UK ranks lowest for bathing water quality in Europe

Figures for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland skewed since many locations were unclassified, meaning an inadequate number of samples were collected, owing to Covid restrictions

Tom Batchelor
Wednesday 02 June 2021 07:37
<p>Swimmers prepare for dip in the Thames estuary at Chalkwell Beach near Southend On Sea in Essex</p>

Swimmers prepare for dip in the Thames estuary at Chalkwell Beach near Southend On Sea in Essex

The UK ranked last in an index of Europe’s cleanest swimming waters in 2020 – largely because the pandemic led to a drop in the number of samples collected.

Just 110 (17 per cent) of the country’s more than 600 coastal and inland bathing sites were rated excellent, while 32 (5 per cent) were classified as good and 29 (4.5 per cent) as sufficient. Twelve (1.9 per cent) had poor bathing water quality.

However, the data was skewed since the vast majority of locations – 457, or 71.4 per cent – were unclassified, meaning an inadequate number of samples were collected, owing to Covid restrictions.

The figures, compiled by Europe’s environmental watchdog, put the UK in last place in terms of countries with “excellent” bathing water quality.

Many of the locations in the UK that were tested were along the Welsh and Northern Irish coasts, the majority of which were rated excellent.

They included Caerfai Bay, Amroth and Morfa Bychan beach. Elsewhere, Joss Bay in Broadstairs and Herne Bay also received the highest score.

Beaches rated poor for water quality included Hunstanton Beach in Norfolk, Scarborough’s South Bay beach and Combe Martin in Devon.

The UK has seen a huge surge in popularity of open water swimming in the sea, rivers and lakes, which has been linked to multiple lockdowns and an increasing interest in spending time outdoors.

The ranking assessed the water quality in all 27 EU Member States, as well as the UK, Albania and Switzerland, in 2020, giving an indication of the areas where the quality of bathing is expected to be good this year.

First placed Cyprus (with 100 per cent of its swimming waters designated excellent) beat Austria, Greece and Malta – which came in second (97.7 per cent), third (97.1 per cent) and fourth (96.6 per cent).

Popular holiday destinations such as Spain, Italy and Portugal ranked among the highest across the continent with excellent water quality detected in 88.5 per cent, 88.6 per cent and 89.2 per cent of cases respectively.

Proportion of bathing waters with excellent quality in Europe in 2020

Virginijus Sinkevicius, European commissioner for the environment, fisheries and oceans, said: “Bathing water quality in Europe remains high and it’s good news for Europeans, who will be heading to beaches and bathing sites this summer.”

Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the European Environment Agency, said: “The quality of European bathing waters remains high after four decades of action aimed at preventing and reducing pollution. EU law has not only helped raise the overall quality, but also helped identify areas where specific action is needed.”

In 2020, 296 or 1.3 per cent of bathing water sites in Europe were of poor quality.

While the share of poor quality sites has dropped slightly since 2013, the watchdog said problems persisted both in assessing the sources of pollution and putting in place measures to address the problem.

Bathing water quality is classified depending on the levels of faecal bacteria detected.

Where water is classified as poor, countries are urged to ban bathing or at least advise against it.

The full list of tested bathing sites can be found here.

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