Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Water Quality Standards met by 96 per cent of England's swimming spots

Water Quality Standards met by 96 per cent of England's swimming spots

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (News Release ref :361/08) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 13 November 2008

Ninety-six per cent of England's bathing waters met the minimum water quality standards set by the European Bathing Water Directive this year and 65.7 per cent met the highest guideline standards according to tests carried out by the Environment Agency. Other results this year show:

* Of the 414 bathing waters in England, 398 met the mandatory standards;

* Only 16 failed the standards, meaning there was a compliance rate of 96.1 per cent; and

* A total of 272 waters met the UK's much tighter guideline standard. Bathing water quality has improved over the past decade - in 1998, only 89.9 per cent of England's bathing waters met the Directive's mandatory standards. This rose to a record 99.5 per cent in 2006.

Exceptionally wet weather in July, August and September has resulted in the slightly lower standard of the water this year. Ten of the 16 failing bathing waters are in the South West, which was hit hard by heavy rainfall during the summer. Rainfall causes pollutants from agriculture and urban areas to run off, with negative impacts on the quality of bathing waters. Defra is working with farmers to reduce water pollution from agricultural sources, through the Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative and the Nitrate Action Programme. Dealing with diffuse water pollution is a difficult job as it has a huge variety of sources and Defra is looking at a number of ways of tackling the problem, including the encouragement of sustainable drainage systems and correction of sewer misconnections, and regulations to control misuse of the drainage system.

Notes to editors

1. Further information about the EC Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC) and bathing water quality in England can be found on the Defra website at:

2. The main water quality results for identified coastal and inland bathing waters in England, and a summary of the UK compliance figures, can be found in the 2008 results tables. A report with more detailed results for the UK will be available on the bathing water web page by the end of December 2008 (web address as above).

3. Standards required by the Bathing Water Directive:
* Bathing water quality results in the UK are assessed on the basis of compliance with standards in the Bathing Water Directive. The two main standards used to assess the quality of bathing water are total coliforms and faecal coliforms, which are bacteria found in the guts of humans and other warm-blooded animals, and are indicators of contamination from sewage and other sources.

* The Directive sets minimum 'mandatory' values to be achieved by 95 per cent of samples (normally 19 out of 20 samples) taken during the bathing season. The number of samples failing to meet the Directive's standards for total and faecal coliform bacteria is shown for each failed bathing water in the 2008 results table.

* The tighter 'guideline' water quality standards are based on compliance with three microbiological standards specified in the Bathing Water Directive (which sets maximum permitted levels of total and faecal coliforms and faecal streptococci). These standards are one of the requirements for a beach to achieve 'Blue Flag' status, and are described as 'guideline' (indicated by 'G') in the 2008 results table.

* The European Commission will publish the 2008 results for other EU Member States on its website in May / June 2009.

4. Bathing water information for England for 2008:

* The 15 coastal bathing waters that failed to meet the minimum 'mandatory' standards are: Staithes in the North East region; Aldingham, Allonby and Bardsea in the North West; Coombe Martin, East Looe, Exmouth, Instow, Plymouth Hoe East, Plymouth Hoe West, Porthluney, Readymoney, Rock and Seaton (Cornwall) in the South West, and Sandgate in the Southern region. One inland bathing water, Windermere Millerground Landing in the North West, failed to meet mandatory standards.

* Two new bathing waters have been identified in 2008: Yaverland in Southern region and Druridge Bay North in North East region. The original bathing water at Druridge Bay has been renamed Druridge Bay South. Two other bathing waters have been renamed: both were previously known as St Mary's Bay and they are now named St Mary's Bay (Kent) and St Mary's Bay (Devon).

* Three bathing waters could not be sampled in 2008. Blackpool North in North West region has been closed for engineering works to the sea defences. Access to Barmston in North East region is unsafe because of cliff erosion. At Newhaven in Southern region, access to the privately owned bathing water has been closed. These waters are not included in the 2008 compliance assessment.

* Two bathing waters that were closed in 2007, Cleveleys in the North West region and Duporth in South West region, were re-opened.

* Two sites have been removed from the list of identified bathing waters in 2008: Flamborough North Landing in North East region, because of low usage, and Lowestoft (Gunton Denes) in Anglian region, where it has become unsafe to bathe.

* The bathing season runs from 15 May to 30 September, although water quality sampling begins two weeks before the start of the season.

5. Bathing water results for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are published by the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Department of Environment Northern Ireland, respectively. The results are also available on the websites of the Environment Agency (for England and Wales), Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Any questions relating to bathing water compliance should be directed to the relevant organisation.

6. The revised Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC), which was adopted in March 2006, has been transposed into UK law. The revised Directive sets tighter standards and uses two parameters, intestinal enterococci and E coli, to measure compliance. The Environment Agency will commence using these parameters to monitor bathing water quality in 2012. The Directive also contains provisions for public information, including a requirement for signage at bathing waters. The new Bathing Water regulations came into force on 14 May 2008 and can be found on the Defra website at the web address above.

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