A record number of UK bathing beaches receive marine charity′s top water quality award after the driest summer since 2003

15 April 2014

Marine Conservation Society recommends hundreds of UK beaches as having excellent water quality for taking a dip.

One of the UK’s driest summers in recent memory has resulted in more bathing beaches than ever being ‘Recommended’ for their excellent water quality in the annual ‘Good Beach Guide’, www.goodbeachguide.co.uk launched online today (Tuesday 15th April 2014) by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

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.

Press contacts:
MCS Editorial and Media Officer:
Clare Fischer – 01989 561 658 / 07751905535 MCS Media and Editorial Assistant: Kate Wilson – 01989 561 667 / 07793 118 388
MCS Coastal Pollution Officer: Rachel Wyatt – 01989 561 657
MCS Pollution Programme Manager: Dr. Laura Foster – 01989 561 589
MCS Communications Manager: Richard Harrington – 01989 561 585 / 07793 118384

Editor’s Notes
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is the UK charity dedicated to the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife. MCS campaigns for clean seas and beaches, sustainable fisheries, and protection of marine life. Through education, community involvement and collaboration, MCS raises awareness of the many threats that face our seas and promotes individual, industry and government action to protect the marine environment.

MCS provides information and guidance on many aspects of marine conservation and produces the annual Good Beach Guide (www.goodbeachguide.co.uk), the Good Fish Guide and www.fishonline.org relating to sustainable seafood, as well as promoting public participation in volunteer projects such as MCS Beachwatch Big Weekend (www.mcsuk.org/beachwatch) and Basking Shark Watch www.mcsuk.org.

The 27th Good Beach Guide is published in support of the MCS Campaign for Clean Seas and Beaches. It is the only independent, comprehensive guide to bathing water quality around the whole of the UK, and the 2014 edition is available online at www.goodbeachguide.co.uk from 00:01hrs Tuesday 15th April 2014.

‘MCS Recommended’ is the only UK beach award which focuses entirely on water quality standards and the risk of sewage pollution. MCS recommends beaches in the Good Beach Guide which met our criteria for excellent water quality last summer – see ‘Definitions and Explanations’ for further information.

North East England – The North East of England has seen an improvement in water quality after it had been particularly hard hit by the wet weather experienced in summer 2012. Thanks to the much drier summer last year it is once again one of the top performing regions in the Guide this year, with 53 beaches out of 65 (81.5%) recommended by MCS for excellent water quality – this number of recommendations in the region has only been achieved once before in the Guide’s 27-year history, making it the joint highest number for the North East. It is also one of several regions where no bathing waters failed to reach the minimum standard.

North West England – Although there are more recommended beaches and fewer failures in the North West this year, it remains the worst performing region in England. Seven beaches out of 33 (21.2%) are recommended by MCS for excellent water quality in this year’s Guide and three beaches (8.1%) failed to meet the minimum standard. According to the Met Office the North West was one of the few parts of England that did not experience a drier than average summer last year. A number of beaches were impacted by short term pollution caused by periods of heavy rainfall. MCS is part of the Turning Tides Partnership working to improve bathing waters in the North West. See www.lovemybeach.org for more information. Heysham Half Moon Bay was removed from the list of designated bathing waters at the beginning of 2013 due to low usage and is therefore no longer monitored for water quality.

South East England – This year more beaches in the South East of England have been recommended by MCS for excellent water quality – 104 out of 123 (84.6%) beaches tested last summer obtained our highest standard. That’s 21 more than the previous year and the second highest number for the South East in the Guide’s history. All beaches in the South East met the minimum standard.

South West England – MCS is recommending more beaches than ever in the South West of England this year with 173 out of 195 (88.7%) receiving our top standard for excellent water quality. This is good news after the region was particularly hard hit by the wet weather experienced in summer 2012 which led to a lower number of beaches being recommended in last year’s Guide. Thanks to the much drier summer in 2013 there has also been a reduction in the number of beaches failing to meet the minimum standard – from 16 (8.2%) to one (0.5%). Dartmouth Castle and Sugary Cove, which is a designated bathing water, has not been assessed for water quality due to insufficient sampling in 2013 because access to the beach was closed during part of the summer for repairs.

Wales – This year more Welsh beaches have been recommended by MCS for excellent water quality – 109 out of 152 (71.7%) beaches tested in Wales last summer obtained our highest standard, that’s 11 more than the previous year. Four beaches (2.6%) failed to meet the minimum standard – an improvement from five failures in last year’s Guide.
Scotland – This year more Scottish beaches have been recommended by MCS for excellent water quality, the highest percentage in the Guide’s 27 year history – 54 out of 95 (56.8%) beaches tested last summer obtained our highest standard. It’s good news that we are able to recommend 12 more beaches than the previous year but the percentage of recommended beaches remains lower than some other parts of the UK due to the impact of short-term pollution from heavy summer rainfall – Scotland received more rainfall than some other parts of the UK last summer. No beaches failed to meet the minimum standard – an improvement from four failures in last year’s Guide.

Northern Ireland – MCS has recommended 15 out of 23 (65.2%) Northern Ireland beaches tested last year for having excellent water quality – the same number as last year. No beaches failed to meet the minimum standard – an improvement from one failure in last year’s Guide.

Channel Islands – MCS has recommended 18 out of 29 (62.1%) Channel Island beaches tested last year for having excellent water quality – one less than last year’s Guide. Jersey has more beaches recommended this year in the Good Beach Guide. 13 out of 16 (81.3%) beaches tested last summer have obtained the MCS Recommended standard for excellent water quality – two more than last year’s Guide. Five out of 13 (38.5%) beaches tested in Guernsey last summer have obtained the MCS Recommended standard for excellent water quality – three less than last year’s Guide. One beach failed to meet the minimum bathing water standard.

Isle of Man – Five out of 19 (26.3%) beaches tested for water quality in the Isle of Man last summer have been recommended in this year’s Good Beach Guide. It’s good news that we are able to recommend three more beaches than the previous year, but the percentage of recommended beaches remains low. Three beaches (15.8%) failed to meet the minimum standard – one more than last year’s Guide.

Definitions and Explanations
The MCS Good Beach Guide reports annually on water quality at UK beaches. Our standards are based on the European Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC), but our results are not the same as those published by the UK government and devolved administrations. We award some beaches our MCS Recommended standard for excellent water quality and we include any UK beach sampled for water quality, even those not legally required to comply with the Directive’s standards.

The Bathing Water Directive sets water quality standards for popular beaches, called designated bathing waters, to protect public health and the environment from water quality pollution. During the bathing season, mid-May to September in England and Wales and June to September in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the UK environment agencies collect water samples at these beaches. The samples are tested for bacterial indicators which show the presence of pollution from sewage and animal waste. At the end of the bathing season the results from each beach are assessed against two water quality standards, Mandatory and Guideline.

Mandatory is the minimum standard for protecting bathers health from bacterial pollution;
beaches fail if they do not achieve this standard. Guideline is a higher standard for beaches with better water quality. MCS Recommended is our aspirational standard; it is slightly higher than Guideline and considers the level of treatment given to nearby sewage discharges.

Sometimes water quality samples are also taken voluntarily on beaches which have not been shown to have sufficient bathers to require designation (these are often rural/isolated beaches). There is no legal requirement to take samples at non-designated beaches nor is there any obligation to improve water quality. In the Good Beach Guide we include both designated and non-designated beaches from across the UK as well as Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. If non-designated beaches do not achieve the MCS Recommended standard we still assess them against the Mandatory and Guideline standards from the Directive.

The UK is currently implementing the revised Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC), which will replace the current water quality standards with stricter ones, to protect public health further. These revised standards require different bacterial indicators to be monitored. The UK environment agencies began monitoring for these indicators in 2012, but four years of data are needed before beaches can be assessed using the revised standards; consequently the first results using these standards will not be published until after the end of the 2015 bathing season. Until then, water quality will continue to be reported with the current standards, Mandatory and Guideline, using the new indicators (E.coli and intestinal enterococci) in place of the previous indicators (faecal and total coliforms and faecal streptococci), which are no longer monitored.

Inadequately treated waste from sewage treatment works has been the major source of bacterial pollution in coastal waters for the past few centuries, masking other sources of pathogens. As the treatment of continuous treated sewage discharges have been improved, due to investment in the water industry’s sewerage infrastructure, other pollution sources are becoming more dominant, especially during wet weather. Bacterial pollution can originate from diffuse sources such as agricultural run-off and urban run-off, storm waters, private discharges, misconnections, septic tanks and dog faeces.

Untreated waste can also flow into rivers and coastal waters from combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Following periods of heavy rainfall, and to avoid floodwater overwhelming local waste water treatment works or flooding properties, CSOs divert untreated sewage away from treatment plants and discharge directly into the environment.

For full results see separate document below.

Document PDF
Good Beach Guide Full Results 2014

 

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