Page last updated at 23:03 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 00:03 UK
Fewer beaches awarded top marks

Looe, Cornwall
Looe in Cornwall missed out on a recommendation from the MSC

Bathing water at beaches across the UK is more polluted as a result of last year's stormy summer, the Marine Conservation Society has warned.

Its annual Good Beach Guide shows the number of beaches with excellent water quality has fallen by 10% since last year, the biggest drop in 21 years.

Of 779 beaches tested, 443 got a top rating, compared with 495 last year.

The society blamed last summer's heavy rain for sweeping raw sewage and animal waste into rivers and the sea.

Bucking the trend

The tests carried out between May and September last year, coincided with what was thought to be the wettest British summer on record.

According to the results, Suffolk's coastline has some of the cleanest water in the UK, while the Channel Islands' waters seemed to suffer worst over the year with the number of recommended beaches falling from 15 to 8.

We are pinning the blame squarely on last's summer's exceptionally bad weather
Thomas Bell, coastal pollution officer

The south west of England has the highest number (139) of recommended beaches while the North West has just seven.

Coastal pollution officer Thomas Bell said this year's results bucked a long-term trend of cleaner bathing water.

"But we are pinning the blame squarely on last's summer's exceptionally bad weather.

"Heavy rain sweeps pollutants like raw sewage, street debris and animal waste directly from the land into rivers and the sea," he said.

The tests also showed the number of beaches failing the minimum legal standard tripled from 17 to 53 in a year.

Eye infections

Dr Sue Kinsey, pollution programme manager for the MCS, advised against swimming and surfing in these beaches as bacteria could lead to stomach complaints and eye infections.

She also suggested staying out of the water on any coast for 24 hours after storms or flash floods to allow time for any debris or waste to disperse.

Gill Bell of the Marine Conservation Society

The society did stress however that that although the number of excellent water quality beaches had fallen, they were still up on 2000.

It suggested this showed the 20bn invested by the water industry had brought permanent benefits to Britain's beaches.

However, there was still more to be done, it said, calling for better public information about the risks to bathers from short-term pollution.

It also said:

  • the sewer system needed expanding in order to handle large volumes of storm water
  • action was needed to address the estimated 3,500 unregulated combined sewer overflows
  • a reduction in animal waste run-off from farm land was required

Dr Kinsey said without these steps a repeat of the 2007 summer this year could result in another drop in water quality over the next year.

The Marine Conservation Society recommendations are one of five UK awards and is the only scheme which focuses entirely on water quality.

The beaches are categorised as failing if they fail the EC statutory minimum, "pass" if they pass it, "guideline" if their water quality is good and are awarded an MSC recommendation where the water quality is high and there is good sewage treatment.

Blue Flags, another beach award, assesses how well the beach is managed and its amenities.

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16 May 07 |  South West Wales
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05 Apr 07 |  England

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