Taking action for clean water

RYA forms an alliance with six other sports to promote clean open water
30 Apr 24
two children sailing on a clean water lake

The RYA has announced this week (Tuesday 30 April) that it’s uniting with Angling Trust, British Rowing, British Triathlon, GB Outrigger, Paddle UK and Swim England to create the Clean Water Sport Alliance

Collectively, the organisations represent almost 450,000 members, elite athletes, participants and many more water users across the country who rely on UK waters for sport and recreation. 

They are now joining forces to call for change to protect those they represent and the natural world in which they participate.  

‘Failure to act is not acceptable’

 “This Alliance represents the interests of millions of recreational water users whose experiences are impacted by substandard water quality and pollution every day” said Sara Sutcliffe, RYA CEO.

“For the RYA, we believe a failure to act is not acceptable. Access to water is the foundation of our Together on Water strategy, we must protect our playground to inspire the next generation”.

Driving positive change 

Pollution from various sources contaminates UK inland and coastal waters, damaging ecosystems and causing illness within people who take part in sport and physical activity in, on or around these waters. Water that is unfit to host water-based sport has also caused events, training sessions and activities to be cancelled or postponed because it has not met the standards for safe participation. 

By uniting, the Clean Water Sports Alliance will work together to influence decision makers and drive positive change, working collaboratively to highlight issues and create solutions to help return the UK’s blue spaces to be where nature can thrive and sport and recreation can be enjoyed.  

The Alliance has set out three priorities that will inform its actions

our priorities - further and faster action on pollution, real-time informed choices, recognitions of all recreational water users.

Aligned to its own priorities, the Alliance is making three asks of regulators and decision makers:

  1. Regulators to be adequately funded to monitor, investigate and hold polluters to account, harnessing nature-based solutions  
  2. Enable accurate access to real-time water quality information all year round including the compulsory monitoring of all sewage outlets; recognition of open source science relating to water quality and the creation of a centralised information hub for all water sports users 
  3. Advocate a change from ‘bathing waters’ to ‘recreation waters’ within government policy to recognise the wide range of activities that depend on clean water

Advocating for the restoration of the UK’s blue spaces

The UK has continued to score near the bottom of the European bathing water quality index, with the limited action currently being taken not making significant improvements. 

Biodiversity is also being put under immense pressure, threatened by pollution as well as by invasive species which alter our ecosystems, introducing new pathogens and costing the UK £4 billion a year according to a 2023 paper. 

Advocating for the restoration of the UK’s blue spaces for the enjoyment of all, the Alliance want to see these environments free of pollution and havens for wildlife, as well as places for everyone to be active in sport and recreation. 

Phil Horton, RYA Environment and Sustainability Manager explains “If measures to improve water quality for all recreational waters, not just bathing waters, are not acted on soon then participation in our sport will be impacted negatively, with a knock-on effect on health and wellbeing”.

‘The state of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters needs to be urgently improved’

Fynn Sterritt, British Sailing Team, concludes: "Spending time on the water has always been a big part of my life, from rafting on rivers in the Scottish highlands to sailing regattas on the south coast of England. Having to think about whether the water quality is safe is never something I thought I would have to do. This isn’t just a risk to athletes but for all watersports enthusiasts out enjoying their passion at clubs and centres across the UK. The state of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters needs to be urgently improved and protected to ensure the next generation experience the amazing benefits that sailing and watersports can bring."

Discover more about the Clean Water Sport Alliance.