Number of clean beaches in Britain increases

More British bathing waters have reached the European Commission’s mandatory bathing water quality standard this year than ever before.

The overall percentage of British coastal bathing waters meeting the minimum level of quality set by the Bathing Waters Directive is now 95%, combined with nearly 45% meeting the stricter Directive guidelines, according to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR). Seven of the nine inland bathing waters tested also met the Directive’s mandatory standards.

“This is the best result ever for UK bathing waters, in terms of EC mandatory standards,” said Environment Minister, Michael Meacher. “In order to achieve the cleanest, best quality bathing water in Europe, we must now meet the much tougher standards under the Blue Flag guidelines.” Regional improvements included an increase in the North West of England from 68% of beaches reaching the EU standards to 82%, and from 91% to 96% in the South West – an area of England with almost half the bathing waters in England, said the Minister.

For the first time, all three of Blackpool’s beaches met all the mandatory standards of the Directive. In October, however, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) declared that the state of Scotland’s beaches remained unacceptable (see related story), a situation which could be helped by an additional £600 million over the next five years from a total £8 billion, announced by the DETR last year, for water quality improvement programmes.

The mandatory standards of the Bathing Waters Directive state that a site must have no more than 10,000 coliforms per 100ml, or no more than 2000 faecal coliforms per 100ml. The more strict guidelines of the Directive demand that 80% of samples from a site must not contain more than 500 total coliforms, or 100 faecal coliforms, and that 90% of samples must not contain more than 100 faecal streptococci. Samples are taken throughout the bathing season from May to September, with 20 taken at regular intervals.

“Further improvements in sewage treatment delivered through negotiations with the major water companies will continue to be carried out in the near future, and it is hoped these projects will secure even higher levels of quality in the years to come,” said Dr John Murlis, Environment Agency Chief Scientist. “The Agency is also committed to ensuring this information is relevant for people in their daily lives. For the second year running the Agency has provided week-by-week information on the quality of all our bathing waters on our Website.”

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the organisation that runs the annual Good Beach Guide, says that the announcement of cleaner beaches is an early Christmas present.

Nevertheless, the standards are still not high enough, Kate Hutchinson, MCS Coastal Pollution Officer, told edie. The MCS would like to see the Government aim for the higher Guideline standard by addressing diffuse sources of bacterial pollution, which, the Society believes, is required to adequately protect human health. “The Marine Conservation Society welcomes any improvements in water quality but the minimum standard is not stringent enough to protect human health,” said Hutchinson. “However, the UK should be aiming to achieve the higher Guideline standard, to achieve this the Government and its Agencies need to address the other sources of bacterial pollution.”

Though sewage pollution from outfalls has been the major source of bacterial pollution in coastal waters for the past century, says Hutchinson, outfalls have masked other sources of pathogens. Bacterial pollution from diffuse sources such as agricultural runoff, urban runoff and storm waters, private discharges and in more localised areas, septic tanks leaks, dog and human faeces on the beach also need to be addressed (see related story). Not an easy task, says Hutchinson.

Greater effort is needed towards greater initiatives, and education of the public and farmers, including the promotion of Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) Code of Good Agricultural Practice. The benefits would include increased tourism, savings to farmers through increased efficiency, and clean beaches for everyone to enjoy, says MCS.

The results for 2000 in other European Member States will be published by the Commission in April.

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