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Last Updated: Friday, 27 May, 2005, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
More beaches fail bathing tests
Deckchairs on windswept beach
UK beaches saw torrential rain and gale force winds last summer
The number of UK beaches failing European water quality tests has doubled, the Good Beach Guide says.

The Marine Conservation Society's 2005 guide shows 52 beaches - up from 26 in 2003 - failed the tests and that the number it regards as safe had dropped.

The MCS does not advise swimming at these beaches as infections such as gastroenteritis are more likely.

It said last year's heavy rainfall meant more untreated sewage had been diverted into rivers and coastal areas.

The guide recommends 427, out of more than 800 beaches across the UK which were monitored for bathing water quality. This is down from 453 last year.

It is the first time the number of beaches recommended by the MCS - the highest standard for clean bathing water - has fallen since 1997.

The MCS will only recommend beaches in the Good Beach Guide if they meet the Guideline European water quality standard and are not affected by inadequately treated sewage.

The guide also shows wide regional variations, with 75% of monitored beaches in the South West being recommended - a new record for the region.

Three beaches in the region failed to reach the mandatory standard whereas Scotland, which experienced its wettest August since 1956, saw its recommended beaches fall from 56 to 50.

Wet summer

Four of its beaches failed to reach the EC mandatory standard.

MCS coastal pollution officer Thomas Bell said the society was calling for the government and the Scottish Executive to "provide better public information on all beaches"

He said the fact that the summer of 2004 was "one of the wettest on record" in the UK led to more pollution reaching the sea.

"The Met office issued 100 flash weather warnings in August alone, and big storms produce poor water quality."

Graph showing proportion of UK beaches achieving top rankings and those failing from 2001 to 2005

But the overall picture was not as bad as was expected five years ago because of recent efforts by water firms to improve sewage systems.

"There is a positive side in that these emergency pipes prevent the sewerage system from being overwhelmed and sewage from going into people's homes," he said.

Beaches which had achieved a "basic pass" meeting European Commission mandatory standards are thought to have a 12-15% risk to people of contracting gastroenteritis.

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This compares to around 5% for beaches which met the EC Guideline - water with a level of certain types of bacteria 20 times lower than the EC mandatory standard. Beaches which failed to reach even the minimum standards had higher risks of contracting an illness or infections from bacterial pollution, said Mr Bell.

"We wouldn't advise people to swim off beaches if they have failed mandatory water quality tests."

Regions ranked by proportion awarded highest grade
Region Beaches with top award Comparison with 2004
1 South West 75.0% +5.9%
2 South East 61.6% -10.3%
3 Channel Islands 56.0% +4.0%
4 Wales 49.2% -2.1%
5 Scotland 42.4% -3.1%
6 North East 38.2% -12.5%
7 Northern Ireland 22.2% -7.4%
8 North West 18.4% -22.8%
9 Isle of Man 6.3% No change
United Kingdom 52.7% -3.4%
Source: Marine Conservation Society

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26 May 05 |  England

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