97.9% of English bathing waters meet minimum water quality standards

Rachel Wyatt By: Clare Fischer, Rachel Wyatt
Date posted: 19 November 2018

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) say that following tests at 420 English bathing waters this summer 411 have met at least the minimum standard of the Bathing Water Directive.

Bournemouth Beach
© Vince O'sulivan

The readings have been combined with those taken over the last three bathing seasons to determine an annual classification. The Environment Agency monitors the level of bacteria in the water each year - the 2018 results cover the period from 2015 to 2018. Each bathing water is given one of the following annual classifications:

97.9% of bathing waters have met at least the minimum standards this year with 388 bathing waters being classified as Excellent and Good.

However nine beaches were designated ‘poor’ - Tynemouth Cullercoats, Scarborough South Bay, Clacton (Groyne 41), Leigh Bell Wharf, Ilfracombe Wildersmouth, Combe Martin, Weston Main, Burnham Jetty North and Allonby South.

Signs will be displayed at these beaches next year advising against bathing. Some may already have signs if this isn’t their first ‘poor’ rating. The signs don’t mean that swimming is prohibited but helps bathers decide where to swim. However, if a bathing water fails to meet the minimum standard of Sufficient for five consecutive years, permanent advice against bathing will be posted on the Environment Agency’s website and on a sign at the beach.

Water quality has dramatically improved since 1990 due to efforts by Defra, the Environment Agency, water companies, councils, local communities, farmers and environmental organisations to reduce pollution and look after rivers, lakes and the sea.

However, even where the water meets the standards, sometimes the quality can be reduced, particularly after heavy rain, so between May and September bathers are advised to look out for temporary signs or information online that may advise against swimming.

In Wales, all 104 met the minimum standards with 78 achieving excellent and none being classified as poor. In Northern Ireland all 26 bathing waters around the coast met the minimum standards, with 16 classified as excellent. Ballyholme moved from ‘poor’ to sufficient for the first time since 2016, meaning Northern Ireland had no ‘poor’ bathing waters either.

In Scotland, there was an increase in the number of ‘Excellent’ bathing waters, from 25 in 2017 to 28 this year. The number classified as ‘Good’ remains the same at 34, with those classified as ‘Sufficient’ going from 16 to 13. (NB These figures remain provisional until confirmed classifications are issued by the EU in spring 2019).

However the number classified as ‘Poor’ is still relatively high with 11 bathing waters failing to meet the minimum required standards.

For more information on MCS bathing water quality work.

Actions you can take

  1. Find out about Blueprint for Water
  2. Only flush the 3Ps - meet the unflushables
  3. Check out water quality before you head to the beach
  4. Join the fight against the 'unflushables'
  5. Make sure popular swimming beaches are protected

Did you know?…

On UK beaches levels of litter have doubled in the past 20 years

MCS first launched the Good Beach Guide in 1987 as a book to highlight the woeful state of the UK’s bathing waters

Plastic has been found in the stomachs of almost all marine species including fish, birds, whales, dolphins, seals and turtles