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South West beaches clean up with best-ever bathing water quality results

13th November 2019

All of Cornwall’s beaches have passed tough bathing water quality standards, according to figures published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs today.

And it’s good news in Devon too, where 96% of beaches have passed.

The overall pass rate of 98.7% for Devon and Cornwall in 2019 – with 82.8% of beaches receiving the top ‘excellent’ rating – is the region’s best-ever results under new standards introduced in 2015, which are twice as tough as in previous years. 

Of the 150 designated bathing waters in Devon and Cornwall just two – Combe Martin and Ilfracombe (Wildersmouth) in Devon – have been rated as ‘poor’, due largely to agricultural and urban drainage issues.

Malcolm Bell, Chair of the BeachWise Forum for the South West and Chief Executive of Visit Cornwall, welcomed the results:

“It’s fantastic to see all Cornwall’s beaches pass these tougher tests with flying colours, with Devon not far behind. This is great news for everyone who enjoys visiting our beautiful coastline.

“This year is the fifth time that the results have been reported against the new standards. As well the region’s best results to date this is the fourth consecutive year that 100% of Cornwall’s beaches have made the grade.

“Bathing waters are much cleaner and have continually improved since 1990 when just 27% met European water quality standards. In this region, this is thanks to massive efforts by Defra, the Environment Agency, South West Water, councils, local communities, farmers and environmental organisations.”

The new regulations classify bathing waters as excellent, good, sufficient or poor, based on the level of bacteria in the water as monitored by the Environment Agency over the previous four years.

In accordance with the regulations, signs advising against bathing will be placed at the two ‘poor’ beaches in Devon by the beach managers when next year’s bathing season begins in May. Ilfracombe (Wildersmouth) has been classified as ‘poor’ for five consecutive years, meaning it will be removed from the list of designated bathing waters.

Malcolm added: “The beaches rated as poor are still open for people to enjoy, but it’s really important that all the organisations and the local communities involved continue to play their part to improve and protect bathing water quality.”

Ed Mitchell, South West Water’s Director of Environment, said: “We know how highly our customers value the region’s beaches, which is why we’ve invested so heavily in protecting and improving bathing water over the years, so we’re delighted with today’s announcement.”

Bathing water quality can be affected by many factors including rainwater running off roads and roofs, run-off from agricultural land, water company infrastructure, sewage from privately owned treatment works and septic tanks, boats or even animals such as dogs or seabirds on the beach. This can be made worse by heavy rain.

To co-ordinate efforts to keep our beaches and bathing waters clean, and to share best practice, a BeachWise coastal community partnership was formed in the South West in 2016. It aims to promote safe, enjoyable fun on the beach. For information visit: www.beachwise.org.uk

To view the full list of bathing water ratings, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/announcements/bathing-water-quality-statistics-england-2019


Of the 150 bathing waters assessed in Devon and Cornwall:

125 have been rated excellent

21 have been rated good

2 have been rated sufficient

2 have been rated poor

BeachWise Forum

The BeachWise Forum is independently chaired by Malcolm Bell, Chief Executive of Visit Cornwall, and attended by organisations with an interest in ensuring that the South West continues to enjoy some of the cleanest beaches and seas in Europe. Membership includes representatives from coastal councils, South West Water, the Environment Agency, NGOs, and public health bodies.

For further information please contact:

South West Water