TRAVEL / Put out more flags . . .

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The Independent Culture
WHICH are Britain's cleanest beaches? Given the profusion of EC Blue Flag and Tidy Britain Group Seaside Awards, you would be forgiven a certain amount of confusion.

The European Blue Flag for beaches is awarded annually and is only valid for one year. The scheme was set up is 1987 and to be eligible, a bathing beach has to fulfil 25 criteria covering water quality and beach management. These range from the absence of oil pollution to the provision of a source of drinking water and the location of public telephones within easy reach of the beach.

In the UK the Blue Flag scheme is administered by the Tidy Britain Group. This year 17 British beaches entered for the award: all were successful. However, a toughening of EC standards has meant that the number of British Blue Flag beaches is less than half the 35 that qualified last year.

The Tidy Britain Group also runs the Seaside Award scheme: winners can fly a blue and yellow flag and must fulfil more or less the same criteria as for a Blue Flag. However, the Seaside Award places more emphasis on beach and seafront amenities than on the cleaniness of the water. This scheme does also give Premier awards which require the same sea-water standards as the EC Blue Flag.

This year there were 107 entries for a Seaside Award - from 43 resort beaches and 58 rural beaches. All 43 of the resort beaches received a Seaside Award, of which nine achieved a Premier award. Fifty rural beaches received an award, 23 of these were judged to be of Premier standard.

And there's yet another standard set by the Marine Conservation Society which produces the Heinz Good Beach Guide 1992 (Vermilion pounds 6.99). The guide gives information on over 450 of Britain's cleanest beaches. Water quality gradings are based on 1991 monitoring by the National Rivers Authority in England and Wales, the River Purification Boards in

Scotland and the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.