The results show that 99% of bathing waters in England have passed water quality standards following testing by the Environment Agency at over 400 designated sites. Of these, 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 the highest number since new standards were introduced in 2015.
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 EA 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.
There is still more to be done, and the EA is taking robust action to support regulators, businesses, farmers and councils to ensure cleaner and healthier waters for all.
Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd said:
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.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:
Water quality is an absolute priority. We are the first Government to direct Ofwat to prioritise action by water companies to protect the environment and deliver the improvements that we all want to see.
“But we must go further to protect and enhance water quality. Our Environment Act puts in place more protections against water pollution than ever before, we are investing in programmes to support farmers to tackle water quality issues, and we are clear that where water companies do not step up we will take robust action.
This is also the first year that part of the River Wharfe in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, has been given an official classification. While a designation is an important first step towards water quality improvements, we have always been clear that it will take significant time, investment and co-operation to see real change. Yorkshire Water yesterday announced new investment of up to £13 million for the Wharfe, including extra disinfection measures.
The EA’s Swimfo website provides detailed information on each of the 400+ bathing waters in England, and notifies bathers when Pollution Risk Warnings have been issued.