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King's College bans swimming and water sport in River Cam at Grantchester

Campaigners are fighting to keep the right to swim in the River Cam after discovering that landowners King’s College intend to ban swimmers from entering the water from Grantchester Meadows.

Launching boats, kayaks or paddle boards from the Meadows has also been banned at the beauty spot.

The Orchard, Grantchester, was made famous by Rupert Brooke, the war poet
The Orchard, Grantchester, was made famous by Rupert Brooke, the war poet

The college claims that the decision has been made following reports of antisocial behaviour in the Meadows, including drinking and drug taking, as well as rudeness to Grantchester residents and people discarding their punctured boats. Plus they say the overuse of the riverbank has led to erosion.

However regular swimmers at the site say they are hugely disappointed and have raised a petition to try to reverse the decision.

A spokesperson for King’s College said: “Unfortunately, Grantchester Meadows has become a frequent site for large gatherings of individuals entering the river Cam under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, and subsequently requiring emergency medical assistance. Sadly it has become increasingly apparent that this not only causes significant problems for the emergency services, but also brings with it a serious risk to life. As such it would be irresponsible for the College to continue to encourage swimming in an area where it is unsafe to do so. However, we would be entirely supportive of the Council installing safe-swimming points on Grantchester Meadows, as it has elsewhere along the Cam.

Signs have gone up at Grantchester Meadows banning swimming and water sports. (48785501)
Signs have gone up at Grantchester Meadows banning swimming and water sports. (48785501)

“There have been a large number of reports from local residents about those bringing watercraft to the Cam through the Meadows being very unsociable - blocking local roadways and drives, being rude to local residents and also discarding their punctured vessels. As we have seen far too often over the summer, this kind of antisocial behaviour reduces everyone’s enjoyment of the Meadows and poses a significant threat to the local wildlife.

“Both the County Council and Cam Valley Forum have raised serious concerns about erosion to the riverbank along Grantchester Meadows, and the effect this is now also having on the public footpath. This erosion is in large part due to people entering and exiting the river, or improperly mooring their vessels to the bank.

“We fully appreciate that swimming in the Cam is a popular activity and has numerous benefits for physical and mental health. The College has no desire to prevent anyone from sensibly exercising their right to swim in the Cam, or to navigate the Cam by kayak, punt or other vessel – indeed, we wholeheartedly wish that the Meadows will be used and enjoyed respectfully by all. Nevertheless, we cannot in good conscience give our consent to these activities continuing as they currently are, with the evident dangers they pose to life, the consequences they have for others’ use of the Meadows, and the damage they are causing to the physical integrity of the land.

“We will continue to work with the Grantchester Parish Council, Newnham Councillors and local residents to manage the situation as best we can and preserve the integrity, beauty and accessibility of the Meadows for all to enjoy. As ever, we are immensely grateful to local volunteers who regularly help with litter picking and make helpful suggestions as to how we can enhance the management and experience of the Meadows. Their efforts go unseen to many.”

Signs went up today (July 1) stating that swimmers and water craft could no longer enter the river from the Meadows.

Grantchester Meadows, late winter 2018. Picture: Mike Foley
Grantchester Meadows, late winter 2018. Picture: Mike Foley

In response, regular swimmer Camila Isley has set up a petition pleading with the college to change its mind. She says that entry to the river in the meadows has been “an asset of community value for over 500 years” adding, “ Public use of the meadows for swimming, canoeing and punting has in living memory always been enjoyed by the people of Cambridge as it is one of the greatest areas of natural beauty lying within easy reach for city residents.

“This decision, to be imposed in the next few weeks, will prevent people from swimming or pulling up to the meadows in a canoe, punt or similar vessel. Closing off use of the river along this stretch will shut down traditions dear to the people of Cambridge, and choke our connection with its beautiful natural surroundings. The closure would deny new generations the sense of well-being and enjoyment derived from the river at the only accessible spot where you can swim away from traffic and infrastructure.

“We understand that the area requires careful management due to the pressure from exceptional footfall over the last 18 months, and that it is in all our interests to protect the meadows from remaining unspoiled, now and into the future.

“There are multiple factors contributing to the pressure, not least rapid development across the city with inadequate amenities to match, closure of facilities due to the pandemic and more people seeking Covid-safe diversion from lockdown. But these are extraordinary circumstances and not firm grounds on which to base such drastic action.

“We do not accept that all options have been exhausted as claimed. Many more cooperative options remain unexplored. The way this has been presented feels very much like the gown dismissing the town, which is not a useful or constructive approach for a progressive city, especially at a time in history when we aim to build a better 'new normal'.”

Her petition is now calling for a public consultation to decide on the matter in which all the users of Grantchester Meadows can “discuss workable solutions that meet the environmental, community and landowner needs without the need for stringent measures”.

View the petition here.

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