Guidance

Bathing waters: apply for designation or de-designation

How to apply for a beach or inland water to be officially identified as a bathing water, or to remove the designation from an existing bathing water.

A bathing water is a coastal or inland water that attracts a large number of bathers in relation to any infrastructure or facilities that are provided, or other measures that are taken, to promote bathing at the site.

There’s no set limit for how many bathers are needed for a site to be identified as a bathing water.

A bathing water could be a coastal water in a large resort or a smaller site attracting a large number of bathers for its size.

Apply for designation

Local authorities usually apply for designation, but anyone can apply. Local authorities must support all applications. Landowners must support applications for privately owned sites.

If you’re considering applying you should contact the bathing water team at an early stage to discuss the process. Call 020 8026 3462 or email bathingwater@defra.gov.uk.

Evidence needed for designation

You need to state if you’re the site’s owner or leaseholder. If you’re neither, state the local authority or private landowner and whether they support your application.

Your application must include:

  • user surveys
  • information about any facilities at the site
  • evidence of a consultation

User surveys

You need to provide user surveys which have been carried out during the bathing season (15 May to 30 September) at peak use times (weekends, bank holidays and school holiday periods).

They should cover a minimum of 20 days, including 10 weekend or bank holiday days. Half of all survey days must be during school holiday periods.

You should carry out your survey when you expect high numbers of users. This could be during the warmest part of the day.

You must show a breakdown of the number of:

  • swimmers
  • children paddling
  • other beach and water users

Defra counts adults swimming and children both swimming or paddling as bathers.

Facilities at the bathing area

Provide information about any facilities at the site that support and promote bathing, such as:

  • ease of access to the site
  • public toilets
  • changing facilities
  • parking or public transport
  • lifeguards
  • first aid service
  • cafes, shop or kiosks

Local consultation

Provide evidence of consultation during the bathing season with local groups that may be affected by designation, for example:

  • bathers and other water users
  • owners of beach or waterside facilities
  • owners and operators of beach or waterside businesses
  • residents of the closest town or village
  • local environmental and civic groups and the chamber of commerce
  • neighbourhood and community representative groups
  • parish and town councils (where they are not the landowner)
  • local tourist office or other local tourism body
  • local regeneration office or other local regeneration body
  • county, borough, district or unitary authority (where they are not the landowner)

Apply for de-designation

You can apply for a bathing water to be de-designated if the site is no longer used for bathing. You must provide evidence to confirm that the site is not used for bathing or that use is very low.

Evidence needed for de-designation

Your evidence must include user surveys and evidence of a consultation.

User surveys

You need to provide user surveys which have been carried out during the bathing season (15 May to 30 September) at peak use times (weekends, bank holidays and school holiday periods).

They should cover a minimum of 20 days, including 10 weekend or bank holiday days. Half of all survey days must be during school holiday periods.

You should carry out your survey when you expect high numbers of users. This could be during the warmest part of the day.

You need to show a breakdown of the number of:

  • swimmers
  • children paddling
  • other beach and water users

Defra counts adults swimming and children both swimming and paddling as bathers.

Local consultation

Provide evidence of consultation during the bathing season with local groups that may be affected by de-designation, for example:

  • bathers and other water users
  • owners of beach or waterside facilities
  • owners and operators of beach or waterside businesses
  • residents of the closest town or village
  • local environmental and civic groups, and the chamber of commerce
  • neighbourhood and community representative groups
  • parish and town councils (where they are not the landowner)
  • local tourist office, or other local tourism body
  • local regeneration office, or other local regeneration body
  • county, borough, district or unitary authority (where they are not the landowner)

Any consultation must make clear that if the bathing water is de-designated then:

  • the bathing water quality would no longer be monitored
  • the bathing water may lose existing high levels of protection
  • no future improvements aimed at meeting bathing water standards would be made

Submit your application

For consideration for the following year’s bathing season, email your application for designation or de-designation to bathingwater@defra.gov.uk by 31 October.

When you’ve submitted your application

Defra will inform you if the site does not meet the criteria for designation or de-designation.

When Defra has received all the relevant evidence it will hold a public consultation.

Defra will consult:

  • the water company for the area
  • British Destinations and UK Beach Management Forum
  • British Long Distance Swimming Association
  • Consumer Council for Water
  • Country Land and Business Association
  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport
  • Marine Conservation Society
  • National Farmers Union
  • Outdoor Swimming Society
  • River and Lake Swimming Association
  • Surfers Against Sewage
  • Visit England
  • Water UK

Defra will consult the Environment Agency for additional information about the beach or inland water concerned.

Ministers make the final decisions on designations and de-designations.

Defra will notify you, the relevant local authority, water company and landowner with a decision and any reasons, if applicable.

If the site is designated

The Environment Agency will develop a bathing water profile and put plans in place to monitor and protect the bathing water.

By law, the local council must display information about water quality and pollution sources at designated bathing waters during the bathing season (15 May to 30 September).

The Environment Agency will provide the text for the local authority’s public information sign.

If the bathing water is de-designated

The Environment Agency will no longer monitor water quality at the site for compliance with bathing water standards.

The local authority must remove any signs that refer to the site as a bathing water.

There will be no further improvements aimed at meeting bathing water standards.

Water quality will continue to be protected by regulations such as the Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations, Water Environment Regulations and Marine Strategy Regulations.

Published 9 February 2016
Last updated 29 July 2020 + show all updates
  1. Updated with a clearer definition of a bathing water.

  2. First published.