Water quality at 70% of Britain's beaches 'excellent'


Tim Muffett speaks to Richard Harrington from the Marine Conservation Society at Stokes Bay in Hampshire

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A record 73% of beaches in the UK have "excellent" water quality because of last summer's dry weather, according to the Marine Conservation Society.

Researchers said the lack of rain caused less pollution to filter down from towns and cities to the coasts.

In its annual Good Beach Guide, published on Tuesday, MCS says 538 of 734 UK beaches tested between May and September 2013 reached the top standard for water quality.

It is 135 more than the previous year.

The MCS labels beaches against four standards of water quality - recommended, guideline, mandatory and fail.

There were also fewer failures in 2013, with 14 beaches tested last summer failing to reach minimum water quality standards compared with 42 the year before.

In the North East and South East of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland all monitored beaches reached the minimum bathing water requirements, the latest information shows.

Fistral in Cornwall Water samples from beaches, including Fistral beach in Cornwall, were taken between May and September last year
Robin Hoods Bay in North Yorkshire Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire was among 538 beaches recommended for its water quality
Portreath beach in Cornwall Portreath beach is one of more than 70 beaches in Cornwall that have been judged as excellent

Scientists took samples of bathing water from Britain's beaches every week last summer - checking for bacteria such as e-coli.

MCS coastal pollution officer Rachel Wyatt said she hoped the latest figures would be a boost to UK tourism, after several wet summers led to a recent drop in bathing water quality.

"It's great news that we are able to recommend more beaches than ever for excellent water quality and it shows just how good British beaches can be," she said.

"The main challenge now is maintaining these standards, whatever the weather.

Who has the most recommended beaches?

  • North-east England 81%
  • South-east England 84%
  • South-west England 88%
  • Wales 71%
  • Northern Ireland 65%

"Most people don't realise what a big impact the weather can have on bathing water quality, but this has really been highlighted in the last few years.

"2008, 2009 and 2012 were, according to the Met Office, amongst the wettest summers on record since 1910, and fewer UK bathing waters met minimum and higher water quality standards because of increased pollution running off rural and urban areas and overloaded sewers."

South-west England has the highest record of recommended beaches with 88% hitting the top standard, while the Isle of Mann had the lowest with 26% - although this was a 16% rise on the previous year.

The Channel Islands was the only area to see a drop in the number of beaches considered excellent for its water quality, from 19 to 18.

Dr Sue Kinsey, pollution policy officer at the MCS, said heavy rainfall over the winter months should not affect beaches this summer, as bacteria will break down within 24 to 48 hours.

Real-time monitoring by the Environment Agency will allow swimmers to check the water quality on a given day, Dr Kinsey told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

As well as the dry summer, she said "massive investment" by water companies to improve their sewage systems was a factor in the improvement.

In two years' time, beaches which do not meet the "sufficient" standard will have to display signs warning against bathing in the sea under new EU regulation.

This will be around twice as stringent as the current minimum standard and means that some beaches will need to do more to retain their recommendation, the MCS says.

It says it will continue to put pressure on water companies, environmental regulators and local councils to tackle the sources of bathing water pollution.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Shocking that as a "developed" country we dump raw sewage into the sea when it simply rains!

    Surfers Against Sewage have a real time map and alert service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Last summer, 2013. So what? Why has tis been embargoed for so long? Making a splash on a quiet news day, MCS?

    Nonsense, a snapshot of one day - last summer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.


    No absolutely not. I'm teetotal for starters. Beaches should be judged by sand and as none of ours has got any, they shouldn't be considered beaches.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    105.Mark - "..........Qualifications? Common sense."

    Common sense does not change the fact that the winter rains will NOT have washed much pollution into our waterways/coastlines because MOST OF THE POTENTIAL POLLUTANTS were NO LONGER available to be washed out...

    ...your common sense is just plain old fashioned WRONG on this issue.....


  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    "149. A Matter of Time
    @147 amblingon
    Sorry I don't treat wastelands as beaches. More stones than sand."

    Beaches are not wastelands but I'ld agree that stony ones like Brighton don't quite cut it for me. But I prefer the peace of those I've described to the crowded Costas.
    You haven't said what you consider a "proper" beach but I suppose it involves bikinis, rum punch and stuff like that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.


    A record 73% of beaches in the UK have "excellent" water quality because of last summer's dry weather, according to the Marine Conservation Society.

    Researchers said the lack of rain caused less pollution to filter down from towns and cities to the coasts.

    Not taking into account of the wettest winter on record equals propaganda in my opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    20. SonOfYork
    Well Saunton Sands is my local break and I surf all year round. Dogs allowed all year round. Water quality = MCS Top. So maybe it's the sewage discharges from humans not dogs that's your problem at Instow.

  • Comment number 154.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Post number 52 is both an "Editors' Pick" and removed for breaking the House Rules.

    If even the Editors don't understand what the rules are, how are the rest of us supposed to navigate them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    149.A Matter of Time

    You clearly don't go to the seaside much do you, I can recommend the Cornish and Devon Coast, or if you feel really adventurous try Yorkshire or Cumbria. Miles and Miles of sandy beaches without t@rd floating in the sea, pure bliss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    I remember swimming in the Tay as a kid. Dundee was the last town before the river hit the North Sea and just used to dump raw sewage into the river.
    Some things the EU dictates are positive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Yeah, great but wait till they start fracking!

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    @147 amblingon

    Sorry I don't treat wastelands as beaches. More stones than sand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    That pesky Eu forcing the government to make it more hygienic"

    Whilst many UKIPers claim that we would implement such legislation if we wanted to, the reality is we wouldn't. But if we pollute the seas, air and other parts of our ecosystem it has consequences for other nations. That dictates collective action and standards above what the nation state can decide for itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    "140. A Matter of Time
    There are no beaches in the UK.
    Not what I would consider a beach anyway."

    There are some gorgeous beaches in the UK. Ever been to The Gower, Pembrokeshire, Cornwall, the wild isolated white sand beaches of northern Scotland and many other places? Palm trees, sun and a warm sea would be nice but you can't have everything. You've got peace and great beauty instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Nice to see there's been improvement, however this data is out of date, what it's saying is that it's safe to go swimming and paddling "Last Year".
    The improvement was attributed to a hot dry summer, well as I recall we had a wet,wet,winter , logic would dictate that the quality has suffered due to sewage overspills during Winter.
    Take care where you swim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Not forgetting the Sea in Blackpool used to ho have a sewage running running into it, not far from the beach.

    That pesky Eu forcing the government to make it more hygienic

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    139.Carl Pierce
    That's your post removed then.

    Despite the fact that the improvement on UK beaches is almost entirely down to the EU forcing Britain to clean them up;
    we are apparently not allowed to make any reference to the party that wants to revoke the legislation.
    The BBC is running scared of UKIP and it's a scandal. For shame, Mods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    133. Emperor Wibble
    "Farage wishes to return us to the "good old days" when water companies could dump sewage in the sea.."


    Sewage was the least of it. Industry used to dump its toxic waste in the rivers and seas. It's why so much of it's coastal e.g. M'bro.

    The EU prevented a race to the bottom in environmental standards, as it does with H&S. There is NO WAY for this at a national level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    115.GCHQ approved - ".........Mussolini got the trains running on time you know."

    Are you anti EU types capable of getting ANYTHING RIGHT...???

    Carlo Crora (a civil servant) got the trains running on time BEFORE Mouslini arrived in power...



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