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15 April 2014, 05:31 | Updated: 15 April 2014, 08:36
A record number of UK bathing beaches receive marine charity’s top water quality award after one of the driest summers since 2003.
The Marine Conservation Society recommends hundreds of UK beaches as having excellent water quality for taking a dip including 23 in Sussex in its annual Good Beach Guide
MCS has recommended 538 out of 734 (73%) UK beaches tested during last summer as having excellent water quality – that’s 135 more than the previous year. There were also fewer failures, with just fourteen beaches tested last summer failing to reach minimum water quality standards.
In the North East and South East of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland there were no failures at all meaning all of their monitored beaches reached minimum bathing water standards.
MCS Coastal Pollution Officer, Rachel Wyatt, says she hopes the latest figures will be a boost to UK tourism after several previously wet summers which led to a drop in bathing water quality from pollution running into the sea from rural and urban areas and overloaded sewers.
“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,” says Rachel Wyatt. “The main challenge now is maintaining these standards, whatever the weather.
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.”
By the end of the 2015 bathing season, all designated bathing waters must meet the new minimum ‘Sufficient’ standard due to the revised EU Bathing Water Directive. This will be around twice as stringent as the current minimum standard and means that some beaches will need to do more to make the grade in the future which could include reducing pollution from sewage discharges, agricultural run-off and urban diffuse pollution, fixing mis-connected sewers and putting in place more steps to help dog owners clean up after their pets.
Beaches which don’t meet the ‘Sufficient’ standard at the end of 2015 will have to display signs warning against bathing in the sea from the start of the bathing season in 2016.
This year over 160 English and Welsh beaches featured at www.goodbeachguide.co.uk will be linked to the Environment Agency’s daily pollution forecast which will indicate when there may be an increased risk of pollution due to heavy rainfall. MCS also hopes to be able to link to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s daily prediction system later in the year.
“Visitors to the Good Beach Guide will now be able to see really up to date information. We’ve supported the development of forecast systems that provide information about when water quality is likely to be temporarily poor. But these predictions are no replacement for improvements and so water companies and local authorities must continue to improve sewerage infrastructure and reduce diffuse pollution so that eventually we will only need such warnings during and after exceptionally wet weather,” says MCS’ Rachel Wyatt.
MCS says bathers and beachgoers should vote with their feet by bathing only at beaches recommended in the Good Beach Guide to maintain pressure on water companies, environmental regulators and local councils to tackle the sources of bathing water pollution.