Designate a bathing water: guidance on how to apply

Updated 13 May 2024

Applies to England

The Bathing Water Regulations and application guidance are currently being revised. During this time, Defra is not accepting applications for bathing water designation.

We expect to begin accepting applications again in spring 2025.

Anyone can apply to designate a bathing water.

If a site is designated, the Environment Agency will monitor water quality at the site to protect the health of people bathing.

This guide will help you fill in the designate a bathing water application form.

Bathing water designation: criteria it must meet

A proposed designated bathing water must:

  • be a coastal or inland water
  • have at least 100 bathers a day during the bathing season (15 May to 30 September)
  • have toilet facilities bathers can use during the bathing season, within a short distance of up to about 500m from the site

You cannot apply to designate a bathing water:

  • where there is permanent advice against bathing
  • at swimming pools or spas
  • at confined waters that are treated or used for therapy
  • at artificially created confined waters that are separated from surface water or groundwater

What to include in your application

To apply to designate a bathing water you must fill in the designate a bathing water application form.

The application form asks you to include:

  • a map or Ordnance Survey grid references showing the exact area where most people bathe
  • a letter of support for designation from the local authority (and each landowner , if the land is privately owned)
  • information about toilet facilities up to 500m from the site
  • the number of bathers on 2 days when the site is at its busiest
  • photographs of the site when you counted the number of bathers
  • results from a local consultation about your proposal to designate the site as a bathing water

You do not need to include information about water quality in your application.

Number of bathers

Do user surveys on 2 days during the bathing season to count the number of people bathing. Record the results on your application form.

For a site to be eligible for designation, it must be used by an average of at least 100 bathers a day during the bathing season (15 May to 30 September).

You should do the user surveys during weekends, bank holidays and school holidays, when the site is at its busiest.

Do not include other water users such as paddleboarders or kayakers.

Do your user surveys for up to 4 hours at the busiest times of day. The 4 hours can be consecutive but do not need to be. For example, you can:

  • survey the site for an hour at a time at different times throughout the day
  • survey the site for 4 hours in one go

Defra will use your surveys to calculate the average daily number of bathers.

You must:

  • do the surveys in person (anyone can do the surveys, it does not have to be the person who applies)
  • provide a photograph of the site taken during each survey
  • record the results from your surveys on your application form

Do not do surveys on days when organised events are being held, such as festivals or swimming races and competitions.


You must take a photograph during each survey to provide evidence of the number of bathers. Include each photograph with your application.

Photographs must:

  • be taken at the busiest time of day
  • be taken far enough away so that people cannot be identified
  • show the whole area where most people bathe
  • be marked with the date, time and location

If people can be identified in a photograph, do not include it in your application.

Facilities and other measures to promote bathing

For a site to be considered for designation, it must have toilet facilities bathers can use during the bathing season within a short distance of up to about 500m from the site.

If the toilet facilities are on a business premises, you need to include a letter from the business confirming that they can be used by bathers.

You should include information about other facilities for bathers at or near the site. For example:

  • parking facilities
  • public transport
  • easy access (including disabled access)
  • changing facilities
  • lifeguards
  • first aid
  • litter bins
  • cafes, shops or kiosks

How to do a consultation

Before you submit your application, you must do a consultation to get views about your proposal from as many local people, organisations and businesses as possible.

Find out how to do a consultation.

Your consultation must be open during the bathing season in the same year you submit your application, for at least 6 weeks. It does not have to be in a specific format.

You could ask for people’s views:

  • on a website
  • by post
  • by email
  • at local meetings or events
  • in local media
  • on social media

You must give the following stakeholders the opportunity to respond:

  • landowners
  • local authorities such as the parish, borough, district or unitary authority (if they are not the applicant)
  • bathers and local bathing groups
  • owners and operators of waterside facilities and businesses
  • residents
  • chamber of commerce
  • tourist office
  • environmental organisations
  • farming businesses or a farming representative body – if the site is on a river, include farmers upstream of the proposed bathing water

Other people you may want to consult include:

  • water users and water sports clubs
  • visitors
  • business representative groups
  • civic groups

You should try to include as many of these stakeholders as possible in your consultation.

Make sure that everyone who responds to the consultation knows that their data and responses will be included in an application to designate the site as a bathing water. Do not list the names of organisations, businesses and individuals that ask to remain anonymous.

When to submit your application

Submit your application form and supporting evidence by 31 October for the site to be considered for designation in the next bathing season.

After you submit your application: Defra consultation

Defra will hold a public consultation on all applications that meet the criteria and evidence requirements for bathing water designation.

Defra will invite the following stakeholders to respond to the consultation:

  • the water company and local police for the area
  • British Long Distance Swimming Association
  • Consumer Council for Water
  • Country Land and Business Association
  • Marine Conservation Society
  • National Farmers Union
  • Outdoor Swimming Society
  • Royal Agricultural Society of England
  • River and Lake Swimming Association
  • Swim England
  • Tenant Farmers Association
  • UK Beach Management Forum
  • Visit England

Defra will work with Natural England to ensure designating the site as a bathing water is compatible with protections in place under the:

  • Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended)
  • Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (as amended)
  • Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended)

Final decision

Defra ministers will make the final decision on whether a site can be designated as a bathing water.

Defra will notify the outcome, and the reasons why, to the:

  • applicant
  • landowner
  • local authority
  • water company

Defra will aim to do this as soon as possible after they receive your application and by 30 April at the latest.

Defra will publish a summary of the outcome and the responses to the public consultation on GOV.UK.

You cannot appeal against the outcome, but you can reapply for the site to be designated as a bathing water.

If the site is designated

The Environment Agency monitors bathing water quality at designated bathing waters in England from 15 May to 30 September. They investigate any sources of pollution and recommend measures to improve water quality.

The Environment Agency will identify a water quality sampling point at the site. For river sites, the sampling point will be at the furthest point downstream in the designated bathing area.

The Environment Agency classifies designated bathing waters every year as excellent, good, sufficient or poor. Check the quality of beach and bathing water in England.

The local authority must put up signs from the Environment Agency during the bathing season that:

  • provide information to the public about the quality of the water
  • tell the public if there’s a pollution incident
  • warn the public about sources of pollution

Local authorities and landowners should contact Natural England for advice on managing bathing waters in protected sites, including ensuring any necessary consents, assents or licences are obtained from Natural England as appropriate. Bathers should comply with any local byelaws.

Bathing water designation does not mean:

  • the water meets bathing water quality standards
  • the water is safe for bathers

Get help

Email if you need help with your application.