Throughout the summer, Natural Resources Wales have been testing the water, and the results have officially been published. Penarth has gone straight into the highest water quality category!
First-time entrants Penarth and Col-Huw beach in the Vale of Glamorgan made their debut by moving straight into the top ranked category, with the former’s application having been submitted by local resident and ‘wild swim’ enthusiast, James Tennet. Welsh Government is today reminding the public that anyone can put forward their local swimming hotspot for consideration as a designed bathing water, which would see Natural Resources Wales collect and analyse water samples from May to September. By having applications open to anyone, Welsh Government hopes it will support the boom in cold water swimming popularity that has proven positive benefits for people’s mental and physical health. Categorised as either ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’, ‘Sufficient’, or ‘Poor’, 85 of the 106 water bodies assessed across Wales achieve top grade! That means that all 22 Blue Flag Award beaches can apply to retain their status for the 2023 bathing season, with Aberporth, Llandonna and Nolton Haven beaches also achieving an ‘excellent’ classification, an improvement on last year’s results. Celebrating the news today is a group of intrepid ‘Dawnstalkers’ who welcome in a crisp December with a sunrise sea swim off Penarth beach. Dawnstalkers is more than 100 members strong with more on the periphery, its co-founder Grant Zehtmayer says, who dip in and out. They meet every day before morning breaks, whatever the weather. A Penarth resident, Grant started the group with Lene Chmiel, after challenging himself to get in the water every day whilst doing dry January during lockdown and feeling a need to ‘break out from the repression’.
A lot of local residents were very happy about this news-
Grant said: “Just, wow! I can’t believe Penarth has received ‘Excellent’ status- this is nothing short of amazing. I hope this open up opportunities for our lovely seafront and Penarth in general, while giving confidence that our muddy sea is perfectly good to swim in. Dawnstalkers has changed my life. Knowing that everyday there will be someone ready to brave the cold sea with you is really quite special. Our amazing community are so supportive of each other and that in itself is a big positive tick for our mental health. Cold water swimming is a big mood boost as it produces serotonin and dopamine. Can you get a better start to your day than a happiness hit like that?“
Minister for Climate Change Julie James said: “Congratulations to Penarth and Col-Huw beaches, and all of those that have worked hard to reach the highest standards for our bathing waters in Wales. Cold water swimming is brilliant for your physical and mental health and if communities and friendships ae created whilst doing it then we really have nothing to lose. We want to designate more waters, for example lakes and reservoirs, as bathing waters in Wales and encourage everyone of all shapes, sizes and abilities to don their costumes and brave our brisk waters in Wales. We will continue to work with Natural Resources Wales, local authorities and community groups as we think the challenge is more than worth it. Let’s get Wales top of the board for its wild swimming.”
Dr Kat Rayson, Clinical Psychologist and Dawnstalker member said: “When I moved to Penarth last year, I worried about making friends. Discovering Dawnstalkers has given me a ready-made community and has just all round made me a happier person. As well as the therapeutic physical response I get from jumping into the cold water, an everyday dip is now built into my routine and a part of managing my wellbeing. People are so friendly despite the ungodly hour and cold, and we know from science that those small every day connections improve our mental health. That’s in addition to the shock jolt to our system that cold water includes- kickstarting our metabolism, immune system and positive responses to stress.”
Jackie Rawlings, 76 year old Dawnstalker said: “I’ve always lived a very busy life. I have four children, have fostered countless more, and previously ran a working farm with my husband and a holiday let business. In 2014, this all changed in a second. My husband had a serious accident in France and then I was diagnosed with breast cancer- life suddenly became very different from before. I went from being full on to right down. Dawnstalkers now provide a wonderful support for me both mentally and physically. The exhilaration experienced from cold water swimming is impossible to describe. Having the support of people that you can talk to when things are tough, knowing you won’t be judged, is priceless. I’m so glad I found them. They’ve changed my life.”
Rachel Mulqueen, Dawnstalker member said: “My mum was an occupational health therapist. She was one of my best friends and my biggest support system. She seemed to have it all, a career, husband, family & friends, and a decent pay cheque, yet she took her own life when I was 23. I struggled with my own mental health for many years after that and cold water swimming has helped me to live a happier, more positive life. The cold water helps me feel connected to nature, it soothes me and makes me feel at peace. I think it’s because when I swim in the sea I am quite literally immersed in nature, but also because focussing on getting in when it’s freezing helps me to be present. It’s hard to think of anything else other than putting one foot in front of the other. Dawnstalkers has helped me to feel that I am never alone. My mornings have been filled with so much love and laugher ever since I joined over a year ago.”
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) visited all 106 designated bathing water sites and collected and analysed water quality samples throughout the 2022 bathing season. While 85 of the 106 water bodies assessed achieved top grades, Marine Lake in Rhyl, an artificial lake used mainly for water sports, is the only site to be classified as poor.
Clare Pillman, Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales said: “Wales has some of the best beaches and bathing waters in the UK. They’re incredibly important to us- boosting tourism and local economies, enhancing the health and wellbeing of our communities and supporting rich biodiversity and ecosystems. We’re incredibly proud of the improvements we’ve seen in our bathing waters in recent decades, and to see the majority of our bathing waters again this year meeting the excellent criteria. But we know there is more to be done. Climate change, pollution and the way we live our lives are all challenges facing our waters, and we must take a Team Wales approach if we are to achieve our ambition of delivering the waters we want for current and future generations.”