© Jack Versiani Holt

Bathing water facts

What are designated bathing waters?

Water quality needs to be monitored at popular beaches which are called ‘designated bathing waters’ to ensure that beach users are protected from pollution. A bathing water is defined as a beach (or inland site) used by a large number of bathers or where bathing is promoted or associated facilities are provided.

Sometimes when beaches don’t meet these requirements they’re monitored voluntarily. Although this provides information about the general quality of the water, there is no legal requirement to monitor water quality or to ensure that the beach meets the required bathing water standards.

How are beaches monitored for water quality?

During the bathing season - May to September in England and Wales and June to September in Scotland and Northern Ireland - water samples are regularly taken by the environmental regulator at over 600 UK beaches. At the end of every bathing season the water quality is classified as either:

Look for beaches with ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’ water quality and check for daily pollution forecasts when deciding where to paddle, swim or snorkel.

Bathing water quality isn’t monitored outside of the bathing season and daily pollution forecasts are not made.

What are daily pollution forecasts?

During the bathing season some beaches release daily forecasts, to warn you if there is a risk of increased pollution. Look out for temporary signs at the beach and warnings on our website. Remember water quality can be reduced for up to 72 hours after heavy rain.

High levels of bacteria in the water can indicate pollution from sewage treatment works or polluted rain water draining from the land.

Can I apply for a new beach to become a designated bathing water?

Anyone can recommend that a bathing water should be designated. Please contact the relevant authority for further information;

Beaches in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man are not covered by the EU Bathing Waters Directive but they have chosen to monitor some of their popular beaches using the same standards. For further information about bathing water sampling please contact the relevant authority;

Actions to improve bathing waters:

Actions you can take

  1. Join a beach clean
  2. Visit the beachwatch website
  3. Join the fight against the 'unflushables'
  4. Only flush the 3Ps - meet the unflushables
  5. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2018
  6. Check out water quality before you head to the beach
  7. Find out about Blueprint for Water
  8. Organise a beach clean

Did you know?…

Around 40% of UK beach litter can be directly sourced to the public

MCS launched its Beachwatch programme in 1994

To date, our beach cleans have removed 6 million pieces of litter

Why not join a beach clean ... or organise one?

To date, our beach clean volunteers have removed 6 million pieces of litter from our beaches and collected marine litter data to support our campaigns for cleaner seas and beaches.

Learn more and join a beach clean