Europe's coastal waters now the cleanest on record, says EU survey

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Holidaymakers are heading for the cleanest beaches ever recorded in Europe, according to a survey which gives coastal waters in the UK, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain an almost clean bill of health.

Holidaymakers are heading for the cleanest beaches ever recorded in Europe, according to a survey which gives coastal waters in the UK, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain an almost clean bill of health.

However the annual EU quality of bathing water survey said water quality was lower in rivers and lakes and noted that some nations - including Spain - had simply removed polluted inland bathing areas from the tests rather than tackling the source of the problem.

A total of 19,371 sites stretching from the Atlantic to the Adriatic were tested, 70 per cent of which were beaches. Overall 98.6 per cent of EU coastal waters met the minimum standards, a rise of one per cent on the previous year. A similar rise was recorded for freshwater areas although they scored the lower figure of 92.3 per cent.The report was based on figures for 2003 and excluded EU member nations which joined on 1 May this year.

The report also found an increase in the number of bathing areas which met the EU's more stringent "guide values" for higher purity. The number of coastal bathing sites meeting these stricter tests increased from 87 per cent to 89 per cent while the number of freshwater bathing sites meeting the stricter quality controls rose from 64 per cent to 68 per cent.

The best coastal water purity was in Belgium and the Netherlands where 100 per cent of nominated sites achieved acceptable standards, followed by Greece at 99.9 per cent and the UK and Portugal at 98.4 per cent. Italy, France, Ireland and Spain all achieved pass rates of more than 95 per cent.

The lowest figures were recorded by Finland at 93.2 per cent, though it scored well on freshwater sites.

In 1992 just 84.9 per cent of beaches met the minimum standards, and only 73.5 per cent achieved the tougher standards.

However Spain, Italy and Germany all reduced the number of rivers and lakes at which the tests were performed, raising eyebrows at the European Commission. Since 1994 the Spanish authorities have cut the number of monitored sites by 65 per cent. Swimming is often, but not always, banned at these locations.

Margot Walström, European commissioner for the environment, described the figures as "good news for citizens in general and especially for parents of young children".

But she added: "We now need to stop the practice of declassifying bathing sites as a remedy for pollution problems. The right approach is to deal with the pollution and not to cancel people's bathing opportunities."

The UK's performance has improved markedly in recent years, notably at Blackpool, which has perennially failed to meet the required standards. In 1998 only 88.7 per cent of UK coastal waters met the basic standards. A government spokesman said: "These are the best ever results for the UK. We have put a lot of money into cleaning up our bathing water and our beaches and it is great to see it paying off. This is a good example of an area where the EU is having a positive effect on people's lives."

All British rivers and lakes met the standards, though only 11 were designated for swimming. The Government argues that the UK has such a low number of sites because, with northern European rainfalls, it is hard to prevent animal waste contaminating water supplies.

Just nine of 560 seaside resort beaches around Britain failed to meet the EU standard. They were East Looe at Caradon; Llangrannog in Wales; Blue Anchor West in Somerset; Flamborough North Landing; Staithes, Scarborough; Brighouse Bay, Borgue; Heysham Half Moon Bay, Lancaster; Rockcliffe; and Ettrick Bay.

In Scotland, the coastal cleanliness rate was 94.8 per cent, for Wales 98.7 per cent and for Northern Ireland 100 per cent.

Comments