The Environment Agency (EA) reports a surge in the number of English bathing sites unfit for swimming, reaching the highest level since the introduction of a new rating system in 2015. Out of 423 tested swimming sites, mainly beaches, 18 were classified as “poor,” the highest under the new system. The EA conducted tests for pollution known to pose health risks to bathers, with the wet summer potentially contributing to the elevated pollution levels due to increased water runoff from roads and fields.
This year, 281 bathing sites achieved an “excellent” rating, marking a decrease of 21 from the previous year. The number of sites meeting minimum standards remained comparable to 2015, but there has been a consistent rise in the count of sites rated as “poor” over the last three years. Water Minister Robbie Moore acknowledged recent improvements in bathing waters but clarified that the reference to “recent years” compared to water quality more than a decade ago
The increase in poor ratings aligns with growing concerns about untreated sewage discharged by water companies. Last year, we witnessed an average of 825 sewage spills into waterways daily. Campaign groups like Surfers Against Sewage criticise the state of water quality in England, emphasising the rise in bathing waters failing to meet minimum standards.
While it is legal for water companies to discharge sewage after heavy rainfall, recent investigations suggest such discharges may also occur during dry weather. Alan Lovell, the chair of the Environment Agency, acknowledges a slight fall in standards this year, emphasising the need for ongoing efforts and investment to drive improvements.
Rivers, representing a small portion of designated bathing sites, have been designated as “poor,” further underscoring the fragile state of the UK’s rivers. The government faces increasing pressure to address concerns about sewage discharges and agricultural run-off. Water Minister Mr. Moore reassures ongoing efforts through the “Plan for Water,” emphasising investment, regulation, and enforcement to enhance water quality and bathing site conditions.