Where are the clean beaches in the UK?

Author Maria Fletcher
Category Lifestyle, Travel
Date May 13 2024
Reading Time 2 min.

Where are the clean beaches in the UK?

It’s vacation time, which means beach season is here. But before packing your swimsuit and heading to the chillyBritish coast, you need to check the water quality at your destination.

But why, if the is law?

Did you know that sewage is discharged into rivers and seas across the country every year? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2023 the number of wastewater spills in the UK amounted to 3.6 million hours – twice as many as in 2022.

The country operates a combined sewer system, meaning both rainwater and wastewater from toilets, bathrooms, and kitchens flow through the same pipes. While such waste is typically directed to sewage treatment plants, during heavy rains the system overflows, resulting in excess wastewater discharged into rivers and seas. Surprisingly, this is entirely legal, although it seems controversial. Authorities believe the sewage is diluted with water to a level that poses no harm to people or the environment.

However, a BBC investigation revealed that companies also discharge waste illegally on dry days, leading to significantly higher concentrations of effluents in rivers and seas near offending producers. This contaminated water poses serious health risks, including gastric and other infections, and environmental threats. Fines and legal actions are imposed for such illegal discharges.

As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 16% of waters in England are considered clean, compared to 63% in Scotland, 40% in Wales, and 31% in Northern Ireland.

So, should we avoid swimming altogether?

There are specialised services for checking water quality. The Environmental Protection Agency has published an interactive map showing all spill points and their frequency.

Moreover, Surfers Against Sewage, a major charitable organisation dedicated to preserving coastal waters and marine environments, has developed a unique phone application called the Safer Seas & Rivers Service (SSRS). This real-time interactive map highlights clean water areas and areas to avoid. For instance, there are numerous “red crosses” on the south coast of England – a beloved holiday spot for many Londoners. While Brighton is clean, a nearby part of Hove is flagged for potential spills.

Thirty years ago, Surfers Against Sewage was founded by wave enthusiasts protesting against contaminated water off the British coast. Now, with the SSRS app in hand, you can plan your vacation worry-free!


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