Record blue flags create new climate beside the seaside

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The number of beaches in Britain to pass strict cleanliness tests has doubled in the past three years.

The number of beaches in Britain to pass strict cleanliness tests has doubled in the past three years.

The Blue Flag awards for well-managed beaches, announced yesterday, were given to an additional 21 resorts this year, taking the total to a record 105 and providing a timely boost for domestic tourism.

Tourism experts have forecast that the improving quality of Britain's beaches - eradicating the litter and pollution of previous decades - and a climatic trend towards drier and warmer summers will increase the number of domestic holidays.

Encams, the environmental charity that runs the Europe-wide scheme in Britain, said the results showed the benefits of investment in water improvement and a recognition of the importance of clean beaches in tourist areas such as Wales and the South-west.

More work was needed in Northern Ireland and the largely industrial coastline of the North-west, it said.

Wales has the cleanest coast, with 33 award-winning beaches, including seven awarded the Blue Flag this year, followed by the South-west (22) and the South-east (15), including eight new entries.

Scotland and Northern Ireland fared less well. Scotland's total stands at four, one fewer than last year after Nairn Central in Moray failed the tests. Northern Ireland lost three approved beaches - Millisle Lagoon, Portrush East Strand and Portstewart Strand - blamed on a lack of investment in water sanitation. The province now has five officially clean beaches.

The North-west had no Blue Flag beaches, owing largely to pollution and the local weather, Encams said.

New entries included the beaches at Cleethorpes Central, Lincolnshire; Colwyn Bay, Clwyd; Porthminster and Porthmeor, in St Ives, Cornwall, and Keynes Country Park in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire - the first inland beach in Britain to receive the award.

To meet the standards of the Blue Flag award, inspectors have to be satisfied that each beach passes European Union water-quality tests. Resorts must also offer facilities including lifeguards, first aid and good access to disabled visitors before they can fly the flag.

The Blue Flag, launched in 1967, has become the internationally recognised standard for good beaches. The flag will be flown by 2,161 resorts in Europe this year, with the highest number in Spain, Greece and France, where warmer climates help to keep water germ-free and where the tourist industry demands high standards. The scheme is being piloted this year in South Africa and the Caribbean before Blue Flags can be awarded there next year.

Elliot Morley, the Water minister, said: "I am delighted to see a record number of Blue Flags awarded to beach resorts in England and the UK in general this year.

"We are committed to improving the water quality around our coastline and the £600m investment programme in bathing water quality improvements across England and Wales to 2005 has resulted in the continued improvement of our bathing water quality in recent years.

"It is all the more pleasing that these efforts are being recognised by this prestigious international award scheme."

Research by Encams published yesterday showed day-trippers in their mid 30s were the most common beachgoers in Britain. The survey of beach users in Brighton, Cayton Bay, North Yorkshire; Seaford, East Sussex, and Scarborough showed barely half planned their beach trip, owing to the unpredictable weather.

Seven out of 10 beachgoers, including dog owners, favoured banning dogs from beaches. One in five Britons went to a rural beach or resort last year, visiting on average five times, although 18 per cent of those went as often as 11 times.

Alan Woods, chief executive of Encams, said: "It's clear from this research that most people believe in the British resort and perceive problems such as beating pollution to have been won. And the awards also give them cause for confidence as they show that we are continuing to reach the very highest standards."