Better British beaches

Three hundred and forty-one UK beaches have been recommended in the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Good Beach Guide 2002, a record annual increase with 66 more beaches recommended than in 2001. Despite the general improvement, the UK’s northern regions fared less well with Scotland and Northern Ireland receiving disappointing results.

In order to be featured in the Good Beach Guide the bathing water sampled must: achieve a 100% pass rate of the EC Mandatory Standard – set by the Bathing Water Directive and based on levels of pollution from human sewage or livestock faeces; it must pass the EC Guideline Standard, which tests for the same type of pollution as the Mandatory Standard but sets its rate 20 times higher; and it must not be affected by sewage outfalls that discharge raw, screened or primary treated sewage.

The Guide surveyed 795 beaches in the UK with a 43% pass rate.

The MCS have attributed on-going sewage treatment and good weather to the overall increase in recommended beaches. England fared well across most regions with 173 of the 230 beaches surveyed featuring in the Guide – the northeast had the largest regional increase in recommended beaches with 36 in 2002 achieving MCS recognition, compared to just nine in 2001. Wales saw an increase of six recommended bathing water areas whilst Scotland had two.

“The MCS is really pleased with the improvement in bathing water quality this year and the wide geographical range of beaches in the Guide,” stated Kate Hutchinson, MCS Coastal Pollution Officer.

Although this year saw a decrease in the number of bathing waters failing to meet the EC Mandatory Standard – the minimum requirement for receiving MCS accreditation – the Marine Conservation Society is concerned that there are still too many beaches failing to meet this Standard.

“There are still areas affected by bacterial pollution from both sewage and diffuse sources,” Hutchinson said.

Wales managed to reduce its total number of beaches achieving the EC standard this year by five with 21 beaches failing. However, Scotland did not improve on its 2001 EC total with 25 failed bathing areas (see related story), whilst Northern Ireland’s total of beaches failing the Standard increased.

Northern Ireland’s record was the worst of all surveyed, being the only area where the number of beaches recommended in the Guide actually dropped. Out of the 27 bathing waters sampled only nine have been included in the Guide, compared with 11 last year.

“I am disappointed that the MCS has reported a decline in coastal water quality this year,” said Dermott Nesbitt, Environment Minister for Northern Ireland. He admitted that “much work” needed to be done to Northern Ireland’s bathing water to bring it up to EC Bathing Water Directive standards, calling for investment from sewerage treatment works to ensure they can improve on the current situation.

Friends of the Earth Scotland claimed the Guide was “embarrassing” for the Scottish Executive due to the poor increase in recommended number of Scottish bathing waters. They also criticised the Executive for “ignoring” Scotland’s best beaches as the Guide features eight beaches that are not officially recognised by the Executive.

A spokesperson for the Executive told edie that their criterion for identifying bathing waters, in compliance with the Bathing Waters Directive, was in the usage of the areas. He added there are few Scottish beaches which have a “large number” of users by European standards and that the 1998 Bathing Waters Panel, set up to identify official bathing waters, was actually generous in their selection. The Spokesperson pointed to the Executive’s Bathing Water Strategy as a means to improve upon this year’s record.

Although many areas are in need of further improvement, this year’s Good Beach Guide confirms the continuing improvement in general standards of beaches.

Story by Sorcha Clifford

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