Ninety-six per cent of bathing waters met the minimum European standards this year, according to tests carried out by the Environment Agency.

A total of 272 of England’s 414 designated bathing waters, or 65.7%, met the UK’s even stricter standards.

But the picture is less rosy in the south west. Of the 16 areas that failed to meet the minimum standards, 10 were in the south west.

Experts are blaming the heavy rainfall that hit the region this summer for washing agricultural and urban pollution into bathing waters.

In a statement, Defra said: “Defra is working with farmers to reduce water pollution from agricultural sources, through the Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative and the Nitrate Action Programme.

“Dealing with diffuse water pollution is a difficult job, as it has a huge variety of sources and Defra is looking at a number of ways of tackling the problem.”

But the Environment Agency called on farmers, local authorities and the water industry to do more to prevent pollution.

Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “Changing weather conditions are presenting new challenges and we will continue to work closely with the farming community, local authorities and the water industry to tackle the sources of water pollution.”

Water UK, which represents the UK water industry, said: “The water industry is committed to continuing maintenance of its assets so that they can continue to contribute to the high quality of bathing water quality society has come to expect.

“However the major improvement needed in future should focus on diffuse pollution by other sectors, particularly with the increasing threat of climate change.”

Bathing water quality has been steadily improving over the past decade. In 1998, only 89.9% of England’s bathing waters met EU standards. This rose to a record 99.5% in 2006.

More information on bathing water quality can be found here.

Kate Martin

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