A BID to transform Port Meadow into Oxford’s very own beautiful bathing beach has begun.

The famous open space could become one of the first areas of the UK where a river is granted bathing water quality status, something usually reserved for coastal areas.

While people currently swim in the Thames at Port Meadow, the Oxford Rivers Project has warned there are harmful bacteria in the water at the moment, thought to be caused by raw sewage flowing into the river.

Oxford City Council, which is part of the river project alongside Thames Water, the Rivers Trust and Thames21, is now planning to bid to the Government for the special water status.

If successful, it will mean there could be extra legal protection stopping sewage from being dumped into the river.

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Linda Smith, Oxford City Council’s cabinet member for leisure and parks, said: “Thousands of people use the rivers in the city for recreation, exercise and relaxation every year, so the water quality needs to improve.”

The Oxford Rivers Project is recruiting volunteers to survey how many people use the Thames at Port Meadow and whether they are swimming, kayaking, fishing, paddleboarding, or just sitting by the riverbank.

The project will also train volunteers as citizen scientists to collect samples of the river water, which can then be tested for bacteria which live and thrive in sewage.

The samples will be collected from 18 different locations along the river in Oxfordshire, with Thames Water testing whether or not sewage is having an impact.

Ms Smith added “We’re looking forward to using this data to apply for designated bathing water status in the city.”

A bid for bathing water status would need to be submitted to DEFRA, the Government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, by the autumn, with the title being granted ahead of next summer.

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The Thames at Port Meadow would be the second river in the UK to be granted bathing water status if this happened.

The first was the River Wharfe in Ilkley, Yorkshire, which received bathing water status at the end of last year, though under the scheme its quality is still ranked poor.

Beaches across the UK are assessed for their water quality, and many are judged to be excellent.

While evidence to support the bid is being gathered this summer, Thames Water has launched an alert system to let people know when the river at Port Meadow and six other sites may be harmful due to sewage spills.

Alerts will initially be tweeted by @oxfordthamessewage and a public subscription service will be made available at a later date, the company said.

Thames Water has plans for a £26 million investment in Oxford Sewage Works to improve capacity, making it much less likely untreated waste will end up in the river due to overflow.