Environment Agency tests on water samples from 495 coastal and freshwater bathing spots found 98.6% or 488 met mandatory minimum European Union Bathing Water Directive Standards – up two per cent on last year (2008).

Dr Paul Leinster, agency chief executive, said: “Bathing water quality around England and Wales has improved dramatically over the past 20 years and we are working hard to ensure it continues to do so.

“New standards that come into force in 2015 will set even more ambitious targets and we are utilising the latest technology available to help meet these goals.

“Last week we published our new corporate strategy in which we have committed to a five-year plan aimed at improving bathing water quality and we will continue to work closely with our partners in tackling all sources of pollution.”

The Environment Agency explained the improvement down to 2009 being a drier year than 2007 and 2008, when ‘exceptionally’ wet weather lowered bathing water quality as heavy rainfall washed pollutants into the sea.

The agency takes 20 samples at every bathing water site during the bathing season, from May to September – amounting to 29,700 in total.

These are tested for pollution, including human or animal faecal matter. Meanwhile, four fifths of bathing sites (82.2%) met the stricter European Commission guideline standards – up from 71.7% last year.

The seven bathing spots that failed to meet minimum standards are Lyme Regis Church Beach; Par; Crinnis Golf Links; Bude Summerleaze and Instow in the south west and Morecambe South and Askham-in-Furness in the north west.

For more details go to the Environment Agency website at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/default.aspx or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs page on bathing waters at http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/water/waterquality/bathing/index.htm

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