AN APPLICATION has been made to the Government for an area of the River Tone at Taunton’s French Weir Park to be granted Bathing Water Status.

Taunton Town Council recently resolved to write a letter to support the group which is looking to achieve DBWS for the area by the river steps at COACH in French Weir.

The project was also supported by over 300 people who went swimming in the Tone this summer and the application was submitted to Defra (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs).

If the site is designated, the Environment Agency will monitor water quality at the site to protect the health of people bathing there.

Currently, only two rivers in England have Bathing Water Status, the River Wharfe at Ilkley and Wolvercote Mill Stream in Oxford.

The stretch of the River Tone running through French Weir Park first began to be used as a popular place for bathing in about 1813, and a bathing station was constructed below the weir in 1862.

In the 1920s, the bathing station below the weir was replaced by one above the weir, on the site which is now the Centre for Outdoor Adventure and Community Hub (COACH).

COACH has installed steps on the public land next to its building for easy access into the river and Taunton Town Council has now assumed responsibility for them in terms of repairs and maintenance.

The Bathing Station group is based in the park and is thriving - they have a following of more than 1,300 people on Facebook and arrange regular meet-ups, usually several times a week, and some of their members swim 52 weeks a year.

Gideon Amos, the area’s Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate, and Janine Appleton, chair of the park’s Friends, submitted the application.

Mr Amos: “The volunteers and Friends who help look after our park and bathing spot do an amazing job and I want to place on record my enormous thanks for their hard work.

“Gaining Bathing Water Status would be a massive move forward, would give people regular, reliable information on water quality, and ensure water companies have to report pollution if and when they create it.”

Janine Appleton, chair of the park’s Friends, added: “Speaking to the local community while preparing our application has really confirmed our understanding that wild swimming is so very much valued in our park, and accessed by a huge variety of people from all different backgrounds and socio-economic statuses”.

“Our aim is to serve the local community and look after and better our park.

“Looking at the overall positive impact Bathing Water Status would have for the wild swimming community, locals who frequent the park and swim during the summer, the local small businesses and other community groups, and of course our local wildlife population, we wholeheartedly support the application for Bathing Water Status, which is also particularly fitting given the nature of this historic bathing site.”

Taunton’s Beth French, a world-renowned ocean swimmer, is also supporting the application.

Somerset County Gazette: Beth FrenchBeth French (Image: Contributed)

She said: “Having access to clean, safe water should not be a luxury. Outdoor swimming is such a positive experience with an already huge and growing community and the Bathing Station at French Weir has a history which deserves to be recognised and brought firmly back into common use”.

“Creating a site with safe water to swim in is beneficial not just to swimmers but all water users, both in, on, and beside the River Tone.

“I wholeheartedly support the application for Bathing Water Status and hope Taunton can be part of an important shift in cleaning up our rivers”.

The application to Defra also includes letters of support from Somerset Council and Taunton Town Council.