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Response to the European Environment Agency’s bathing water assessment

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The seashore in spring at Exmouth in Devon, England

Today there has been coverage in the Guardian, the Times, Daily Mirror and water trade publications of the European Environment Agency (EEA) annual assessment of bathing waters across Europe.

In the assessment, the EEA determined two thirds of the UK’s bathing waters to be ‘excellent’ – an increase from 2018.

However, the EEA has changed the procedures around testing, namely in waters affected by Short Term Pollution (STP) incidents. Due to this change, the EEA has classed nine of our bathing waters lower than our classifications set by the Environment Agency.

This does not mean that there has been a decline in bathing water quality, but highlights a technical difference in testing. Water quality in England remains very good, with 98.3% of bathing waters in England passing the minimum standard last year – 71% of which gained a classification of ‘Excellent’.

We know more needs to be done which is why we have an objective in our 25 Year Environment Plan to bring 75% of waters to a near- natural state as soon as we can.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said:

“The new reporting procedures introduced by the EEA mean that the UK’s official classifications and the EEA’s will differ slightly. This does not mean there has been a deterioration of bathing water quality in England which overall remains very good.

“The Environment Agency fully complies with the requirements set out in our bathing water regulations, going above and beyond the minimum requirement for the collection of samples needed to classify a bathing water. At this time there is no plan to change our sampling and reporting procedures.”

A Defra spokesperson said:

“Although there is a slight difference between the UK’s official classifications and the EEA’s, water quality in England remains very good, with 98.3% of bathing waters in England passing the minimum standard last year. Of these, 71% of bathing waters were classified as ‘Excellent’ - the highest water quality standard.

“The difference in classifications has occurred due to a change in the EEA’s reporting procedure. We continue to follow the bathing sampling processes in England set out in our Bathing Water regulations.”

The latest classifications for over 400 designated bathing waters in England can be found through the Environment Agency’s ‘Find a bathing water’ site. Members of the public can also access the Environment Agency’s daily pollution risk forecasting service during this time which alerts people to any temporary reductions in water quality. We urge the public to follow government guidance on social distancing when using bathing waters at this time.

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