Last year, the English coast was the cleanest since records began, with 99.5% of swimming spots passing water quality tests compared to just 65% in 1988.
However, England’s beaches will be under the microscope this summer as much tougher new EU standards come into force.
The new European standards will be twice as tough to pass in a bid by the EU to drive up standards across Europe.
In response the Environment Agency is urging water companies, businesses, farmers, local authorities and householders to continue to take action, reduce pollution and improve bathing water quality further.
From now until September, the Environment Agency will carry out its annual water quality test programme at more than 400 beaches and lakes. The results will then be made available to beach-goers in close to real-time on the Environment Agency’s new Bathing Water Explorer website.
Dramatic improvements have already been made over the last two decades to prevent pollution ending up in the sea.
Since 1990, water companies have spent £2 billion on improvements to protect bathing waters and they have pledged to invest a further £350 million over the next 5 years. Local councils have also worked to keep beaches clean and increase the information available to the public.
The Environment Agency has pledged that by working with water companies, farmers and local communities 6,000kms of rivers and 50 bathing waters will be improved over the next 5 years.
However, the most important short term influence on water quality will always be the weather. Heavy rain can cause pollution to flow into the sea and sunlight kills off bugs in the water.
Ed Mitchell, Executive Director of Environment and Business at the Environment Agency, said:
Water quality at English beaches is better than it’s ever been after it reached record levels last year, and we are working hard with others to improve it further still.
Good bathing water quality is essential for people’s health, local tourism and economic growth, and everyone can play their part. We want water companies, businesses, farmers, local authorities and people living, working or visiting seaside towns to help us improve water quality.
Everyone can check the water quality for their local beach on the new Bathing Water Explorer website.
As part of the new EU standards from 2016, local councils will have to display signs at all bathing waters showing if the new measures have been passed and whether or not swimming is advised
Anyone can check bathing water quality for a specific beach or lake on the new Bathing Water Explorer website.
Until 2014 the current Bathing Water Directive was in place, from 2015 it is replaced by the EU’s revised Bathing Water Directive.
The annual results for 2015 will use the revised Bathing Water Directive for the first time. They will be announced at the end of the year by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. Annual results under the new directive will use a combined average of four years worth of tests. Samples have been tested using both sets of standards since 2012.