Fewer than half Britain’s beaches are fit for swimmers, according to a new report.
Only 370 UK beaches are “MCS recommended” this year out of 777 tested
The number of UK bathing spots recommended for having excellent water quality in the latest Good Beach Guide has dropped by almost a sixth this year.
The fall is the biggest year-on-year drop in the 22-year history of the guide produced by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).
A total of 370 UK beaches are “MCS recommended” this year out of 777 tested – the first time since 2002 that fewer than half made the grade.
Those that failed even the mandatory EC standards for water quality increased by almost half to 78, up from 53 the previous year.
MCS conservation manager, Calum Duncan, said: “A beach may look safe, with clean sand, but it is the water quality that is the danger.
“Polluted water is not always obvious to the eye, so to be safe it is best to check our list of 370 recommended beaches.”
We’re becoming concerned that the existing infrastructure for handling storm pollution may not be up to the job.
Thomas Bell, MCS coastal pollution officer
The society put the fall in water quality standards down to the heavy rain last summer which increased pollution in the rivers and the seas.
The latest bathing water tests were carried out between May and September 2008, coinciding with the seventh wettest British summer on record.
Thomas Bell, MCS coastal pollution officer, said: “Today’s results reflect last summer’s heavy rain which swept waterborne pollutants like raw sewage, petro-chemicals and farm waste into rivers and the sea.
“We are concerned that the existing infrastructure for handling storm pollution is not up to the job.”
Bad weather in 2008
Specific counter-pollution measures, including investment in more sustainable urban drainage systems, new farming practices and expansion of the sewer system to handle storm water, are now thought to be needed in the face of changing weather patterns brought on by climate change.
Mr Duncan pointed to overflow storage as a particular problem: “The overflow tanks that we currently have in place are not large enough and when we have heavy rain they get filled too quickly.
“This means that the storm drains begin to spew pollution into the sea faster than need be and our overflow capacity needs to be increased.”
Mr Bell added that in order to avoid health risks, people should pick places to swim in the sea which had a good water quality record, stay out of the water for at least 24 hours after heavy storms and report pollution problems to the MCS.