FEARS have been raised that lives could be lost and others unnecessarily endangered as groups of youths gather to swim in rivers and breach social distancing rules.

Charity Tees River Rescue said it was “acutely aware” that young people had spent recent days swimming in the river at a number of places upstream of the Tees Barrage.

Meanwhile, authorities in Darlington said children had ignored warnings to leap into the riverside beauty spots at Broken Scar off Coniscliffe Road and at Blackwell and authorities in North Yorkshire launched action to prevent large-scale gatherings at waterfalls in Richmond.

Rob Lynas, a trustee of the newly-formed charity covering an 18-mile stretch of the river, said he had seen a group of 20 children putting their lives at risk on Wednesday and Tees River Rescue would patrol upstream of the Tees Barrage to provide a “visible presence” and educate people over the weekend.

He said people leaping into the river could go into coldwater shock almost immediately and then lose the ability to control their bodies.

Mr Lynas said: “With children being off school and likely not returning until September they have nothing to do, and with the weather being lovely, some people might see it as a perfect opportunity to swim or jump into the river.

“We are trying to reduce the risk of someone losing their life.”

As Darlington Borough Council issued a joint safety message with Durham Constabulary and County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, council leader Councillor Heather Scott urged people gathering at Broken Scar and Blackwell not to put the lives of emergency services at risk.

Last May, police launched drones in response to an increase in anti-social behaviour and criminal activity at Broken Scar and a 15-year-old was found unconscious on rocks in the middle of the river before being taken to hospital with hypothermia.

Cllr Scott said: “I am really concerned that someone could die, it can be a very fast-flowing river.”

Following similar concerns at Richmond Falls on the River Swale, where about 100 people gathered over the bank holiday weekend despite coronavirus restrictions, stewards are being brought in this weekend “to marshal activity”.

A task group of Richmondshire District Council, North Yorkshire Police and councillors from both the district and county council, have agreed to restrict access to the falls by groups of young people and anyone who is seen to be carrying alcohol.

The task group said the stewards would “prevent large gatherings of young people and ensure the area is available to enjoy for local residents and their families”.

Councillor Helen Grant, the district council’s deputy leader and safety boss, said: “We have received many, many representations from local people about the totally unacceptable behaviour witnessed at the falls over the last two weekends.

“We will not tolerate the behaviour we saw from these people – we are working to protect our beauty spot for local residents and visitors who want to treat it with respect, not as a party spot.”

She said the situation would be reviewed after the weekend.