OXFORD could be the location for just the second designated river bathing site in England as a campaign steps up.

Oxford Rivers Project is to monitor bacterial water levels, collecting water samples from 18 river locations across the county each month, before sending them to Thames Water labs.

The samples will be tested for sewage-linked bacteria, with the results contributing to an application for designated bathing water status at a city site, such as Port Meadow.

Swans in Port Meadow, Oxford. Picture: Paul Flather

Swans in Port Meadow, Oxford. Picture: Paul Flather

See also: Covid cases rise by 51 over Easter weekend

If the application is successful, consistent water quality monitoring would be required at the site to ensure that it consistently meets public health standards.

Thames Water is also set to publish live alerts of sewage discharges from six locations near the city.

Tim Harris, from The Rivers Trust said: “We know from the monitoring of sewer storm overflows that untreated sewage discharges are a significant source of pollution in our rivers, but there has been no routine monitoring of bacteria levels in rivers in the UK.

“This project is going to be crucial in filling that data gap and helping recreational river users to make a more informed decision about when and where it is safest to enter the water.

“The evidence gathered will also help us better understand the sources of pollution, which is the first step to tackling the problem in partnership.”

Raw sewage in the River Thames

Raw sewage in the River Thames

Ned Wells, co-founder of the End Sewage Pollution mid-Thames group, said: “The level of sewage pollution in the upper Thames is absolutely unacceptable, both for the wildlife and for all the people who use the rivers here.

“Thames Water providing water testing and alerts of sewage spill alerts is a great start to cleaning up their act.”

Richard Aylard, Thames Water’s sustainability director, said: “Discharges of untreated sewage are unacceptable to us, our customers and the environment, and we will work with the Government, Ofwat, the Environment Agency and others to accelerate work to stop them being necessary.

“Our business plan for the next five years includes an unprecedented amount of investment, much of it directed towards safeguarding the environment.

Protestors in Port Meadow, Oxford last year. Picture: Richard Cave

Protestors in Port Meadow, Oxford last year. Picture: Richard Cave

“We have a long way to go and we certainly can’t do it on our own – but the ambition is clear.

“Our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for our rivers and for the communities who love and value them.

“That’s why we’re delighted to be part of the Oxford Rivers Project which will help people make informed decisions about taking to the river by providing information about one of the causes of bacteria in the water.”

Oxford Rivers Project aims to reduce the impact of sewage pollution, while making the city’s recreational river sites safe to swim in.