King’s College bans swimming, barbecuing and boating on Grantchester Meadows

The ban was created because of the ‘unsociable’ behaviour of visitors to the area, and concerns about erosion of the riverbank due to increased activity there

King’s College has banned swimming, barbecuing and boating in Grantchester Meadows because of “unsociable” behaviour shown by visitors to the area, and concerns about erosion of the riverbank due to people entering and exiting the river.

The College, which owns the land, said it has “no desire to prevent anyone’s enjoyment” of the area, but that it “cannot in good conscience” allow activities there to continue as they currently are, and so “reluctantly” instated the ban.

Charlie Scott-Haynes, a first year Classics student at Trinity Hall, said the ban is “disappointing”, as those activities form “such a fun and unique part of the Cambridge experience that won’t be open to us anymore.”

Students enjoying a swim in the river (Photo credit: Rosie Smart-Knight)

King’s told The Cambridge Tab that the new signage announcing the bans has been installed in the Meadows “in consultation” with Grantchester Parish Council, Newnham Paris Council, South Cambs Council, and Cambridge City Council, and “at the behest of the local elected representatives.” The College will continue to work with them to “manage the situation as best [they] can.”

The College said people are frequently entering the river under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, and subsequently requiring medical assistance. It has therefore “sadly” become “increasingly apparent” that this causes “significant problems for the emergency services”, and also brings a “serious risk to life.”

King’s therefore believes it would be “irresponsible” for it to encourage swimming in this “unsafe” area, but it would be “entirely supportive” of the Council installing safe-swimming points on Grantchester Meadows, as it has elsewhere along the Cam.

Residents have also reported the “unsociable” behaviour of those bringing watercraft to the Meadows, blocking local roadways and drives, “being rude to local residents”, and discarding their “punctured vessels.” The College believes this behaviour “reduces everyone’s enjoyment” of the Meadows and “poses a significant threat to the local wildlife.”

It also added that there are “serious concerns” about erosion to the riverbank along the Meadows, and the effect of this on the public footpath. This erosion is “in large part” due to people entering and exiting the river, or “improperly mooring” their vessels to the bank.

The College have said it “fully appreciate[s]” that swimming in the Cam is “popular”, and is beneficial for “physical and mental health.” It has “no desire” to prevent anyone from “sensibly exercising their right” to swim or use watercraft in the Cam, and wants the Meadows to be “used and enjoyed respectfully by all.”

These reasons for the ban were affirmed in a letter sent to Newnham residents by Cambridgeshire County Councillor, Lucy Nethsingha, which explained that increased use of the area in the last 18 months due to the pandemic has “put pressure on the habitat and facilities” there, possibly putting “the long-term future of the meadows at risk.”

The letter sent from Councillor Lucy Nethsingha to Newnham residents (Photo credit: Lucy Nethsingha)

Nethsingha states in the letter: “I know Kings have not taken the decision lightly, as they do not want to discourage people from enjoying the area.

She continues: “The signs (and perhaps occasional patrols) are being put in place by Savills/Kings College, in consultation with Grantchester parish council, and while Newnham councillors have been kept informed we do not have control over these decisions.”

When speaking to The Tab Cambridge, Lucy Nethsingha stressed that “nobody is saying that people can’t use” the area at all, and that people “are still very welcome to walk there, have picnics there” and “use it in the same way that they’ve used it for many, many generations.”

Nethsingha emphasises that “what everybody wants is for lots of people to be able to continue to enjoy that area as they have done for generations in the past, for generations in the future, and that means that we do want people to continue to go there, but when they go there, they need to be careful about not damaging the delicate ecosystem that is there.”

Jessica Graham, a first year MML student at Magdalene finds the development “really sad”, as it’s “so nice to have the countryside so close by to go to on a sunny day.” However, she also recognises it’s “important to respect the environmental concerns so that we can continue going there in the future.”

Hannah Huang, a first year Land Economy student at Christ’s, explained her view on the ban too: “As a fresher, I haven’t had the chance to explore a lot of the places people usually go to, and I was planning to go with all my friends when I came back for my second year in order to make it a kind of ‘big event.’

“I can understand why they are banning it but it’s a shame that some of us won’t ever be able to experience it! I wonder if they could bring it back with limitations on, for example, swimming/barbecue hours to reduce the amount it’s being used?”

Feature image credit: Matilda Head