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Wallingford Beach awarded bathing water status

Press release issued on behalf of environmental charity Thames21 on 13 May 2024

Defra has announced that a stretch of the River Thames at Wallingford Beach will officially become a designated bathing water, joining a total of 27 other bathing sites across the country. Environmental charity Thames21 submitted an application [1] to Defra in October 2023, which drew widespread support in both local and national consultations, making Wallingford Beach the second designated bathing water site on the Thames after Wolvercote Mill in Oxford.

Bathing water designation will now lead to Wallingford Beach being tested weekly by the Environment Agency during the bathing season (May to September). Results will be displayed onsite and allow swimmers and other river users to make informed choices about how to safely enjoy the Thames at Wallingford. Designation also puts pressure on Thames Water to investigate and address poor water quality to ensure the site meets bathing water standards. This will be of benefit not only to the many people who use and love the river, but also to the overall health of the river ecosystem.

As part of the process of designation, Wallingford Beach went to national consultation in February 2024, and the results showed that Defra received 1,239 responses and 1,213 agreed with the proposal to designate an area of Wallingford Beach as a bathing water site. Citizen scientists were key to the project, as their user surveys proved the popularity of the site which drew hundreds of people to the river in the hottest days of 2023.

Thames21 conducted a programme of water quality monitoring with citizen scientists testing the river weekly for bacteria harmful to human health. The data collected resulted in a ‘Poor’ overall status for bathing water quality, with levels of E.coli approximately 3.6 times the level seen in 2022[2]. This result clearly underlines the value of and need for a bathing water designation at Wallingford Beach, where those enjoying the river deserve to not do so in fear of their health.

Sarah Thornley, Catchment Partnership Development Officer at Thames21, said: “We are delighted that Wallingford Beach has become the second designated bathing site along the River Thames. Its great news, not only for the many swimmers who enjoy the site, but also the many other river users and wildlife, all of which deserve healthy rivers. We are incredibly grateful to all the citizen scientists who helped us achieve this – we couldn’t have done it without them, as well as all the people, councils and organisations that supported our application.”

Cllr Freddie Van Mierlo, South Oxfordshire District Council Cabinet member for climate change and nature recovery, said: “Rivers and streams provide a habitat for our aquatic wildlife, but many are struggling to cope due to water pollution, including in the Thames. While bathing water status will not immediately solve that issue, it will mean that Thames Water would be legally required to treat waste outflows to a much higher standard, which is great news for people and wildlife. We are delighted to have supported Thames21 and their volunteers, who have worked hard to get this result. Going forward the council will be adding signage near Wallingford Beach so that local people will get up to date information about the water quality at that spot.”

Cllr Jo Robb, South Oxfordshire District Council’s River Thames Champion, said: “The River Thames at Wallingford has been a popular swimming spot for generations of residents and visitors. Bathing Water Status will give people information on water quality so they can make an informed choice about whether or not to swim and it will require Thames Water to clean up its act at nearby treatment works. This is great news, not only for the people who enjoy the river but more importantly the natural world that depends upon it. ”


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About Thames21

Thames21 connects people with rivers by putting healthy rivers back at the heart of everyday life. We improve and restore rivers, educate and empower the community and campaign for positive change for the good of people and the environment. | Registered Charity No. 1103997