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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"This is the one independent guide to water quality in Britain"
 real 28k

Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 23:36 GMT 00:36 UK
British beaches 'improving'
people on beach
Water quality is now improving
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

A group campaigning against pollution says fewer United Kingdom beaches have failed the minimum water quality standard this year than in 1999.

The group, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), says there has been a drop in sewage pollution along many parts of the UK coastline.

Announcing its Good Beach Guide 2000, the MCS said highly contaminated areas like northern England and Scotland had shown improvements in water quality.

For the first time, the guide recommends beaches in the north west of England, despite the region's legacy of industrial pollution.

Other beach awards include the European Blue Flag scheme, the UK's Seaside Award, and, in Wales, the Green Coast Award.

Strict standards

The MCS says its version is "the only truly independent guide to bathing water quality in the UK", and says beaches selected for inclusion have to have cleaner water than for the other schemes.
blackpool tower
Blackpool: Even NW England is cleaner

The MCS water quality standards are based on the bacterial indicator levels set by the Brussels bathing water directive, but the beaches it recommends must meet stricter criteria. They must:

  • achieve a 100% pass rate of the European mandatory standard (the UK Government requires a 95% rate)
  • pass the European guideline standard, which is 20 times stricter
  • not be affected by sewage outfalls that discharge raw, screened or primary treated sewage
  • not be allowed any relaxation of standards in the event of abnormal weather.
For the new guide, 749 beaches were monitored, and the MCS is recommending 215 of them - more than a quarter - to bathers.

The number of beaches failing to meet the minimum water quality standards was 80, 11% of the total, well down on 1999.

Better precautions

But the MCS says none should fail, and it wants an end to the discharge of inadequately treated sewage into coastal waters.

It says all sewage discharges should as a minimum receive secondary treatment, involving biological purification and bacterial digestion.

And it wants tertiary treatment - UV or other forms of disinfection - of sewage affecting bathing waters, shellfish waters and sensitive marine areas.
sewage entering sea
Sewage can pollute a huge area
Kate Hutchinson of the MCS told BBC News Online: "For more than 20 years, we've been trying to show that this is a serious problem.

"People have been falling ill and even dying. And now at last the water companies are listening to us.

"The government has promised that by 2005 all sewage discharges will receive at least secondary treatment - and we'll make sure it delivers on that."

Last year, an eight-year-old girl, Heather Preen, died after contracting a bacterial infection probably picked up on a Devon beach.

The beach had passed the European guideline standard and had been awarded a Blue Flag.

But the MCS had not recommended it, because it was affected by a raw sewage outfall.

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21 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
'Tide turning on dirty beaches'
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