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Heavy rain 'threatens to pollute nation's beaches'

The heavy rain is having a damaging effect on Britain's beaches, washing raw sewage from overflow pipes and pollution on to bathing areas.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) warned yesterday that the recent spate of wet weather was having an adverse effect on the coast, on the same day it announced a record number of beaches across the UK had earned the top award for water quality. One of the major threats to bathing water quality are overflow pipes which discharge raw sewage into rivers and the sea from sewer networks when heavy rain overloads the system with water from street drains. The MCS has previously revealed there are about 31,000 of these "combined sewer overflows" around the country, more than three-quarters of which are not monitored to see how often they are discharging polluted water.

The society is concerned that some of them are discharging untreated sewage dozens or even hundreds of times a year. MCS pollution programme manager Robert Keirle said: "Combined sewer overflows are an essential part of a well-maintained sewerage network. If you didn't have them in times of flood sewage would be backing up in our toilets and manhole covers in the street. What we are worried about is them being used too frequently by water companies as a matter of routine, not just in emergencies."

Mr Keirle added that city dwellers could reduce pollution by cleaning up after their dogs, to prevent them fouling in the streets which can then be washed into the river system.

In this year's Good Beach Guide compiled by the MCS, 516 out of 754 UK beaches were recommended for their "excellent" water quality – more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of the total number of bathing spots. The results show an 8 per cent rise in the number of beaches getting the best grade on the previous year's figures and is the best set of results in 25 years of the guide.