If you were looking forward to a spot of sea bathing or wild swimming in Britain’s waters this summer, perhaps it’s time to think again.
The UK’s bathing water quality is rated among the worst on the continent, with just 110 coastal and inland sites judged as excellent in the latest data from Europe’s environmental watchdog.
Britain was ranked last out of 31 countries, although Covid-19 restrictions hampered sampling in the UK last year and meant most of the country’s bathing sites could not be classified.
Just 17 per cent of Britain’s bathing sites were classified as excellent quality, compared to 22 per cent for Poland. That figure was at least 50 per cent for the other 29 countries, and 70 per cent for 24 nations. However, Covid-19 restrictions hampered sampling in the UK last year
The lack of data left the UK propping up the league table, compiled annually by the European Environment Agency (EEA), with only Poland as close company.
Just 17 per cent of Britain’s bathing sites were classified as excellent quality, compared to 22 per cent for Poland. That figure was at least 50 per cent for the other 29 countries, and 70 per cent for 24 nations.
Of the UK’s 640 monitored bathing sites, 457 received no verdict in the 2020 rankings because they could not be sampled.
Nevertheless, 12 sites in Britain were found to be of poor quality, 29 were sufficient and 32 good.
WHERE CAN’T I SWIM IN ENGLAND?
The Environment Agency advises against bathing in:
- Burnham Jetty North and Weston-super-Mare, Somerset
- Combe Martn, Ilfracombe Wildersmouth and Instow, near Exmoor National Park
- Clacton Groyne 41, Essex
- Scarborough South Bay, North Yorkshire
- Tynemouth Cullercoats, near Newcastle
- Wherrytown, west Cornwall
The league table included the EU member states plus Albania and Switzerland.
Cyprus came out on top, with all of its bathing sites classified as excellent, while Greece, Austria, Croatia and Malta also had 95 per cent or more listed in the category.
In 2019, the UK had 66 per cent of sites reaching excellent standard, placing it sixth from bottom in the 31-country rankings.
A government spokesperson said: ‘The quality of bathing waters in England has improved significantly in the last 20 years.
‘The latest data from 2019 shows that that 72 per cent achieved the highest standard of excellent, while 98.3 per cent passed the minimum standard.
‘Visitors to coastal and inland swimming spots have over 400 bathing waters to choose from and can find out more information on the Environment Agency’s “Swimfo” website.’
Water quality testing on coastal waters and lakes in England was paused for much of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Environment Agency (EA) said it could no longer carry out the checks because of social distancing restrictions.
Sampling is used to test for bacteria including E. coli, which can cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections and diarrhea.
The EA is currently required to carry out the health and safety checks under EU law, and usually collects data from May to September.
Swimming in the sea: Families paddle in the tidal pool at Margate in Kent today as people continue to head to the beach in the warm weather
Almost all, 98.3 per cent, of the UK’s waters passed the minimum standard for bathing in England in 2019.
The EA currently has warnings in place on nine beaches which advise Britons against swimming due to pollution levels.
Bathing water data from 2020 will be the last to include Britain. EU member states plus non-members Iceland, Switzerland and Turkey are included in the EEA, but the UK has opted out of such membership post-Brexit.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European commissioner for the environment, fisheries and oceans, said: ‘Bathing water quality in Europe remains high and it’s good news for Europeans who will be heading to beaches and bathing sites this summer.’
A Water UK spokesperson said: ‘Water companies are proud of their record on bathing water with great strides made over the last 20 years.
‘In 2019, the last time data was available, a record 93 per cent of English bathing waters were classified as either good or excellent.
‘The artificial placement of the UK in this table reflects the absence of data from 70 per cent of sites due to Covid restrictions, rather than actual performance.’