In the latest Good Beach Guide, published by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), 73% of beach in the UK have been recorded as having excellent water quality. This is the highest number since the inception of the Guide.
Researchers at the MCS have suggested that the reason for so many beaches having such good water quality is the lack of rain last summer. This meant less pollution was washed down from towns and cities to the coast.
When grading beaches, the MCS use four standards of water quality:
These grades are based on levels of E.coli present in the water samples, which were collected weekly over the summer, and the European Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC). The Marine Conservation Society produce the annual Good Beach Guide, which is the only independent UK bathing water quality guide. The Good Beach Guide contains information on over 160 beaches across England and Wales, and these are now linked to the Environment Agency’s daily pollution forecast, allowing swimmers to check the water quality before the head to the beach.
Out of the 734 beaches across the UK that were tested between May and September 2013, 538 were graded as ‘Recommended’, 135 more than in 2012. Fewer beaches failed to meet the required standards. In 2012, 42 beached failed but in 2013, this number fell to 14.
Rachel Wyatt, coastal pollution officer for MCS, said, it’s fantastic that we can now “recommend more beaches than ever for excellent water quality, and it shows just how good British beaches can be. The main challenge now is maintaining these standards, whatever the weather.”
“Most people don’t realise what a big impact the weather can have on bathing water quality, but this has really been highlighted in the last few years. 2008, 2009 and 2012 were, according to the Met Office, amongst the wettest summers on record since 1910, and fewer UK bathing waters met minimum and higher water quality standards because of increased pollution running off rural and urban areas and overloaded sewers.”
According to Dr Sue Kinsey, pollution policy officer at the MCS, the heavy rainfall the country experienced over the past winter should not affect beaches this summer. This is because bacteria breaks down within 24 to 48 hours.
In addition to the dry summers, Dr Kinsey has attributed the improvement in water quality in part to the “massive investment” by water companies to improve their sewage systems.
New EU regulation, coming into play in 2015, means that any beaches not meeting the minimum standards for water quality will be obligated to display signs warning the public against sea bathing. It is expected that the new regulations will be about twice as strict as they are currently, meaning some beaches will have to do more to retain their recommendation, for example reducing pollution from sewage discharges and incidences of dog mess left on the beach.
In the meantime, the Marine Conservation Society will continue putting pressure on water companies, environmental regulators and local councils to tackle the sources of bathing water pollution.