99% of English bathing sites meet required water quality standards, statistics show

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99% of bathing waters in England have passed water quality standards following testing carried out by the Environment Agency at over 400 designated sites.

The results, released earlier this week, show that for the 2021 bathing season 94.7% of beaches and inland waters gained an ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’ rating, while 4.3% achieved the minimum ‘Sufficient’ rating.

This compares with 98.3% passing the required standards in 2019, and is reported to be the highest number since new standards were introduced in 2015.

Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd commented on the results on 19th January: “With billions spent on seaside visits every year, we know good water quality helps coastal towns prosper.

“Twenty years of improvements in bathing water took targeted regulation and significant investment. While this is reflected in today’s results we must continue to work together to maintain this trend.

“We cannot afford to be complacent. Public confidence in water quality has faltered in recent years with new evidence of pollution incidents getting much needed attention as a result of some excellent campaigning. The polluter must pay. To restore trust, water companies, industry and farmers need to get the basics right or face legal action.

“The prize is multiple benefits to people and nature. The Environment Agency is working to ensure £120 million is invested in coastal habitats like England’s saltmarshes, which protect against coastal erosion and also store carbon equivalent to nearly 40 million people’s annual domestic emissions.”

Bathing waters are monitored for sources of pollution known to be a risk to bathers’ health, with up to 20 samples taken from each site during the bathing season. Each sample is tested for bacteria, specifically E coli and intestinal enterococci.

The Environment Agency has been monitoring bathing water sites since the 1990s, and in this time there have been significant improvements. In the early 1990s, for example, just 28% of bathing waters met the highest standards in force at that time.

Since 2015 the Environment Agency has required water companies to install Event Duration Monitors at bathing water sites.

This captures data on the frequency and duration of storm overflow discharges, with all the data published online so the public can see what is happening in their local area.

More than 12,000 of England’s 15,000 storm overflows now have these monitors, and the remaining 3,000 will have them by end of next year.

The Environment Agency Swimfo website provides detailed information on each of the 400+ bathing waters in England, and notifies bathers when Pollution Risk Warnings have been issued.