Ilkley Clean River Group

See a discharge into the River? Ring the Environment Agency Hotline 0800 80 70 60 and let us know on our Facebook Page

We made a bit of history

Ilkley Awarded Bathing Status

The First River in the UK

"1,046 private individuals and 27 organisations responded to the consultation. Of the 1,073 responses received, 998 supported designation as a bathing water and 75 were opposed." Defra

Amazing well done Ilkley thats a lot of you writing to support the designation.

Bathing Status Designation Press Release

  1. Today the river Wharfe at Ilkley became the first designated bathing site river in the UK.

  2. The volume of respondents to the consultation demonstrates how important this issue is to the public.

  3. This is a significant environmental landmark as a step towards cleaning up the river so that it is fit for people and wildlife, and we hope that more designations at rivers in the UK will follow.

  4. This application came from the Town residents, represented by Ilkley Clean River Group, concerned about the levels of pollution in the river. The application is supported by Ilkley Town Council, Bradford Council, and Yorkshire Water.

  5. We look forward to working with the new partnership between the agencies, authorities and Yorkshire Water to secure a clean environment.

  6. Designation is for a site on the river which is popular with local people and visitors. It means that from 2021 the Environment Agency will be required to test the water regularly during the year to determine the level of faecal pollution at the site. Bradford Council will then be required to provide that information to the public.

  7. The designation stretches from the main bridge at Ilkely to Beanlands Island - the area most popular with local children, near the sewage treatment works where the pollution continues to be a danger to public health.

  8. We continue to campaign for Yorkshire Water to discharge untreated sewage into the river only in exceptional weather conditions. A 20% reduction in storm overflows is welcome. Using last year's data this would reduce the number of days raw sewage is spilling into the river from 114 to 91 days in the year. This is still outside our understanding of a 'storm overflow' of raw sewage discharge in exceptional weather conditions. However we have not been informed if this is 20% of days, incidents or total inflow. This would also mean that the river is unlikely to pass bathing quality requirements in the short term (ie the quality of water safe to paddle play or swim in), so we also look forward to hearing the longer term plan for a radical reduction in storm overflows.

  9. We expect the designation to trigger a clean up of the sewage system, including investment in the sewage infrastructure.

  10. We would particularly like to thank Ilkley Town Council who have supported the campaign and funded the water testing that lead us to this application


1. In 2019 the Ilkley sewage works discharged raw sewage into the river over 114 days. The Ilkley Clean River Group is campaigning to reduce this frequency so that the Storm Overflow only discharges raw sewage in extreme weather conditions, no more than three times a year. [note all - this is context to the section above about the frequency of spills]

2. The Bathing Application demonstrated that on hot sunny days over 1000 people use the river at Ilkley for recreation

3. Citizen science studies have shown that conditions for swimming in the designated stretch of the river in Ilkley are often good when river levels are low. Conditions are worst in wet weather when untreated sewage is discharged into the Wharfe from the Addingham pumping station two miles upstream. The water quality is always a risk to public health downstream of the designated site, which is still an area used for recreation by locals and visitors.

4. Ilkley Clean River group has been working with Ilkley Town Council and Bradford Council to identify how the riverside should be managed to secure a safe environment for people who visit, this includes facilities and water safety.

Web Defra to Ilkley Clean River Group.pdf

Letter from Defra to Ilkley Clean River Group granting designation

You can see the full consultation results here

Wonderful that ontop of the organisations that responxed 1046 individuals responsed

Letter from Defra to Bradford Council

Web Defra to Bradford Council.pdf

FAQs on Bathing Status

1.Designation is granted it triggers four important actions that will help Ilkley secure a clean river:

Immediately following designation:

(1) Regular testing of water quality by the Environment Agency to determine if it is safe to paddle, play and swim in.

(2) Signage indicating if the water is clean enough to paddle, play or swim in.

(3) A management plan for the river so that there are the facilities for the people who already visit to paddle swim and play in the river and on the riverbank

Longer term:

(4) A full investigation of the sources of pollution in the river, and the subsequent implementation of a solution to clean up the river.

2. Ilkley is a popular spot for the public to picnic, and enjoy the river. In each of the last 2 summers when we have been counting numbers of people there are days where there were 1000+ people paddling, playing, swimming and using the riverbank, with numbers reaching 1750 on one day.

6. Designation is not intended to secure more people at the river, but to monitor public health and ensure that the river does not put peoples health at risk when they do visit and that the local environment is better managed .

7. The Ilkley Clean River group has been investigating the pollution which comes from storm overflows upstream of Ilkley, with high levels of E-coli from sewage in the river when it rains. At the area where local young people tend to congregate near the sewage works, pollution is at a level where it is never safe to go in the water.

8. Designation will shine a spotlight on the sewage pollution in the river at Ilkley, and would be a step forward in secure the investment and infrastructure to treat raw sewage rather than discharge it straight into the river. In 2019 there were 114 days when raw sewage was discharged into the river.

9. Yorkshire Water has already committed to investigating the sewage issue in Ilkley and upgrading the infrastructure in Ilkley committing to a 20% reduction in storm overflows.

10. This will not affect household bills.Yorkshire Water is already paying out millions in dividends to shareholders, and Ilkley Clean River group is campaigning for these 'profits' to be reinvested in our outdated and poorly maintained sewage system. Our bills should have been going to treat the sewage not to provide profit. Ofwat regulates our bills and is not supporting an increase.

1. Local Engagement

Ilkley Clean River Group (a group of Ilkley residents) ran 3 Town Meetings over a 1 year period with 300 people attending where we provided all the data about the quality of the water in the river. We also provided an online survey with 527 people responding in support. 50 volunteers took part in water testing and counting people at the river. Despite this we have to take part in another consultation from Defra.

Our Bathing Status application is supported by:

  1. Robbie Moore MP

  2. The Town Council

  3. Bradford Council

  4. 527 Ilkley residents surveyed, and the people at the Town Meetings.

2. Will Bathing Status attract more people?

If we get bathing status signs will have to go up saying whether the water is clean enough for people to let their kids paddle in it. Currently its not safe every time it rains and for some hours (possibly days) after, and it's never safe under any conditions downstream of the footbridge. This is because bathing status triggers regular testing of the water in Ilkley. It could be that those signs put people off as currently people don't know its polluted.

There are mixed views in the town, some residents welcoming visitors to the town and some concerned after the recent post lockdown anti-social behaviour. The Bathing Status Application is based on the people who have been using the river for years. Post -Lockdown all open spaces experienced anti-social behaviour .

If we get Bathing Status there are many other rivers ready to submit applications. This mean we will be the first of many across the UK and it will become the 'norm' for rivers to be properly monitored and managed for bathing (paddling, playing)

3. More people means more disruption

The Bathing Status triggers the requirement for Bradford Council to put in a management plan for the river. This would be to manage the site for bathing. It is currently not managed for bathing hence a lot of our difficulties when its crowded. This would be a real benefit to the town. It would also mean addressing facilitiutes issues such as toilets. The BAthing Status helps us manage the people who are already coming to the area, to the benefit of all of us.

4. Why do we have to do this? Surely Yorkshire Water shouldn't put raw sewage in the river? Don't we pay for our sewage to be treated?

Yorkshire Water is acting legally in dumping raw sewage in the river when it rains. They are allowed to do so as soon as the 'inflow' into the sewage works gets over capacity, which is currently every time it rains. This was 114 days in 2019. We have challenged the legality of this but the Environment Agency is defending their position. The UK is currently non-compliant with European Legislation on this since 2011. We have also tried to get the 'limit' raised but the Environment Agency insists that water quality is good so there is no need. EA monitoring is designed to detect water quality problems that cause damage to wildlife not health hazards for people.

With Bathing Status the state of the river will be monitored and public. This pressures Yorkshire Water to sort out our infrastructure. Currently they are planning to get all the rainwater straight into the river so that its not mixing with our household waste. If they do that the sewage works can probably cope with all our sewage and treat it all. This is called 'de-combining' the sewage system. Currently rainwater and household waste all combines in one sewer and goes into the sewage works together.

5. How bad is the water quality?

We have tested the E-Coli (sewage pollution) at Ilkley and you can see our results on our website here

In dry weather it is safe to paddle, play and swim upstream of the footbridge. It is not safe to paddle, play ro swim there when it is raining or there has been recent rain. It is never safe to paddle, play or swim below the footbridge all the way to Beanlands or downstream at Burley. The levels of E-Coli are 40-50 times (40x in dry weather, 50x in wet weather) the level that is safe for getting in the water. The water here is always a public health hazard.

We have been campaigning for Yorkshire Water to put up signs to say the river is polluted and a danger to public health but so far they haven't done so.

We have known for a year that this is unsafe but noone is taking any notice, thats why we are campaigning for bathing status.

6. Will our bills go up?

No. Ofwat is already trying to reduce our bills by 1%, and is requiring Yorkshire Water to put in place improvements without price rises.

Yorkshire water has committed to finding a proper solution in Ilkley if we get designation.

Yorkshire Water's operating profit in 2018-19 was £263.9 million. Dividends go to the shareholders . The previous CEO Richard Flint was paid £932,000 in 2018. Shareholders took £412 million in profits between 2013-2017

Yorkshire paid out £168.4m in the past couple of years with £107m of it to service inter-company debts.

26% of the holding company Kelda is owned by GIC Special Investments, a sovereign wealth fund owned by the government of Singapore.

Ofwat is requiring a reduction in bills of 1% for 2020-25.

Yorkshire Water Discharges Raw Sewage into the river over 114 days in 2019. See the data here

The Problem

When it rains raw sewage contaminated water is discharged into the Wharfe. This is because either:

  • The amount of water coming into the Sewage works is high (there is a consent limit originally set 17 years ago so that at high inflow in storm conditions the works could discharge sewage directly into the river). Because of rainfall, water running off buildings, closure of the Addingham plant and increased population, this is happening all the time now when it rains.

  • The storm tanks are full in lower periods of inflow and are then allowed to overflow into the river.

Ilkley Town Meeting.mp4

This is the state of our river in Ilkley.

The Issues podcast

You can listen to Karen Shackleton telling the whole story of sewage in the wharfe and the campaign on the Rambling About Rivers Podcast here

Interview with Karen Shackleton, local resident and campaigner on why sewage is being discharged into the Wharfe and what we are trying to do about it

In the summer we found raw sewage, and solid waste on the riverbank in Ilkley and decided to act.

As we have raised the issue of the pollution in the Wharfe at Ilkley we have found that llkley Residents and Visitors don't know:

1. Ilkley Sewage plant discharges raw sewage into the Wharfe when it rains

2. The river is not designated for bathing and is contaminated

holding the agencies and companies to account

OH to ICRC 05092019.pdf

EA Sept 2019 reply (1)

Saying they are following a process of prioritisation. Seems to be dependent on our bathing water application which will take some months still. We have asked for timeline.

MC to ICRC 11092019.pdf

EA sept reply (2)

Saying they do not contest the UWWTD (hooray - thats progress- it means the Ilkley plant is non compliant); Securing Event Duration Monitoring at Ilkley (legally has to be in place by March), asking us to continue to report footpath problems.

reply Richard Flint to ICRG 11 sept 2019.pdf

YW reply

Instigating regular monitoring; ongoing investigation of manholes; no reply on responsibility for public health

EA response 20th August to July letter.pdf

EA Response to our letter to CEO

Not budging on the plans which could be 2035 for any solution! 20.08.2019

Letter_EA_James Bevan _Ilkley Clean River Campaign_20.08.2019.pdf

our response

It doesn't look like the EA understands that as tax payers they are accountable to us. 20.08.2019

Letter_YW_Richard Flint _Ilkley Clean River Campaign_20.08.2019.pdf

Our Letter to YW CEO


Interim Report on Water Testing and Concerns re Public Safety_July 2019_FIN.pdf

Report to Town Council July 2019

Setting out the problems with the water quality

Letter_EA_James Bevan _Ilkley Clean River Campaign_30.07.2019.pdf

Letter to sir james bevan, Env Agency

30th July 2019 requesting a plan for the upgrade at Ilkley by the end of September 2019, with details of securing clean water in llkley

This problem is only going to get worse.

The anticipated growth in Ilkley up to 2030 is about 700 further dwellings, with an estimated 2760 people (and that's 3000 if we include Addingham).

Alongside this, changes in our climate mean winter rainfall for the north of England might increase by between 10 and 20% over coming decades and there might be further increase in the frequency and intensity of high rainfall events.

Our Fact Sheet that sets out the key issues

the solution is less pollution FINAL FACTSHEET.pdf