Wallingford Beach one step closer to becoming second Thames designated bathing site

Wallingford Beach has reached the next stage of its application for designated bathing water status – with Defra launching a national public consultation on designation for the popular swimming spot on the River Thames[1].

Anyone may respond to the consultation by online survey, email or post here: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/water/consultation-on-designation-of-27-sites-as-bathing/

The consultation closes on 10th March.

If successful, Wallingford Beach would be amongst the first handful of inland bathing water designations on England’s rivers. Designation of the site would result in regular water quality monitoring by the Environment Agency, with an overall classification from ‘Excellent’ to ‘Poor’ displayed on site, allowing swimmers and other river users to make informed choices about safe river use. Designation would also put pressure on Thames Water to investigate and address poor water quality to ensure the site meets bathing water standards. This will of course provide health benefits not only to the many people who enjoy accessing the river, but also to the health of the river’s ecosystems and its wildlife.

The application for Wallingford Beach to become a designated bathing water, which was submitted by environmental charity Thames21 in October 2023[2], drew strong support from both Wallingford Town Council and South Oxfordshire District Council. Citizen science surveys demonstrated the popularity of the spot, with hundreds bathing and paddling on the hottest days of summer. A public consultation of local swimmers, residents and business-owners also showed 97% in favour of the designation, with many citing the significance of the river in the town’s heritage and landscape.

In 2023, a citizen science programme of water quality monitoring resulted in a ‘Poor’ overall status for bathing water quality, with levels of E.coli approximately 3.6 times the level seen in 2022[3]. 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, Thames21 said: “It’s wonderful news that Wallingford Beach could be on its way to receiving a bathing water designation, which would help protect both people and nature from the harms of sewage. Everyone deserves healthy, safe rivers, and we hope we can add this popular site to the growing number of England’s inland river bathing waters.

“We would also like to express our deep thanks to all the volunteers who helped us carry out our weekly water quality testing programme and all the people, councils and organisations that supported our application.”

Julie Bywater, citizen scientist and local swimmer said: “As a local resident and avid wild swimmer, I am delighted to hear of the successful first round of application for the River Thames bathing water status at Wallingford Beach. Being able to swim in clean, safe waters is not just a luxury but a right for all who call this area home. It’s a testament to the collective effort of residents, authorities, and environmental organizations working together to safeguard this precious resource for generations to come. I volunteered to take part in the citizen science monitoring as part of this application because, being a freshwater ecologist, ensuring the water is clean enough for our wildlife to not only survive, but to thrive is very important to me.”

Freddie van Mierlo, Cabinet Member for South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Defra’s decision to take forward the application for bathing water at Wallingford Beach is great news. Bathing water status for Wallingford would be an asset to swimmers, the many other river users, and the community more widely. We hope this will be a driver for improvement to water quality, and I am hopeful for a safer, cleaner River Thames. Inland blue spaces are crucial for wellbeing and are a great way to connect with nature, so I hope this designation is successful. I encourage everyone to take part in the consultation, demonstrating widespread community support for this well-loved stretch of river.”


Notes for editors

  1. The consultation and the application can be accessed here.
  2. https://www.thames21.org.uk/2023/10/thames21-submits-applications-to-secure-bathing-water-status-for-henley-and-wallingford/
  3. https://www.thames21.org.uk/2023/11/bacteria-levels-above-safety-limits-at-the-proposed-bathing-water-site-in-wallingford/