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The BBC's Karen Bowerman
"More beaches than ever have been presented with a blue flag this year"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 23:45 GMT 00:45 UK
UK beaches in better shape
busy bournemouth beach
Come on in . . . water quality is improving
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

More of the United Kingdom's beaches than ever before have won a European cleanliness award.

The award, the Blue Flag, is intended to mark the highest European standards of both clean water and beach management.

Last year 41 UK beaches qualified for Blue Flags, but this year the number has risen to 57.

Kids play in the sea
Good news for bathers
The result places the UK ninth among the 21 European coastal states entering the award scheme.

The scheme is co-ordinated in the UK by the Tidy Britain Group, a charity which works to improve local environments.

It acts on behalf of the Blue Flag organisers, the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe (FEEE).

Within the UK, Wales doubled its Blue Flag beaches from 11 last year to 22 in 2000, and Scottish winners rose from one to three.

Northern Ireland won eight awards, two more than in 1999, and England 24 - an increase of one.

Tidy Britain says any British beach flying the flag has to pass stringent tests on beach management and safety.

Water quality also has to reach the microbiological guideline standards of Europe's bathing water directive.

All can help

Award-winning beaches, unlike others, have to display their water quality results, and can have their flags removed if they fall below the standard during the summer.

Blue Flags are also awarded to marinas that pass 16 checks on environmental management. Last year 26 UK marinas qualified, and this year 29 did so.

In 1992 only 17 UK beaches won Blue Flags.

The chief executive of Tidy Britain, Alan Woods, said: "Everyone who visits a British beach has a part to play in keeping it clean.


amble marina in northumberland
Marinas are getting better too
"It's simply a question of leaving it in the condition you found it. Blue Flag is the eco-label of beach excellence in this continent, and for the sake of tourism and national pride we must all do our bit to help it achieve more."

The UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, described the number of awards as "a further sign that our bathing waters are improving in quality".

Usefulness questioned

But controversy continues over just how useful the Blue Flag awards are in practice.

The UK's Marine Conservation Society (MCS), which runs its own scheme, the Good Beach Guide, says the beaches it chooses have to have cleaner water than for any other scheme.

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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