Let's go to the beach - Looking after our bathing waters


Love the beach?

The South West is beautiful, and our beaches are some of the best in Europe. We have over a third of England’s coastline, and more than 400 beaches, coves and harbours across the region. Through investment and partnership work, significant improvements have been made to the region’s bathing waters, resulting in cleaner waters we can all enjoy.


Who’s up for a swim?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the South West to soak up the sun, visit historic sites, dig sandcastles, walk the South West Coastal path, and of course, paddle, swim, and surf in the sea. They join the many thousands of you who are lucky enough to be able to enjoy the beach all year round, with the hardiest types even taking to the water on Christmas Day!

But all this depends on how good the water is, and we take that very seriously.

Clean-up campaigns

Twenty years ago, England’s sea bathing water was far from ideal, and rating schemes and clean-up campaigns were set up around the country to help improve conditions. 

Over the last two decades we’ve invested over £2 billion in our Clean Sweep programme to improve our bathing water quality, making it the largest environmental programme of its kind in Europe. The long-held practice of discharging raw sewage into the sea was resolved by creating new infrastructure across our region.

And it worked. By 2006, all 144 bathing sites in our region were meeting mandatory standards and the 2007 Good Beach Guide, published by the Marine Conservation Society, named the South West as the top performing region. In the same year, 25 of our beaches were awarded the European 'Blue Flag'.


Higher standards, better results

In 2015, even tougher bathing water quality standards were introduced, and in 2019, every one of Cornwall’s beaches passed, according to figures published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

There was good news for Devon too, where 96% of beaches passed. In fact, the overall pass rate of 98.7% for Devon and Cornwall in 2019 – with 82.8% of beaches receiving the top ‘excellent’ rating – was the region’s best-ever result.

In 2021, DEFRA announced the latest bathing water results. These showed that 100% of the classified bathing waters in the South West have now passed the newer, more stringent standards, with 98% rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’.


What’s happening now?

We’re keen to keep the bathing waters in tip top condition, and this forms part of our continuing work on all aspects of water quality and delivery in our region – a commitment which means we continue to invest over £300 million a year in improving the water and wastewater network.

A team effort


It’s not all about the infrastructure. We work in partnership with farmers and organisations across the region to restore and protect our environment. Our BeachWise programme links us with Cornwall Council, the Environment Agency, Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society, the RNLI, the South West Coast Path Association, Surf Life Saving, and Visit Cornwall to provide beach safety advice and useful information and to make sure you can enjoy our region’s beautiful beaches and clean bathing waters safely.


So why not grab your surfboard, your swimsuit and your bucket and spade and head down to the seaside?

What do you like doing at the beach?

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