The rivers that flow around our neighbourhood are used extensively for recreation: rowers & kayakers, canoers, cruise boats, anglers as well as swimmers, paddle boarders, and people messing about in inflatables. In June 2020 a subgroup was set up to look at how we can improve access and use of the river balancing the need for recreation and protecting wildlife, in particular the wildlife corridor that runs from the University Sports Complex to Iffley.
A survey of local river-users in Oxford prompted 1140 responses. The results show that the river is widely and frequently used throughout the year for swimming and other casual use (i.e. not supported by clubs). The results indicate that yet more people would swim and paddle in the river if it was clean, clear of obstacles and had easier access in and out of the water. Current users of the river appreciate the natural state of the river, so a full swimming-pool type development (as used to be the case in the past – with changing rooms and diving boards etc) is not needed or wanted by respondents.
River swimming used to be very common all over Oxford. For a 150 years river bathing in Oxford was popular and during its heyday (1880 – 1970) formal bathing areas had diving boards and changing rooms. Now the sites are in urgent need of renovation, in particular access and steps. View a map of the old swimming areas here.
The results of the survey indicate that more people would swim and paddle in the river if it was clean, clear of obstacles and had easier access in and out of the water. Current users of the river appreciate the natural state of the river, so a full swimming-pool type development (as used to be the case in the past – with changing rooms and diving boards etc) is not needed or wanted by respondents.
We are focussing on renewing Longbridges as a safe swimming place while maintaining its natural state and supporting wildlife would enhance the river-use. This area has been used for swimming for 150 years and it’s high time it was given back to the public, who are increasingly looking to make the most of every precious green space. In addition to the pursuit of designated bathing water status for our river, we are asking the Council to clean up Longbridges and ensure that access and egress is safe and well positioned.
We received £2,500 from the Lottery to help our work. The funders recognise that one way of combating loneliness is to have beautiful places to walk, where you feel welcome outside of your own house. The riverside is somewhere you can visit by yourself or with others. The river provides a focus: it is beautiful: you can hear the birdsong and experience nature.
A local wild-life expert and an architect are helping us design the area to improve the biodiversity and human usage of Longbridges. The Council have agreed to replace the ladders and provide a bench.
We have regular working parties so come and help us. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org
The old Ferry Path
IFRA wants to open up areas for safe access for swimming, such as the path beside the Falcon rowing club. As the old path to the ferry, it is a right of way and is a way to access the water for people who do not belong to any clubs. During the rebuilding work at the Falcon it became a dumping ground and became overgrown and inaccessible. The good news is that the Council have agreed to maintain it and we will be working with them to improve it and open up the public area between the carpark and the path.
Because of pollution the Environmental Agency does not recommend swimming in the rivers around Oxford City. Pollution from Shire Lake Ditch (alongside Aston’s Eyot from the Cherwell to the River) is a particular problem. IFRA worked with the Swimmers against Sewage, Friends of Aston's Eyot and other residents to persuade the City Council to apply for safe swimming status for the Thames. The Government has now announced that all water companies are to provide year-round, real-time data on sewage discharge. This should help us know if the water is safe.
If you see sewage in the Thames, report it. Further information on Facebook or see IFRA's Report It! page.