Plunge into a Natural Swimming Pool

Michael Littlewood
Wednesday, 1st November 2000

Imagine having a swimming pool which cleans itself with plants and requires no chemicals. Landscape designer, Michael Littlewood, presents a design that is beautiful, healthy, ecologically diverse and less expensive than conventional pools.

There can be no doubt that swimming in water containing chemicals does have an adverse effect on many people's health, both internally and externally. If you are living a holistic lifestyle, eating organic produce, using alternative medicine, drinking spring water etc., then it makes sense to avoid swimming in a pool containing chemicals.

To be able to swim in natural water is sheer bliss. Not only is the exercise good, but the water is also of considerable benefit too. While some people will have room in their garden for their own pool there are many others who do not and have to use the public facility – a chemical version – if there is one.


A natural swimming pool can be built more cheaply than a conventional pool and its maintenance will cost considerably less. You should allow approximately £180 to £200 per square metre in the budget and be aware that, as with every building project, each site has its own demands and personal variations. It may also be possible to offset some of the costs by doing some of the construction work yourself. The real savings with natural swimming pools are on equipment, storage space for chemicals and the chemicals themselves. Natural pools also only need an annual visit to attend to the plants and check the filters and skimmers.

Like many ecological projects, costs cannot be compared solely on construction. Besides saving on ongoing maintenance and increasing biodiversity, the natural pool uses less manufactured materials which have to be transported to the site. Creating a self-cleaning water system inevitably benefits local wildlife and there is also no risk of releasing chemicals into the atmosphere or the local waterways and drains.

Even in this country with its temperate climate there are no really good reasons why every community, be it hamlet, village, town or city, should not have the benefits of being able to swim in a natural pool. There are many ways of increasing the water temperature at certain times of the year quite easily and cheaply.

At the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival I built an Edible Water Garden and because it was only open for six months, the water temperature was increased to ensure better growth for the flora and fauna.

More and more communities, leisure centres and hotels in Europe are installing the combined swimming and natural pool. As construction costs are less expensive and maintenance costs are considerably reduced compared to a chemical pool, it also makes more sense to transform outdoor pools into bio-swimming pools than to renovate them at high cost.

Natural Harmony

While the season for swimming can be extended by the use of warmer water it is very important that the pool is sited in a sheltered location, especially from cold winds. Landform, planting, walls and fences all play a major role in the overall design to provide a microclimate suitable for swimming. Swimming in the summertime, even skating in a very cold winter or simply enjoying the features at other times, the natural pool can be a fascinating place in which to study nature.

There are no hard transitions in nature, just as there are no exact edges and lines. Structures flow gently into one another, only we humans create harsh boundaries. The natural swimming pool realises the principle of harmonious co-existence as demonstrated by nature. While there is a separating wall between the swimming and regeneration zone – to avoid getting earth into the swimming pool area – the pool forms a natural unity of design and function.

How It Works

The swimming pool is separated into two areas – swimming and regeneration. The natural self-cleansing forces ensure a stable hygienically perfect water quality through its micro-organisms and plants. Special plant filters additionally clean the water so that even strict EU standards for swimming pools can easily be met.

Perfect functioning and visible attractiveness create harmo-nious unity as demonstrated by the attractive creation of running brooks, flowing currents and water circulation. The recommended annual service to remove sediments and clean filters can be carried out by trained personnel or bio-swimming pool experts. Yet the best cleaning service is nature itself.

Design & Construction

The design has to consider: the needs for all the users of the pool; the area selected for the pool; the ground conditions; the need for shelter from winds; that it is not shaded by large trees or that leaves cause a nuisance. Services may have to be considered depending upon whether renewable energy can be used.

The pool should not be larger than necessary as it will take time to warm up. Generally 2m (6ft) is deep enough unless diving is required and a width of 4m (13ft) is ample for two people to swim side by side. Length is a matter decided by the user. Some people want to swim a good length while others do not mind a short one. The design should cater for children by having large shallow areas. These will also warm up quicker especially if black sand and gravels are used.

The advantage of a natural swimming pool design is that it is part of the landscape or garden and it is aesthetically pleasing at all times of the year. It also provides a habitat for wildlife to share.

This article describes a design for natural swimming pools invented by Peter Petrich who founded Biotops in 1984, a company based in Austria. Peter has tried and tested the design many times and Biotops have now built over 1,000 pools in Europe. Designing and building swimming pools without chemicals could have serious health risks if done incorrectly. There is therefore an ongoing programme of scientific research to ensure water quality and that the pools fulfil the strict EU legal standards. There is no doubt that the design is both practical and safe and that these pools enhance the landscape. What a difference there is between a conventional chemical system with its hard landscaping, often heated by an oil-fired boiler, and a self-cleansing natural pool, heated by solar and usable all the year round

Michael Littlewood is the author of Natural Swimming Pools

See also Natural Swimming Pools DVD by David Pagan Butler: David Pagan Butler takes you through two projects step by step. The first one is how to build a plunge pool, an ideal nature reserve that you can swim in too and the perfect compliment to a home-made sauna! Learn how to design the structure, build the swimming area, fit the liner, plant the edges and make a simple solar powered pump to filter the water. Many of the materials used can be recycled and collected by you as you plan the project. The second part of the DVD shows David's first project – how to make a full scale natural swimming pool. 

kcgirl |
July 27, 2011 - 11:43pm
so cool!!!

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