Bathing Water Quality

Bathing Water Quality

Each year many people flock to beaches and inland bathing areas, sometimes enjoying the sunny weather, and sometimes bracing against cold winter winds. Whatever kind of activity takes place on the coast, there is a need to monitor the quality of the bathing waters around our coastline. As a result of efforts started by the European Union (EU), bathing waters across Europe, including the UK, are much cleaner than thirty years ago, when large quantities of untreated or partially treated municipal and industrial wastewater were discharged into ocean waters.

Bathing water classifications

Once bathing water samples have been collected and analysed, the bathing waters are given a designation based on their quality. These designations are clearly displayed near to bathing waters to inform the public of its quality. Classifications of water quality range from Poor (the water quality has not met the minimum standard), Sufficient (the water quality meets the minimum standard), Good (generally good water quality) and Excellent (the highest, cleanest class)2.

Improvements to the sewerage systems used by water companies have reduced the amounts of sewage being released to water. However, during wet weather, combined sewer overflows operate more frequently and diffuse pollution (I.e. pollution originating from a large area, for example, from agricultural fields) in the form of runoff becomes more frequent. Poor water quality can also be caused by misconnected plumbing where foul water such as from residential homes enters surface water drains, and from poorly maintained cesspits and sceptic tanks.

There have been significant improvements of bathing water quality since the year 2000 as a result of the Bathing Waters Directive5 and the Urban Waste Water Directive6. In 2019, out of the 420 bathing waters measured in England, 413 met at least the minimum standard of the Bathing Water Directive and 300 met the Excellent standard2. In Wales, 80% of bathing waters met the Excellent standard, with none being rated as Poor3. This also resulted in higher levels of sewage treatment around the Estuary. In 2000, none of the Severn Estuary and Inner Bristol Channel designated bathing beaches achieved the higher standard. By 2014, all 15 bathing waters (14 coastal beaches and 1 inland lake) achieved the minimum standard, with 8 achieving the higher standard.

Bathing water quality within the Severn Estuary

Using the classification system mentioned above, bathing waters within the Severn Estuary have also been analysed and categorised annually, as shown in Figure 3. Due to the restrictions imposed for COVID-19, some sampling has not occurred during 2020.

Since the UK’s departure from the EU, the UK has remained committed to working towards improved bathing water quality. The Environment Agency in England and Natural Resources Wales are responsible for the collection of water samples at the designated beaches around the Severn Estuary during the bathing water season (15th May to 30th September1). Weekly samples are taken from predetermined points where the average density of bathers is usually at its highest. Samples are analysed for a range of parameters for which standards have been set for acceptable amounts. For example, the Environment Agency analyses samples for presence of E-Coli (Escherichia coli) and intestinal enterococci2.

Beach name20162017201820192020
Berrow Beach, North SomersetGoodGoodGoodExcellentN/A
Brean Down, North SomersetExcellentExcellentExcellentExcellentN/A
Cleavdon beach, North SomersetGoodGoodGoodGoodN/A
Jackson’s Bay, Barry, South WalesN/AGoodSufficient GoodSufficient
Weston Main Beach, West-Super-Mare, SufficientSufficientPoorSufficientN/A
Whitemore Bay, Barry, South WalesN/AExcellentGoodExcellentGood
Water quality annual classification for bathing waters within the Severn Estuary for the years 2016-20203,7

Beach Litter Groups

Find out how you can help keep your local beaches, estuaries and bathing waters clean for everyone to enjoy.

Litter Free Coast & Sea Somerset project

SEP’s flagship project, Litter Free Coast & Sea Somerset, focuses on bathing water quality, and runs beach clean events within the local community to help keep our bathing waters free of waste and plastics. To find out more, and see inormation on how you can get involved, visit Litter Free Coast & Sea Somerset:

To find out the current bathing water quality in your area of the Severn Estuary, visit:

  1. GOV.UK Bathing Waters Collection webpage
  2. Statistics on English Coastal and Inland Bathing Waters: Compliance with the 2006 Bathing Water Directive (DEFRA, 2019)
  3. Natural Resources Wales Bathing water quality webpage (NRW, 2020)
  4. European Comission: Bathing water quality (signs and symbols adopted by the commission)
  5. UK Statutory Instruments: The Bathing Water Regulations 2013 No. 1675 Part 1   
  6. European Commission: Urban Waste Water Directive Overview
  7. Environment Agency: Bathing water quality interactive map webpage

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