South Coast Beaches Are Getting Better

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says it's recommending 84 bathing beaches, of the 129 tested, in the South East for excellent water quality in its annual Good Beach Guide.

The South East is still one of the best performing areas in the UK with 65% of beaches MCS Recommended compared to 61% last year. The South East is one of only two regions where no beaches failed the minimum legal water quality standard. MCS believes this increase in bathing water quality is due to marginally lower rainfall in the South East through summer 2009 compared to the previous year.

However around a third of the beaches did not meet MCS standards for excellent bathing water quality. MCS believes that the South East's high population density and extensive housing developments are at least partly to blame. Heavy rain carries urban pollution from coastal towns into the sea and combined sewer overflow pipes are periodically polluting some stretches of coast with a mix of storm water and raw sewage from flooded sewers.

As a whole in the UK, 421 (55%) of the UK's 769 bathing beaches have been recommended for excellent water quality this year. The results are a slight improvement on the 388 sites (50%) recommended in 2009, and the number of failures has also dropped this year to 41 from 66 failed sites in last year's guide.

The latest bathing water tests were conducted from May to September 2009. According to climate data from the Met Office, the summers 2007 to 2009 combined were the wettest period since 1914. MCS believes that only half of Britain's beaches are reaching its stringent water quality standards because higher seasonal rainfall is causing a network of combined sewer overflows to discharge raw sewage on to some beaches from an overloaded sewer system, and pollutants like animal waste, fertilisers and refuse are being washed from farm land and city streets into rivers and the sea.

Rachel Wyatt from the MCS Good Beach Guide, said: "In the last three years there's been a shift in the water quality trend on our beaches. From 2001 there was a steady improvement which peaked in the Good Beach Guide of 2006 when we recommended a record 505 beaches. Since then, water quality has declined due to high volumes of rain carrying storm pollution from the sewer system, farmland and towns into the sea. The regional pattern to this rainfall means that some regions such as North West England and Scotland faired worse in this year's guide whereas others like the Channel Isles did markedly better."

MCS is concerned that the current situation may further deteriorate when new stricter bathing water standards are introduced in 2015. Under this new regime, 83 (14%) of Britain's beaches will fail the new minimum water quality standard if nothing's done to improve them. The list includes notable's like Rock in Cornwall, Paignton Sands, Robin Hoods Bay, Bridlington South, Chalkwell bay at Southend, Plymouth Hoe and the main beach at Weston super Mare.

Thomas Bell, MCS Coastal Pollution Officer, said: "Our campaign is focused now on the degree to which combined sewer overflows are to blame for bathing water pollution and what can be done about it. We're talking about a vast network of sewer overflow pipes which carry raw sewage out of flooded sewer systems and deposit it in rivers and the sea. MCS knows of at least 500 UK beaches with one or more of these pipes. There are many places where they don't cause a problem but 45% of tested beaches aren't recommended by MCS because of pollution, that percentage is set to increase because of tougher bathing water standards from 2015, and we think CSOs are partly to blame."

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) works in partnership with MCS, and the Good Beach Guide carries information about the RNLI's national beach safety programme as well details of beaches patrolled by the RNLI lifeguards and Local Authority lifeguards.

'MCS Recommended' is one of five UK beach awards, but is the only scheme that focuses entirely on water quality standards and the risk of sewage pollution. MCS will only recommend beaches in the Good Beach Guide if they are better than the Guideline European water quality standard and are not affected by inadequately treated continuous sewage discharge.




Christchurch Bay (Barton-on-Sea)

Hayling Island - West Beachlands

Hayling Island - West Hayling

Hayling Island - West of Eastoke




Isle of Wight

Colwell Bay

Compton Bay





Sandown - Yaverland

St Helens

Totland Bay


Whitecliff Bay

West Sussex

Bracklesham Bay




West Wittering