Press release

Majority of England’s bathing waters meet strict quality standards

A huge majority of England’s bathing waters continue to meet rigorous quality standards, new figures from Defra reveal.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Nearly 80 per cent of England’s bathing waters met the tightest guideline standard with close to 98 per cent meeting the European Commission’s minimum water quality threshold in 2011.

414 coastal and freshwater bathing water sites were monitored across England in 2011.  Results show that improvements have been maintained over the past decade:

2000 (404 bathing waters)

2010 (413 bathing waters)


  Number Per cent Number Per cent Number Per cent

Meeting mandatory standards 382 94.3 403 97.6 405 97.8

Meeting EC Guideline standards 216 53.3  354 85.7 365 88.2

Meeting UK Guideline standards 180 44.4  300  72.6 328 79.2

Any bathing water site that falls below mandatory standards is investigated by the Environment Agency, who will take appropriate measures to address sources of pollution.  

Measures taken to reduce and mitigate pollution from agricultural sources include the Catchment Sensitive Farming project and the establishment of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, which cover approximately two-thirds of England. During the past two decades the water industry has invested £2 billion to improve bathing water quality and further spending of £220 million is planned between now and 2015.

During the 2011 bathing season there have been trials at 47 beaches in England into giving bathers information about discharges from Combined Sewer Overflows.  This has been voluntary action on the part of water companies, local authorities and Surfers Against Sewage. This initiative has the support of the Cleaner Seas Forum, a Ministerial led initiative bringing together industry and environmental groups to look at how bathers can be kept better informed about water quality.


The water quality results for identified coastal and inland bathing waters in England, and a summary of the UK compliance figures, can be found in the 2011 results tables.

A report with more detailed results for the UK, showing results for all the Bathing Water Directive’s parameters, will be available on the bathing water web page by the end of December 2011. Bathing water standards are set by the Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC). Detailed information about the Directive and about bathing water quality in England is available at

Standards set by the Bathing Water Directive:

  • Bathing water quality results in the UK are assessed on the basis of compliance with standards in Directive 76/160/EEC. The two main standards used to assess the quality of bathing water are total coliforms and faecal coliforms, which are bacteria found in the guts of humans and other warm-blooded animals, and are indicators of contamination from sewage and other sources.
  • The Directive sets minimum ‘mandatory’ values to be achieved by 95% of samples (normally 19 out of 20 samples) taken during the bathing season. The number of samples failing to meet the Directive’s standards for total and faecal coliform bacteria is shown for each failed bathing water in the results table.
  • The tightest ‘guideline’ water quality standard used in the UK is based on compliance with tighter values for total and faecal coliforms to be achieved by 80 per cent of samples during the season and for compliance with a standard for a maximum level of faecal streptococci. This standard sets the water quality criterion of the Blue Flag award and beaches that meet the standard are described as ‘guideline’ (indicated by ‘G’) in the results table. Blue Flag is an independent award administered in England by Keep Britain Tidy.
  • The European Commission’s guideline standard sets tighter values for total and faecal coliforms to be achieved by 80 per cent of samples during the bathing season.  This is used for reporting guideline compliance in the Commission’s report on bathing waters in all Member States, published in May or June each year

A minimum of 20 water quality samples are taken for each bathing water site.  Testing begins two weeks before the start of the bathing season, which runs from 15 May to 30 September.

The nine bathing waters that failed to meet the minimum ‘mandatory’ standards in 2011 are: Combe Martin and Ilfracombe Capstone (Wildersmouth) in the South West region; Walpole Bay, Margate in the South East region; Heysham Half Moon Bay, Blackpool Central, Blackpool South, St Annes, St Annes North and Fleetwood in the North West region.

Two bathing waters in England could not be sampled in 2011 because they were inaccessible to samplers and to the public.  Blackpool North in North West region has been closed for major engineering works to the sea defences.  At Newhaven in Southern region, access to the privately owned bathing water has remained closed. These sites are not included in the 2011 compliance assessment.

One new bathing water has been designated in 2011: Humberston Fitties in Anglian region.

Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) may affect bathing water quality after heavy rainfall.  CSOs are a safeguard to prevent sewage from backing up and overflowing during periods of heavy rain. During the 2011 bathing season, pilot projects have been held at 47 beaches in England into providing “real time” warnings for discharges from CSOs, to enable the public to make informed decisions about whether to bathe.  This work has been carried out by water companies, local authorities and Surfers Against Sewage. It is a voluntary initiative, supported by the Cleaner Seas Forum, that goes beyond the requirements of the Bathing Water Directive.

More information on measures the Government is taking to improve bathing water include can be found at:
Non-agricultural diffuse pollution:

The England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative:
Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

Bathing water results for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are published by the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Department of Environment Northern Ireland respectively. The results for Scotland were published on 16 September, and for Northern Ireland were on 21 September. The results for Wales will be published on 8 November.  Results are also available on the websites of the Environment Agency (for England and Wales), Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.  Any questions relating to bathing water compliance should be directed to the relevant organisation.

The European Commission will publish the 2011 bathing water results for all EU Member States on its website in May/June 2012.

The names of six bathing waters in England were amended in 2011 to clarify their geographical location:

New name from 2011 Previous name

Beachlands Central West Beachlands

Beachlands West West Hayling

Eastoke West of Eastoke

Bognor Regis (Aldwick) Bognor Regis

Putsborough Woolacombe Putsborough

Wallasey New Brighton

Published 8 November 2011