TEN Welsh beaches lost their Blue Flag status yesterday – the highest mark of cleanliness a beach can gain.
Aberystwyth North and South, Broadhaven in Pembrokeshire and Pembrey Country Park have all been deemed too dirty to be on this year’s list of 43 beaches and marinas which have gained the globally-recognised sign of a clean destination.
Experts at Environment Agency Wales tested destinations across the country for the quality of their water, the cleanliness of their beaches and information provided to visitors.
Charity Keep Wales tidy then compiled the list of Welsh beaches and marinas that have passed the worldwide quality Blue Flag standard set down by the Denmark-based Foundation for Environmental Education.
Worldwide, 2,696 beaches and 639 marinas achieved Blue Flag status this year, which tourists increasingly look for when choosing a beach to visit.
The years 2008 and 2009 are the first since 1988 that the number of Welsh places crossed off the Blue Flag list has exceeded those welcomed on to it.
Experts are pointing to last year’s summer washout, saying that heavy rainfall meant debris and pollution from agriculture washed into the sea brought the water quality below the exacting standards of testers.
Tests undertaken in September gave the Environment Agency Wales early warning signs that a slew of beaches would lose their status.
Aberystwyth North and South were among the beaches told they might lose their place on the list of clean beaches.
Ceredigion councillor Carl Williams, whose ward includes Aberystwyth North, said people in the town would be “bitterly disappointed” by the loss of their beach’s quality symbol.
He said: “It’s a sad day when this is done but unfortunately the weather and all its elements are out of our control.
“I would say to visitors to remember that Aberystwyth has great facilities as well as the beach.
“If you are here for the weekend you can try a bit of orienteering, or if you want to learn we have the National Library of Wales. It could rain every day you are here and then you wouldn’t be able to use the beach anyway.
“There’s not a lot we could have done about it, but of course it is a bitter disappointment to everyone here.”
The chief executive of Mid Wales Tourism Board, Val Hawkins, said visitors should remember that many beaches in Wales still enjoyed a Blue Flag status.
She said: “You have New Quay and Borth and many more here in Ceredigion, as well as more beaches all along the Welsh coastline.
“It is a shame to lose some of them because councils have been investing a lot of money to keep them clean.
“With a good summer hopefully we will get our Blue Flags back, and until then, people should remember that they are still top quality beaches.”
Wynne Williams of Keep Wales Tidy, the charity which compiled the list, said: “We had an awful summer last year and all the failed beaches did so on water quality. If a beach fails two consecutive water quality tests it has to take the flag down.
“Hopefully if the summer is reasonably dry Aberystwyth might get back on to the list next year.
“On other issues like litter and information, the beaches were exceptional, which is why they were awarded the Blue Flag last year.”
Other losers were Broadhaven and Newport Sands in Pembrokeshire, Llandudno North and West shores and Rhos-on-Sea, all in Conwy.
New Blue Flag holders include six beaches and two marinas, Penarth Quays and Caernarfon.
Wales now boasts five of the eight marinas awarded top status in the UK. These are judged differently to the beaches, with 16 land-based criteria including provision of litter bins and life belts and adequate waste-dumping facilities.
Mr Williams said: “Penarth Marina particularly impressed us with its promotion of sustainable transport by showing people they don’t necessarily need to use their cars – they are encouraging people to ride a bike into town.”
Environment Minister Jane Davidson, who will unfurl Penarth Marina’s first-ever Blue Flag today, said: “We should all be proud of the quality and amenities on offer at our beaches.
“These 38 Blue Flags in Wales are a tribute to the high quality of the water around our coast and to the many organisations and volunteers who help maintain the all-round standards at the beaches themselves.
“I spent time on a beach clean-up earlier this year and know the hard work and dedication put in by these volunteers.
“This includes the great contribution of local authorities and beach managers to both improve the coastal infrastructure and the experience for visitors to the Welsh coastline.”