More than 97 per cent of Britain's beaches met EU mandatory standards for water quality last year, a report published yesterday reveals.
The figure for England and Wales was 98.6 per cent, the annual bathing water report by the European Commission and the European Environment Agency showed.
Both figures were an improvement on 2008; and the UK as a whole, as well as England and Wales separately, has climbed up the league table of European countries for the cleanliness of its beaches.
Four-fifths of all UK bathing waters, including freshwater spots, met more stringent standards of water quality – 10 per cent more than in 2008 – the European Commission said.
The Environment Agency said the figures for England and Wales put the two countries 12th out of the 22 member states, up from 15th in 2008. The UK as a whole comes 16th.
Chris Tuckett, of the Environment Agency, said: "Bathing water quality around England and Wales has improved beyond all recognition over the past 20 years, but we are not complacent. New EU standards, which come into force in 2015, will set even more ambitious targets."