UK records record number of clean beaches

The Good Beach Guide 2001, has recommended a record number of UK beaches for inclusion, 275 in total, representing an increase of 28% on 2000’s figure.

The guide, which provides an independent guide to water quality and sewage discharges at principal beaches across the UK, has recommended 60 more beaches for inclusion, which its compilers, the NGO, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), says represents “a massive improvement in coastal water quality this year in all four corners of the UK”. However, the MCS says that the bright picture is tarnished by an increase in the number of beaches failing the minimum water quality standard.

The MCS used government data for 806 beaches which were monitored for bathing water quality between May and September 2000. It recommended 34% of the beaches which achieved a 100% pass of the EC Mandatory Standard, compared to 95% recommended by the Government (see related story), passed the EC Guideline Standard, which has 20 times stricter bacterial indicator levels and tests for faecal streptococci, and were not affected by sewage outfalls that discharge raw, screened or primary treated sewage. However, 90 beaches, or 11%, failed to meet the minimum water quality standards, an increase of 10 compared to the previous year.

The area with by far the most recommended beaches is Southwest England, with a record 113 of the 201 beaches surveyed included in the guide. The MCS says that investment by South West Water and Wessex Water in improvements has paid off with 5 less beaches failing the minimum EU water quality standard.

In Southeast England 14 more beaches have been recommended, bringing the tally to 49 from the 139 sampled. Huge improvements in the Isle of Wight have boosted the regional figures and only 4 beaches failed the minimum EU water quality standard, compared to 7 last year.

However, the news for Northeast and Northwest England was not so good with the number of North East beaches recommended remaining unchanged at 9 out of 67 beaches sampled and an increase from 5 to 10 beaches failing the minimum EU water quality standard. In the North West only two beaches get a recommendation but following further improvements on storm and sewage discharges five fewer beaches failed the minimum EU water quality standard.

In Scotland, 20 of a total 111 beaches sampled are recommended, an increase of one from last year, while Wales had 60 out of 188 sampled beaches included in the guide. However, Wales witnessed a doubling in the number failing the minimum EU water quality standard, likely due to diffuse bacterial pollution.

Northern Ireland had over a third of its beaches recommended in the guide, while the Channel Islands witnessed a drop from 14 to 11 recommended beaches. All those now failing are on Guernsey. There are still no recommended beaches on the Isle of Man and over a third fail the minimum EU water quality standard.

The MCS, which also recently carried out a survey of beach litter (see related story), believes that to protect public health three major steps need to be taken:

  • improved sewage treatment to achieve the highest water quality standards at all public beaches;
  • public notices on beaches which fail minimum water quality standards;
  • tackle additional sources of bacterial pollution such as agricultural run-off and storm water overflows.

It is lobbying the European Commission to implement a revision of the Bathing Water Directive including raising water quality standards and better notification of when beaches fail.

“With more and more beaches recommended in the MCS Good Beach Guide, the improvements are paying off and bathing water quality is better than ever before,” commented Kate Hutchinson, Coastal Pollution Officer for the Marine Conservation Society. “However we need to continue making progress ensuring that no raw, or inadequately treated sewage is discharged into coastal waters and that all sources of bacterial pollution are tackled. This is essential to reduce the number of beaches failing to meet the lowest water quality standards.”

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