A few years ago, fly-fishers in Nidderdale began to notice a deterioration in the river’s water clarity and feared it could lead to catastrophe for trout and grayling.

Then in 2022, a group of children fell ill after swimming in a section of the Nidd at Knaresborough and it became obvious that serious action was needed to clean up the Nidd from pollution.

It’s one of the rare issues that has united politicians of all stripes and campaigners at the Nidd Action Group were hopeful that a section of the river by the Lido in Knaresborough would be one of a handful across the country to be designated bathing water status.

This morning, they got their wish and Conservative MP Andrew Jones, who has led the campaign, hailed the moment as a turning point in the fortunes of the river which receives pollution from Yorkshire Water and through peat bog erosion and metal mining.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Campaigners have been calling for the River Nidd to win bathing water status

But what does bathing water status really mean  — and will it lead to a cleaner Nidd for people and wildlife?

What is bathing water status?

The government has the power to designate rivers and waterways bathing water status.

Once designated, each year during the peak bathing season between May and September, the Environment Agency will test for pollutants.

They will be looking for bacteria such as E-coli which can be a signifier of human waste.

The idea behind the status is that more monitoring should help Yorkshire Water and other polluters better understand the problem so they can work to reduce the amount of waste that goes into the river.

Publicly available results should also help the public hold their efforts to account.

Samples from the Nidd will be processed within 24 hours and sent to a lab near Exeter where a team of scientists will analyse them.

The results are then published on the Environment Agency’s Swimfo website, and the site will be given a rating.

The government will then launch a consultation later this year on proposals to reform bathing water regulations in England that could see monitoring take place all year round.

It could also expand its definition of bathers to include a wider range of groups beyond just swimmers, such as rowers, kayakers and paddle boarders.

When will the Nidd be safe to swim in?

Just because the Nidd is now designated bathing water status does not mean it’s safe to swim in yet.

Defra said that last year 96 per cent of bathing waters in England met minimum annual standards and 90 per cent were rated as “good” or “excellent”.

However, most of the waterways that have the status are on beaches.

The overall picture is not good for the two rivers that have been designated bathing water status.

In 2020, wild swimmers in Ilkley ran a successful campaign to see a section of the Wharfe designated.

It captured the imagination of the public and inspired similar efforts in Knaresborough but despite Yorkshire Water pledging millions in extra funding to improve the health of the Wharfe, it was still rated ‘poor’ by the Environment Agency.

They found a host of bacteria impacting water quality, including human and animal DNA.

So while bathing water status represents a positive move forward, the real work to clean up the Nidd for future generations starts now.