Britain's beaches clean up their act - thanks to the drought

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The quality of Britain's beaches have been boosted by one of the driest winters in a decade.

The annual Good Beach Guide, published by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), praised more than 500 of the 800 bathing beaches in the UK for excellent water quality, compared with the previous record of 453.

The driest weather in England and Wales since 1995 substantially reduced the amount of storm pollution in the sea during weekly tests between May and September last year, the society said.

It is the first time the number of beaches recommended by the MCS rose above the 500 mark since the guide was launched in 1997. The number of beaches failing the minimum legal water quality standard dropped to 30 - a fall of 42 per cent from the 52 failures in 2005.

The North-east was pinpointed as the region with the cleanest beaches, with 67 per cent of all beaches recommended, an increase put down to drier weather and infrastructure investment by water companies. Scotland has the highest number of failed beaches, although the number has fallen by two to 12 this year.

The MCS's coastal pollution officer, Thomas Bell, said: "The results of this year's Good Beach Guide are fantastic news for UK beach-goers, who can choose from a record 507 recommended bathing sites. Britain's beaches have definitely bounced back from the relative low of summer 2004, which was one of the wettest on record."

The best performing regions include South-east England (107 recommended, a 26 per cent increase), North-east England (44; 69 per cent) and Wales (120; 32 per cent).

Scotland had no change (50) and Northern Ireland saw a slight increase (eight recommended).

The report said there was so little storm-related pollution running into the sea last summer that bathing water quality remained consistently high, particularly on beaches in South-east England and around Cardigan Bay in Wales.

It added that water companies have also invested heavily in waste-water management systems over the past 10 years and these two factors combined to produce "great" water quality results.

The Good Beach Guide is one of four beach "award" initiatives, but is the only scheme that focuses entirely on water quality standards and the risk of sewage pollution.

The society will only recommend beaches in the Good Beach Guide if they meet the guideline European water quality standard and are not affected by inadequately treated sewage.

The Good Beach Guide provides information on lifeguard cover, facilities, activities, access, parking and transport, and has an OS map and photograph for each beach.

This year's guide is supported by the Crown Estate, RNLI and Encams (Keep Britain Tidy group).

The Environment minister Ian Pearson said: "Today's results are a welcome boost to seaside tourism and for those who enjoy swimming at the beach. It reflects the huge improvement seen in the quality of English coastal waters over recent years."

Regional guide

* NORTH-EAST

An extra 18 beaches recommended this year. The judges praised Withernsea, East Riding, an old resort with a rebuilt promenade. It also has a lighthouse, museum and pier. The beach is sand and shingle.

* ISLE OF MAN

One more beach is recommended: Gansey Bay, a sandy beach just to the east of Port St Mary, which failed to make the grade in the previous two years. Popular with dog walkers.

* NORTHERN IRELAND

Two extra beaches. These include Helen's Bay, Co Down, a sandy beach backed by the town of Belfast and bordered by the picturesque Grey Point.

* WALES

A total of 29 extra beaches recommended, including Abergele-Towyn, Conwy. This is a rural, unspoilt, shingle beach, known for walks and panoramic seascapes. Popular for catching crabs and its funfair.

* SOUTH-EAST

An extra five beaches have been recommended, including Broadstairs beach, Kent, known locally as Invicta beach. A sandy beach in an established seaside town that was once home to Charles Dickens, it failed last year.

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