Bathing water quality awards

Banner image
Blue Flags, Seaside Awards, excellent, good, sufficient...bathing water standards can be confusing. What do they mean? The main bathing water quality standards are explained here.
Awards   Criteria
EU Bathing Water Quality Standards  

The way bathing water quality is monitored has changed and more stringent new standards were introduced in 2015.

The Environment Agency takes samples during the bathing water season on behalf of Defra. Samples are taken at the most popular spots for bathers at 150 designated bathing waters in South West Water's region, all of which are coastal.

Under the new directive, the samples are tested for two types of bacteria, Esherichia coli (E. coli) and intestinal enterococci. Both are indicators of faecal contamination but this can come from many different sources, not just humans.

The Environment Agency began monitoring with the new indicators in 2012 and ceased using the previous indicators (faecal and total coliforms and faecal streptococci). This was to ensure that by 2015 there would be four seasons' worth of data using the new indicators.

Classifications for bathing waters are published at the end of each bathing water season, usually in early November.

There are four new classifications - excellent, good, sufficient and poor - which replaced the previous standards of guideline (excellent), mandatory (good) and failed. For comparison under the new directive:

• Excellent is about twice as stringent as the previous guideline standard and the standard required for a Blue Flag (as of 2013)

• Good is broadly equivalent to the previous guideline (excellent) standard

• Sufficient is about twice as stringent as the previous mandatory (good) standard

• Poor is below sufficient.

A classification is made for each bathing water at the end of each season based on the previous four seasons' data.

Blue Flag Awards  

Blue Flags are awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) based on 32 criteria of which one is UK bathing water quality guideline (excellent) standards. They also reflect accessibility, beach cleanliness, safety and other facilities.

In England the Keep Britain Tidy group administer the awards on behalf of FEE.

Seaside Award  

Keep Britain Tidy's Seaside Award celebrates the quality and diversity of England's coastline. Formerly called the Quality Coast Award, the scheme is the nationwide standard for the best beaches across the UK. While Seaside Award beaches can be vastly different, the flag is a symbol of quality which ensures visitors are guaranteed to find a clean, safe, attractive and well-managed coastal stretch.