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2012 - A bad year for Britain's bathing beaches as one of the wettest summers on record led to increased sewage in the sea

MCS urges swimmers to beware as it recommends fewer beaches for excellent water quality

One of the UK's wettest summers on record has led to a worrying drop in the number of beaches around the country being recommended for their excellent bathing water quality in the annual MCS 'Good Beach Guide', published online today (27th March 2013  

MCS has recommended only 403 of the 754 UK bathing beaches tested in 2012 as having excellent water quality. That's just over half, and 113 fewer beaches than were recommended last year.

Even more concerning is that 42 beaches (5.6%) failed to meet even a minimum European standard, or equivalent, for bathing water quality - 17 more than in last year's Guide.

Relentless rain and flooding in many parts of the country led to an increase in the amount of bacteria and viruses ending up in our bathing waters. This type of pollution can originate from a variety of sources such as agricultural and urban run-off, storm waters, misconnected plumbing, septic tanks and dog faeces.

Sewage and animal waste is full of viruses and bacteria and most water users won't be aware that this type of pollution can increase the chance of them going home with an ear, nose or throat infection, or even gastroenteritis.

MCS Coastal Pollution Officer, Rachel Wyatt, says the latest results show that the charity's call for improved monitoring of combined sewer overflows and action to reduce pollution from farms and populated areas is urgently needed: "We have recommended fewer beaches in every English region and in Wales and Scotland. In England, the north west and south west were hit particularly hard, with the fewest number of recommended beaches for at least a decade. Action must be taken now. With stricter bathing water standards from 2015 and summers that appear to be getting wetter, the iconic image of people bathing off golden beaches could be at serious risk.

"There is no simple solution to sewage and animal waste reaching our seas. However if the water industry, communities and local authorities recognise that there is a problem and begin to work together to find answers then that would be a significant start," says Rachel Wyatt.

In the last twelve months MCS says it has seen a number of promising local partnerships working together to identify problems and starting to try and fix them.

"In the North West, consistently the worst part of the UK for bathing water quality, MCS is helping to drive up standards by being the only independent NGO on the seven-strong Turning Tides Board. After MCS lobbied Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water the first ever Welsh Coastal Waters Conference will be held later this year. And in Northern Ireland we have been a significant contributor to the Good Beach Summit which has identified the actions needed to reduce bathing water pollution," says Rachel Wyatt.

However, MCS says that in too many places there is still an out of sight, out of mind mentality because you just can't see this kind of water pollution even when you're swimming in it.

MCS suggests there are key things that water companies, local authorities and the public can do with MCS' help:

What water companies can do:

         Understand their contribution - Knowing where all of their sewers and overflows are and what impact they are having on the environment is the first step to finding solutions.

         Monitor Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) - Monitor all of their CSOs and provide, on a voluntary basis, data to local authorities about when and for how long the CSOs are spilling into rivers and the sea.

What councils and regulators can do:

         Inform the public - Displaying adequate advice at beaches about bathing water pollution can allow the public to make informed choices about when and where to bathe.

         Be proactive - Simple measures, like providing enough dog bins in popular areas (not just on the beach) or raising awareness amongst local businesses to look after their drains, can reduce bathing water pollution.

What YOU can do:

       Vote with your feet - Go to www.goodbeachguide.co.uk  to find MCS Recommended beaches and swim only from those.

       Report pollution - If you spot a pollution incident you should contact the local council and the UK environmental agencies' Pollution Hotline; 0800 807060.

       Look after your drains and check your plumbing - Don't put fats, oils or greases down the sink or flush rubbish down the toilet (such as cotton bud sticks, wet wipes etc) - this can block the sewers and cause sewer overflow pipes to discharge untreated sewage into our rivers and seas. Go to www.connectright.org.uk to make sure your home plumbing is correctly connected and isn't polluting the environment.

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