Consultation on Designation of Wolvercote Mill Stream as a Bathing Water

Closed 2 Mar 2022

Opened 9 Feb 2022


The Bathing Water Regulations (S.I.2013/1675) ("the Regulations") define a bathing water as a surface water where "...the Secretary of State expects a large number of people to bathe, having regard in particular to past trends and any infrastructure or facilities provided, or other measures taken, to promote bathing at those waters."   The objective of designating a beach or inland water as a bathing water is to protect bathers' health by monitoring for intestinal enterococci and E.coli in the water. The Environment Agency (EA) takes water quality samples during the bathing season, which in England runs from 15 May to 30 September. 

The monitoring data are used to make annual water quality classifications of Excellent, Good, Sufficient or Poor. If the water quality does not meet the standards set by the Regulations, the EA will investigate the sources of pollution to identify remedial measures that can be put in place. Bathing waters may be affected by pollution from water company assets such as Combined Sewer Overflows or by diffuse pollution caused by run-off from agricultural and urban areas. 

The Oxford Rivers Project, which is is a partnership project with Thames21, Oxford City Council, the Rivers Trust and Thames Water, has applied for an area of the River Thames at Oxford to be designated as a bathing water. Image A in the consultation document shows that Wolvercote Mill Stream is used for swimming and paddling. Bathing waters do not have a defined limit and if the site is designated as a bathing water the EA would determine a sampling point  within this area on the basis of where the greatest number of bathers go into the water. The annual classification would reflect the water quality at this point.

In considering a proposal for a site to be designated as a bathing water, we look at the number of bathers and the facilities provided by the local authority or private site owner to promote and support bathing. Adults and children swimming, and children paddling, are counted as bathers. We have not defined a "large number" because a bathing water may be a beach in a busy seaside resort or a much smaller site that attracts a large number of bathers in relation to its size.

The consultation document that is attached (see under "Related") summarises the evidence that has been provided to support this application.

Why your views matter

We are seeking your views on whether Wolvercote Mill Stream, an area of the River Thames in Oxford, should be added to the list of designated bathing waters. The consultation document summarises the evidence that has been provided about the level of usage at the site and the facilities that are provided to support bathing. Any additional evidence can be submitted in your response.

The figures in the consultation document focus on the number of people bathing in the river: adults swimming, and children swimming and paddling. Children who are paddling are counted as bathers because they are more likely than adults to ingest water while paddling.

You can respond by:

  • using the online survey (see below)
  • by email:
  • by post:

Bathing Waters Team
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
2 Marsham Street
Seacole Building

What happens next

Defra will review the responses to this consultation before a final ministerial decision is made on whether the site should be designated as a bathing water, in time for the 2022 bathing season.

If the site is designated as a bathing water, the Environment Agency will determine a sampling point on the basis of where the greatest number of bathers go into the water. The annual classification would reflect bathing water quality at this point on the river.

The summary of responses and government response to this consultation has now been published on, and can be accessed via this link:


  • Coastal local authorities
  • Coastal Management sector
  • Water/water Industry sector
  • Water suppliers
  • Leisure industry
  • Tourism industry
  • Environmental Health Officers
  • Beach Users
  • Stakeholders


  • Marine
  • Water quality
  • Bathing waters
  • Sewerage
  • Inland waterways