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Beaches Clean Enough to Swim and Bathe

EU tests award coveted Blue Flags to coastal sea waters and inland bathing sites. The flags display recognition of excellent water quality.

EU BLUE FLAGS: British beaches received a 95% clean bill of health for swimming and bathing.

Many of the Blue Flag supporters were keen to point out the reasons for it.

There is one main reason for the dramatic turnaround and improvements.

Water cleanliness and safety for swimming at beach resorts around the country is key.

They said it is most attributed to the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

It was an EU survey of Britain’s coastal water quality. Results show almost 95% received a clean bill of health from tough testing standards.

Even so, the figures were slightly down on 2014 results. But, one in four British bathing waters got considered far too dirty for swimming in 1991.

There were threats of enforced beach closures and warnings of EU infringements. They appear to have spurred on the measurable progress in recent years.

EU Bathing Water Guidelines

The first EU bathing water directive got introduced in 1976. A UK record was set in 2014 when 99% of all coastal and inland bathing sites got declared excellent, good, or fair. That means clean and safe enough for swimming.

The EU grade was only slightly down for 2016. They proclaimed 94.6% of British beaches were clean enough to swim and bathe in.

The United Kingdom vote on the June 23rd EU referendum served as a reminder. Current regulations test more than 21,000 beaches around European coastlines for quality of sea water bathing.

Supporters who wanted the United Kingdom to remain in the bloc made their point. They said Brexit might affect these recent gains for Britain’s Blue Flag awards.

For example: all the resort beaches on the northern seaside coastline passed the EU test in 2014. It was a result of a £1bn investment on clean water improvements. But, Blackpool could only get six of 29 waters cleared by EU bathing water guidelines during 1988.

Environmentalists for Europe (E4E)

Environmentalists for Europe were standing up for Britain to remain in Europe. They suggest that it makes the country cleaner and greener. Bill Oddie OBE (ex Goodies fame) is the Patron of E4E. He claims European protection is the fundamental reason why.

The beaches, the countryside, and the air we breathe are all cleaner – which means our food is safer.

Speaking from the same organisation, another anti Brexiteer made another quoted.”People used to think twice before swimming off a British beach in the 1960s and 70s. The old joke about Brighton used to be -swimming would be like going through the motions.

British Coastal Water ‘Cleaner than Ever’

The European Environment Agency conducted the sea water quality assessments. The EEA blamed a late implementation of a revised bathing water directive for a drop in rankings. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) also commented on the findings:

“British bathing waters are cleaner than ever. Around 97% of English beaches meet or exceed these tougher standards. We should continue our work with water companies, local authorities and communities. We want to drive up standards on beaches and lakes across the breadth of England.”

EU and British Beaches Facts and Figures 2016

The EU sees 96% of coastal and inland bathing sites meeting the minimum standards’ requirements for 2016. More than 84% of locations surveyed attained the classification for excellent. Whereas, 2% got found to be of poor quality.

The European Union’s environment commissioner gave the reason. The improvements results from 40 years of investment in water and waste water infrastructure.

  • Around £220m spent on British water quality improvements since 2010. There are more planned up to 2020.
  • 633 British bathing waters got monitored in 2016.
  • 377 (60%) judged as excellent and 599 sites got declared sufficient for bathing.
  • Water quality in 31 sites (many in Scotland) announced too poor to swim in.
  • As a result three of the worst sites got closed for further testing.

Note: You can check the quality of local bathing water in England using the Environment Agency service as shown on the GOV.UK website.

Bacteria and Faecal Contamination of Swimming Waters

The EEA cited improvements in measurements of two specific bacteria over recent decades. Sewage and animals cause E coli and intestinal enterococci. Finding these bacteria in bathing locations indicates a presence of faecal contamination in swimming waters.

The latest assessments prove that bathing water quality has improved a lot. An increasing number of bathing waters have reached high standards of quality and excellence.


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Beaches Cleared for Swimming after EU Tests