The South Hams is getting four new monitored bathing sites as part of the largest expansion of wild swimming areas across England, amid warnings it will not necessarily lead to cleaner waterways.

The sites are all on the River Dart Estuary - Warfleet, Dittisham, Stoke Gabriel and the Steamer Quay in Totnes.

In total, the government announced 27 sites for the bathing season, which runs from May 15 to September 30. These are monitored by the Environment Agency (EA) and classified every year as ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’ or ‘poor’.

It does not mean a designated site is clean to swim in, however.

Water samples are analysed by the EA, and if the quality does not meet legal standards, it has to investigate sources of pollution and recommend improvements.

To compile the list, the Department for the Environment (DEFRA) held a national consultation on the proposal to designate each site.

It received 10,692 responses from the public and various groups, including Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), the Friends of the Dart (FoD) and South West Water (SWW).

Totnes and South Devon MP Anthony Mangnall said he was “delighted” that the sites had achieved the designated status, adding that it would give bathers “a clearer picture” and help to improve water quality.

Kirsty Davies from SAS warned that it would not lead to “an overnight fix”.

A BBC report noted that the number of designated sites rated as ‘excellent’ fell last year while the number rated as ‘poor’ rose to its highest level since 2015.

Alan Smith, a water industry veteran with more than 60 years’ experience, dismissed the list as “window dressing”, adding that it “would not make any difference to what is in the river”.

He said: “It just flags up to people a fairly consistent view that many rivers will continue to be designated ‘poor’.”

The FoD group welcomed the news but stressed that it was not a green light for bathing. Hannah Pearson, the group’s founding director, pointed out that the EA “is now obliged to test the river weekly (for two harmful bacteria)”, but added that the data would pressure SWW to reduce sewage spills.