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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April 2005, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Sand, sun and cotton bud sticks
By Clare Babbidge
BBC News

What makes an award-winning beach? A six-figure cleaning bill and up to 400 hours of work a week, for starters.

As 221 UK beaches are awarded for cleanliness in the latest round of the Seaside Awards, the BBC News website looks at how and why councils undertake such a mammoth task.

Bournemouth beach
Bournemouth seafront can see 80,000 to 100,000 visitors on a bank holiday

"People won't go back to a dirty beach," said Peter Gibson, of Encams' Seaside Awards.

Encams, also organisers of the Keep Britain Tidy drive, says winning beaches must have "excellent facilities" such as toilets and disabled access, as well as be "spotlessly clean".

But to maintain these high standards - and win the coveted yellow and blue flag - it seems councils and environmental groups are having to work harder than ever to contend with increasing amounts of rubbish.

The latest beaches to win the awards are in England and the Channel Islands as other parts of the UK are now considered separately.

The UK awards cover slightly different criteria than Blue Flag, an award for beaches in Europe and South Africa.

'Massive effort'

In Scarborough, around 13 hours a day are spent beach cleaning. There are also dedicated teams who rid shelters and beach huts of graffiti.

We have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world - and I think we should celebrate that
Gill Bell
Marine Conservation Society

Meanwhile, Bournemouth spends over 400,000 a year to keep its popular seven-mile stretch of beach clean.

Andrew Emery, service development officer for Bournemouth Leisure Services, said litter had increased with visitor numbers and that more resources had been needed to keep to the same standard.

"We have cleaners on the beach from 6am. By the time visitors arrive they see a pristine beach," he said. "I don't think people realise the massive effort that is needed to keep it that way."

Day tripping

However, Encams' Mr Gibson said beaches have "improved dramatically" over the years, as a result of clean-ups and water companies working hard to meet European standards.

He said only 92 beaches won Seaside Awards in 1992 when they were launched.

Blackpool beach
Around 14 hours a day are spent cleaning Blackpool beach

"People go to the beach for a myriad of different reasons," he said. "Day tripping has never been so popular. And many just go for a bit of peace of quiet."

"Generally there does seem to be a lot of young families going to the beaches and they are looking for some degree of safety, which is demonstrated by these awards."

He said that more choice, the use of the internet and greater awareness of health and safety had all lead visitors to become more "discerning".

"In places like the English Riviera - mainly the Torbay area - tourism is the lifeblood of the local area and they have to attract visitors to survive", he said.

However, although the thought of a dirty beach may turn many a sunseeker's stomach, it is also members of the public who are defacing the coasts they crave.

"We have seen a huge increase in the amount of litter on beaches," said Gill Bell, of the Marine Conservation Society.

She said the charity had seen an 80% increase in the amount of litter since it started surveying beaches 10 years ago.

She said surveys of 2004 found an average of 2,000 items of litter per kilometre - around one item every 52cm of beach. This figure was more than double along England's south west coast, she added.

Bournemouth beach
Some August bank holidays can be disappointing

"There are people that think one more piece of litter won't matter," she said. "But there are others who are very passionate about beaches."

She said the beach carers included more than 6,000 volunteers who helped with the charity's clean-up projects.

It believes around 40% of the litter it picks up is left by visitors. Other rubbish included litter dropped on streets and washed into drains as well as debris left from fishing.

Cotton buds

Then there is the even more unsavoury sewage-related debris. Ms Bell said "she wanted the public to be aware" that 90% of this category was now made up of cotton bud sticks which had been flushed down toilets.

She said these buds "cost water companies thousands" as they could fit through screens in the drainage system.

The River Clyde had washed up 1,007 of the buds on one unsuspecting Scottish beach. One man spent four hours meticulously counting these during one beach survey, she said.

"We have beautiful beaches, if people could just think about what they flush down the toilet and leave on the beach," said Ms Bell.

"People spend a lot of money to go abroad to sit on a beach. But we have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world - and I think we should celebrate that."

She added that one aspect of beach cleaning the conservation society did not agree with was the use of mechanical cleaners which "clear everything".

She said clearing the strandline, where the sea and beach meet, can "create a huge problems for nature" as it effects the feeding of birds and other creatures.

Mr Gibson said Encams took this into account and that many cleaners hand-picked litter to avoid this. He said it wanted to work with environmental groups and listen to their concerns.

Clean beaches win coveted award
29 Apr 05 |  England
Litter charity picks top beaches
29 Apr 05 |  Northern Ireland
Beaches earn best quality flags
24 Apr 05 |  Somerset
Blackpool courts Spanish tourists
31 Mar 05 |  Lancashire
Wardens watch for beach fouling
09 Apr 05 |  Cornwall

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