not a straightforward question:

On one hand, the bay has treacherous currents, a fast-incoming tidal bore and unpredictable quicksand. The village has many signs warning visitors about the dangers posed by the estuary area. It is unlikely to be appropriate to actively encourage bathers in Arnside.

On the other hand, being in and around the water is very much part of the enjoyment of many people who live and visit here. Suggesting that no one enters the water is unrealistic.

  • Walkers are on the wet sands and dogs swim in all seasons

  • We have a thriving sailing club

  • Canoeists and sailboarders ride the bore

  • Children paddle and on warmer days people swim, particularly in the many shallower pools left by the outgoing tide

  • The famous cross bay walks start from Arnside’s promenade and every summer thousands of people wade through the water to Kents Bank and Grange-over-Sands.

In addition, Leighton Beck, which meanders through the area, irrigating and draining farmland and providing water for grazing cattle, reaches the estuary at Arnside railway station. The Winster joins the Kent from the north shore of the estuary just downstream of Arnside.

Bay walk 2023.jpg

A quality of water appropriate for bathing would be reassuring for all those who are in contact with the river in Arnside. At the very least, exploring the possibility of bathing status will raise awareness and lead to collaboration and debate.

The river Bela at Dallam deer park

Leighton Beck joining the Kent estuary at Arnside
Bay Walk 2023

What next?

We know that we have the support of the Parish Council and plan to host a public meeting in the autumn to start a local debate on what may be desirable and feasible in respect of local water quality. Everyone from individual residents to organisations such as our coastguards, sailing club and businesses etc will be welcome and have a say in what happens next. If there is interest in pursuing bathing status, we will follow the Surfers Against Sewage toolkit:

If it is not thought appropriate to seek bathing water status in Arnside specifically – there is still plenty we can discuss. For example, how to:

  • Support WIs further up the Kent, Bela, and other tributaries. We are already in touch with Staveley WI and the Clean River Kent Campaign: . We would love to be in touch with others and to share mutual encouragement

  • Help our community to make the waterfront a safe, clean, litter- free place for all

  • Explore the ways in which we can improve water quality in Arnside - the water that reaches our houses, the way we use water and what we put down our drains


Good quality water in Arnside may depend on the efforts of Arnsiders but also will depend on the efforts of many others in respect of the Kent and its tributaries further up-stream. Positive action around Arnside can only help to enhance water quality in Morecambe Bay.


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