UK in hot water as bathing sites rank worst in EU

The UK has the highest proportion of bathing water sites rated as 'poor quality' in the European Union (EU), results from the European Environment Agency's (EEA) annual bathing water report show.

The EEA report compiles analysis sampled at more than 21,000 coastal and inland bathing sites across the EU, Switzerland and Albania, indicating whether or not it has been contaminated by faecal pollution from sewage or livestock.

Results found that the UK had the second highest number of poor bathing water sites in the continent in 2015, behind only Albania which is not an EU member. Out of a total of 633 UK bathing sites, 31 or 4.9% of beaches were regarded as ‘poor quality’, while only 59.6% achieved a top-level rating, with only Romania and Slovakia having lower levels of ‘excellent’ bathing waters.

The poor performance can largely be accredited to a tougher new EU bathing water ratings systems, which has made it roughly twice as difficult to attain an ‘excellent’ rating than the old standards.

As the first report under the new rating systems, the UK has seen the number of bathing spots ranks as ‘excellent fall by 4%, while the number of ‘poor’ rated spots has increased by almost 2%.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Our bathing waters are cleaner than ever, with 97% meeting new, tougher standards. But we’re not complacent and we’re continuing to work with water companies, local authorities and communities to drive up standards on beaches and lakes across England.”

The average standards were significantly higher across the rest of the continent, with more than 84% of countries meeting the ‘excellent’ level. Increased investment in waste water infrastructure and other pollution reduction measures have improved the EU’s efforts to ensure clean and healthy bathing water.

‘Dirty man of Europe’

Throughout the ongoing EU referendum debate, a host of ‘remain’ green environmentalists have made severe warnings to ‘leave’ campaigners that a potential Brexit vote could result in Britain regaining its ‘dirty man of Europe’ label of the 1970’s, before the UK joined what was then known as the European Economic Community (EEC).  

A recent Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report stated that UK environmental policy has benefited from multilateral negotiations with other EU Member States, particularly in areas such as water pollution and air quality.

EAC chair Mary Creagh said: “The UK has cleaned up its act since we were dubbed the ‘dirty man of Europe’ in the 70s. EU environmental laws have played a key part, and mean we bathe on cleaner beaches, drive more fuel-efficient cars and can hold Government to account on air pollution.”

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George Ogleby

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