A total of 45 bathing beaches - 23 in England, 13 in Wales, seven in Northern Ireland and two in Scotland - can measure themselves against the cleanest and safest in Europe, said the Tidy Britain Group, UK organiser of the continent-wide award.
The blue flags are awarded for meeting a series of manage ment objectives, including beach cleanliness, dog control, wheelchair access, provision of facilities and provision of lifesaving equipment.
To qualify, the beaches must also meet European Union bathing water- quality standards.
The UK's total has been steadily improving since 1992, when only 17 beaches received blue flags; in 1996 the total was 31, and last year it was 38.
But to put it into perspective, compared with the other 18 countries in the scheme, we are still only middle-ranking in terms of success, being far surpassed by Spain, with 369 blue flags, Italy with 342, Greece with 326 and France with 299.
Even Denmark (with 185) and Ireland (with 74) surpass us, although we are ahead of Sweden (37 blue flags), Cyprus (25) and Belgium (nine).
Six UK marinas also gained blue flags in the first year that the scheme has been open to them - three in England, two in Wales and one in Northern Ireland.
"These results confirm what we have always known - that the UK has some of the best beaches in Europe," said Professor Graham Ashworth, the Tidy Britain Group's director general.
"This is excellent news for tourism in the UK. It is also exciting to see that the environmental lessons learned in the Blue Flag for beaches have now been taken on by marinas, encouraging boat owners to care for their environment."Reuse content