UK ranks near bottom of European water bathing quality survey, despite improvements

Adobe Stock 232651134

The UK has one of the lowest ratios of excellent rated bathing waters in Europe, according to research by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Despite a 3% improvement on 2018, the UK ranked 25th out of 30 European countries tested for the quality of bathing waters, with 66% of the swimming sites tested in the UK classified as 'excellent'.

Samples were taken from 628 coastal and 16 inland bathing spots across the UK and then classified according to the EEA Bathing water Directives using four quality categories – ‘poor’, ‘sufficient’, ‘good’ and ‘excellent’.

The bathing waters tested were quality classified according to two microbiological parameters defined in the Bathing Water Directive - Escherichia coli and Intestinal enterococci.

Of all the bathing sites that were tested across the UK, 97% were in line with the minimum quality standards, classified as ‘sufficient’ or better.

The number of ‘excellent’ bathing sites rose by 3% on last year to 426 out of the 628 sites tested, with the number considered to have a ‘poor’ water quality falling to 15 - a 1% drop.

This data comes as Surfers Against Sewage, a national ocean conservation charity, launch a petition for safer water quality across the UK.

The #EndSewagePollution petition aims to protect the health and wellbeing of the public and help save Oceans. The charity plans to change government policy and legislation to protect UK waters, and restore rivers and the Ocean by generating over 50,000 signatures.

Hugo Tagholm, the CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said: "This is the water industry emissions scandal: a water quality testing programme that overlooks the worst sewage pollution events and hides the true state of rivers and the Ocean. It’s unacceptable to treat these blue spaces that are increasingly important to the health and wellbeing of society in this way.”

Across the rest of Europe, only 5% of the sites tested failed to reach the minimum classification of 'sufficient'.

Cyprus recorded the best water quality out of the countries tested, with 99.1% of its bathing sites being classified as ‘excellent’.

The worst achieving country was Poland, earning just 21.6% of ‘excellent’ ratings, though this was in part due to a low proportion of sites having complete samples. The next lowest country was Albania, at 51.6%.

The Executive Director of the EEA said it is important to continue to monitor bathing waters across Europe. “Regular monitoring and assessment of bathing water are essential for ensuring that we maintain the already very high quality across Europe and, where needed, we take effective measures to address water pollution,” said Hans Bruyninckx. “Cleaner bathing waters do not only benefit our own health and well-being but also the health of the environment.”

More information on the water quality at your nearest bathing spots can be found on the UK Environment Agency website.


Organisations and charities working to improve water quality in the UK:

The River’s Trust: https://www.theriverstrust.org/

2 Minute Beach Clean: https://beachclean.net/

Surfer’s Against Sewage: https://www.sas.org.uk/


Main Image: Helford River Estuary in Cornwall, England.

01 Cover July

Issue 40 July 2020

  • Wild swimming in central England - our favourite spots
  • Mind the gap - socially distanced coaching
  • Racism in swimming
  • A history of other Olympic games disrupted by world events
  • Tried & tested - kit reviews of wetsuits, shoes and more!

Swim Wild and Free

Sign up to our newsletter and receive a free five-part series on the fundamentals of freestyle by Olympic silver medallist Keri-anne Payne.