Rise in UK beaches with recommended water quality

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The Independent Online

More than half the UK's beaches are recommended for having excellent water quality in the latest Good Beach Guide - a slight rise on last year, the Marine Conservation Society said today.

The number of sites failing the MCS's latest bathing water tests, which are based on European standards, fell from 66 in the previous guide to 41 this year.

But around one in seven beaches, including tourist hotspots such as Rock in Cornwall, Weston-super-Mare's main beach and Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire - are likely to fail tougher new EU standards being introduced in 2015, the MCS warned.

This year 421 bathing spots (55%) were given the thumbs up in the guide, an improvement on 388 (50%) last year.

But the conservation group said the latest tests, carried out from May to September 2009, showed the water quality of UK beaches had not returned to the record highs of 2006 because of extremely wet summers since then.

Higher seasonal rainfall causes a network of sewer overflows to discharge raw sewage on to some beaches from an overloaded system, the MCS said.

The high level of rain also washes pollutants such as animal waste, fertilisers and rubbish from farmland and cities into rivers and to the sea.

According to the Met Office, 2007 and 2008 combined were the wettest summers on record, and levels of rainfall were 42% above average in summer 2009.

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 and into the sea.

"The regional pattern to this rainfall means that some regions such as north-west England and Scotland fared worse in this year's guide, whereas others like the Channel Islands did markedly better."

The MCS is also concerned that more beaches will fail the water quality tests when stricter European levels are introduced in 2015.

The society only recommends beaches if they exceed the existing higher "guideline" EC water quality standards and are not affected by inadequately treated continuous sewage discharge.

In the guide, beaches which only achieve European mandatory minimum water quality levels receive a basic pass and those which do not make that grade are given a "fail" rating.

More than 80 beaches around England and Wales will fail to meet even minimum water quality standards under the more stringent EU regime without action to improve them now, the society warned.

The number likely to fail minimum water quality standards accounts for 14%, or around one in seven, of Britain's bathing beaches.

MCS coastal pollution officer Thomas Bell said the beaches which are likely to fail in the future all have long-term water quality problems - with the combined sewer overflows partly to blame.

He warned that in a recession, authorities may be tempted to take the "cheap alternative" to fixing the pollution problems the beaches face, and simply stop recommending them as bathing spots.

"Our main concern is that these 80 sites that have been identified as being vulnerable at the moment do get improved and the cheap alternative isn't taken, which is to take them off the list of official bathing sites," he said.

He said that there are at least 500 UK beaches which have combined sewer overflow pipes, which carry sewage out of flooded sewer systems and into the sea.

While in many places the pipes are not a problem, 45% of beaches were not recommended by the MCS because of pollution and the percentage is set to increase as the tougher standards are introduced, he said.

Christine Tuckett, Environment Agency bathing water spokeswoman, said: "Bathing water quality around England and Wales has improved dramatically over the past 20 years but we are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to do more.

"New standards that come into force in 2015 will set even more ambitious targets and we are using the latest technology available to help meet these goals. Everyone has a part to play in improving bathing water quality.

"As well as using new technology, we are working with local communities to further improve our bathing waters in the coming years."

Beaches at risk of failing new European standards:

Aberdyfi England & Wales

Ainsdale England & Wales

Aldingham England & Wales

Allonby England & Wales

Askam-in-Furness England & Wales

Bardsea England & Wales

Bexhill England & Wales

Blue Anchor West England & Wales

Bridlington South Beach England & Wales

Burnham Jetty England & Wales

Cemaes England & Wales

Clacton (Groyne 41) England & Wales

Combe Martin England & Wales

East Looe England & Wales

Fleetwood England & Wales

Fraisthorpe England & Wales

Hastings England & Wales

Haverigg England & Wales

Heysham Half Moon Bay England & Wales

Ilfracombe Capstone (Wildersmouth) England & Wales

Instow England & Wales

Littlestone England & Wales

Lyme Regis Church Beach England & Wales

Morecambe South England & Wales

Mothecombe England & Wales

Newbiggin England & Wales

Paignton Paignton Sands England & Wales

Paignton Preston Sands England & Wales

Par England & Wales

Plymouth Hoe East England & Wales

Plymouth Hoe West England & Wales

Porthluney England & Wales

Rhyl England & Wales

Roan Head England & Wales

Robin Hoods Bay England & Wales

Rock England & Wales

Saltburn England & Wales

Seaton (Cornwall) England & Wales

Silloth England & Wales

Skinburness England & Wales

Southend Chalkwell England & Wales

Southport England & Wales

Spittal England & Wales

St Annes England & Wales

St Annes North England & Wales

Staithes England & Wales

Swansea Bay England & Wales

Teignmouth Town England & Wales

Torre Abbey England & Wales

Walney Sandy Gap England & Wales

Weston Main England & Wales

Weston-super-Mare Uphill Slipway England & Wales

Aberdeen Scotland

Ayr (South Beach) Scotland

Brighouse Bay Scotland

Cruden Bay Scotland

Dhoon Bay Scotland

Ettrick Bay Scotland

Eyemouth Scotland

Girvan Scotland

Heads of Ayr Scotland

Irvine Scotland

Kirkcaldy (Seafield) Scotland

Largs (Pencil Beach) Scotland

Lossiemouth (East) Scotland

Luss Bay Scotland

Maidens Scotland

Millport Bay Scotland

Mossyard Scotland

Portobello (Central) Scotland

Portobello (West) Scotland

Prestwick Scotland

Rockcliffe Scotland

Rosehearty Scotland

Rosemarkie Scotland

Saltcoats/Ardrossan Scotland

Sandyhills Scotland

Seamill Scotland

Southerness Scotland

Stonehaven Scotland

Ballygally N Ireland

Ballyholme N Ireland

Newcastle N Ireland