96% of bathing waters in England have met minimum standards, with 90% of bathing waters in England being rated as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, continuing to show an overall boost in water quality over the last decade, Defra and the Environment Agency (EA) have announced. This compares with just 28% being rated as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in the 1990s and 76% in 2010.

The results follow testing at over 400 sites regularly used by swimmers throughout the summer. These tests, carried out by the Environment Agency, monitor for sources of pollution known to be a risk to bathers’ health, specifically E coli and intestinal enterococci.

Environment Agency Chair Alan Lovell said: “While overall bathing water quality has improved over the last decade due to targeted investment, robust regulation from the Environment Agency and work carried out by partners, these results show there is significant work still to do to ensure the quality of our bathing waters is increasing every year.”

Whilst bathing water quality has improved over the past few decades, standards have fallen slightly in the last year, likely in part due to an unseasonably wet summer causing run-off, Defra and the EA said.  Other complex factors which influence bathing water quality can include tides, and physical or environmental changes at a site, with every catchment affected differently.


Photo: Darren Welsh


Last year’s statistics showed that 97% met the minimum standard of ‘sufficient’, whilst 93% met the highest standards of ‘good’ and ‘excellent’.

The announcement included a list of measures being undertaken to improve water quality, including:

  • Setting strict targets for water companies to reduce the impact of storm overflows. This has led to the largest infrastructure programme in water company history with £60 billion to be invested over the next 25 years, preventing hundreds of thousands of sewage overflows every year.
  • Significant new investments to improve water quality at bathing waters, ramping up the investment from the last price control to improve hundreds of storm overflows across the country, and investment to install thousands of new state-of-the-art water quality monitors across the country.
  • Supporting farmers to reduce water pollution and an increase in agricultural regulation, including doubling funding for free face-to-face support on reducing water pollution to all farmers in England. The Environment Agency carried out more than 4,000 farm inspections across England last year, helping farmers comply with legal requirements and resulting in more than 5,000 actions undertaken to improve farm practices and drive improvements to our environment.

On the back of today’s results, the Environment Agency is working with local authorities to take targeted action at all bathing waters classified as ‘poor’.  Over the past 30 years the Environment Agency has directed £30 billion of water company investment in sewerage improvements and other measures to improve and protect water quality.

The EA and Defra news release can be read in full here.

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