Number of rivers and coastal areas designated ‘sensitive’

Stretches of four rivers have been designated by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as areas sensitive to nitrates, under the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, and 180 coastal areas have been declared sensitive areas with regards to bathing water.


The new designations mean that water companies will have to remove nitrate from sewage treatment discharges, complementing the action required by farmers under the Nitrates Directive, says DEFRA. The companies have until the end of 2004 to bring in the new treatment, a DEFRA spokesman told edie.

The nitrate sensitive areas are along sections of the Rivers Stour, Wissey and Chelmer in the Anglian region, and the River Leam in the Midlands. This will mean action by the Severn Trent and Anglian water companies in order to reduce the nitrate discharges from six sewage treatment works by 2004.

The sensitive coastal areas are located all around the country, with 33 on the north east coast, 31 in the north west, nine on the east coast, 29 on the south coast, and 78 in the south west. In the North East, these include Whitley Bay, Whitby, South Shields, and both North and South Bays at Scarborough, and in the North West, the Blackpool beaches and the Morecambe beaches. In the Anglian region, the beaches of Hunstanton and included, and in the South, the sensitive areas include beaches at Margate, West Wittering, and Bracklesham Bay. In the South West, the beaches around Christchurch and Pool Harbour have been designated, as have all those around Sidmouth, Lyme Regis, and Westward Ho!.

The areas have been designated as sensitive for at least one of three reasons:

  • the waters are eutrophic, or likely to become so in the near future;
  • to protect surface freshwaters, which could contain excess nitrates, intended for the abstraction of drinking water; and
  • where sewage treatment further than secondary is needed to meet other European directives, such as the Bathing Waters Directive.

“We already have the highest quality bathing water on record, and we are committed to a steady improvement in the quality of Britain’s fresh bathing water,” said Environment Minister Michael Meacher. “These tougher measures mean we can continue to ensure clean and healthy water both for Britain’s inhabitants and our aquatic wildlife.”

Last week, the European Commission announced that it would be bringing a number of prosecutions against member states – including the UK – for failures to suitably manage waste and wastewater (see related story).

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