A dip in the sea will be the last thing on many people’s minds this Easter – but that may be for the best on some parts of the coast, with the quality of seawater dramatically worsening at famous British bathing spots because of last year’s heavy summer rainfall.
The number of beaches failing to meet even minimum standards for water quality has risen, and the South West in particular saw a number of its previously recommended beaches fail, including Exmouth in Devon and Bude Summerleaze in Cornwall. In the North West, just three beaches are recommended for excellent water, with popular beaches at Blackpool North and South failing to meet even the basic mandatory standards.
The alarming results were revealed in the annual Marine Conservation Society (MCS) report, which assesses water quality at most UK beaches, looking for pollutants and safety hazards.
The organisation warns today that swimmers could fall ill from bathing in water polluted by an increase in harmful bacteria and viruses.
Out of 754 beaches surveyed, just 403 were awarded the top “recommended” award in 2012, 113 fewer than the previous year. Meanwhile, 42 beaches failed to meet the minimum EU levels for acceptable bathing water, 17 more than 2011’s figures published in the Good Beach Guide.
The major reduction in the number of recommended beaches stems from the effects of rain and flooding, such as agricultural and urban run-off, storm waters, plumbing misconnections, septic tanks and dog waste.
Bathers can contract ear, nose and throat infections and gastroenteritis as a result of the contamination.
Ahead of tougher EU rules on water quality coming in from 2015 and the forecast of further wet summers, MCS has called for drastic action to be taken by water companies and local councils.
Criticising what they call an “out of sight, out of mind” approach, the organisation instead recommend the monitoring of sewer overflows, clear signposts warning of polluted water and even that tourists should report any pollution they might see.
MCS coastal pollution officer Rachel Wyatt said: “We have recommended fewer beaches in every English region and in Wales and Scotland. In England, the North West and South West were particularly badly hit with the fewest number of recommended beaches for at least a decade.
“There is no simple solution to sewage and animal waste reaching our seas. However if the water industry, communities and local authorities recognise that there is a problem and begin to work together to find answers, that would be a significant start.”
Britain’s beaches on the critical list
Exmouth Boasts a bustling tourism industry, but has too much bacteria to meet Good Beach Guide’s standards
Rhyl A popular Victorian resort, Rhyl’s beach did not meet the standards. Nearby Prestatyn is cleaner
Portobello Central This Edinburgh beach improved this year with reduced levels of E coli bacteria