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More than 50 of England’s most treasured beaches are at risk of being blacklisted as unsafe for swimming under new European regulations.
With the temperature expected to rival that in the south of France over the bank holiday, many people will be heading to Britain’s beaches to soak up some sun and cool down in the surf today and tomorrow.
But European Union rules are posing a threat to the chances of enjoying a healthy dip in the sea at more than 50 of England’s most treasured beaches, as they are at risk of being blacklisted as unsafe for swimming.
The Environment Agency has warned that the beaches, listed among the 500 bathing sites around the country, are unlikely to meet new water cleanliness standards that come into force in 2015.
The new regulations being brought in by the EU are up to twice as strict as current requirements and will mean beaches that fail annual tests will be deemed unfit for swimming.
Officials fear that at least 55 beaches, including many on the “Cornish Riviera”, are at risk of failing to meet the new standards; more than two thirds of them are deemed safe under current rules.
Among those likely to be ruled too polluted for bathing are popular resorts such as East Looe and Penzance in Cornwall, Lyme Regis in Dorset, Blackpool in Lancashire, and Southsea in Hampshire.
They have been favourite bank holiday destinations for British families for decades and the local economies rely heavily on the large numbers of visitors that the beaches attract.
Others at risk are Seaton Carew Centre beach near Hartlepool, which won a blue flag award last year, and Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, which is currently rated as having the highest standards of bathing water.
The change in regulations is likely to anger many in seaside communities who see further tightening of the regulations as unnecessary.
Since the current standards were put in place under the European Bathing Water Directive in the 1970s, much of the sewage outflow that caused pollution has been dramatically reduced.
But the new rules will leave beaches more vulnerable to water running off farmland – where leakage from animal dung and silage can lead to elevated levels of harmful bacteria – and from urban areas where misconnected drains can lead to pollution.
Dog fouling and bird droppings are also considered to be major sources of bacteria that can lead to beaches failing safety tests and as a result, some local authorities have resorted to banning dog owners from walking their pets on beaches in an attempt to reduce pollution from their waste.
The heavy rains and flooding during last year also resulted in the water quality in many areas falling significantly as sewers and drains overflowed and surface pollution from roads and farmland was washed into the sea.
Testing by the Marine Conservation Society showed that only 403 beaches could be classed as suitable for swimming.
However, a revised European Bathing Water Directive which is due to come into force in 2015 will require water to be twice as clean to achieve the highest standard – a rating of Excellent.
Tourism bosses fear that the new rules could have a big impact on the communities around any beaches that fail to make the grade.
They are calling for a more flexible approach that would allow them to provide daily updates on the water quality meaning that they would only have to close the beaches to bathers on those days when the pollution reaches hazardous levels.
Malcolm Bell, the head of VisitCornwall, said: “We are going to face a challenge to explain to people that things have not got worse – it is just that the hurdle has got higher.
“If a beach is on the new borderline, it doesn’t mean it will be borderline all the time.
“Sometimes it will be beautiful and other times there will be problems, so we want to be able to put up signs on those incidents but be able to take them down when it is more than safe.”
Jonathan Ponting, principal environment planning officer at the Environment Agency, said work was under way to improve the water quality in those areas at risk.
He said: “The vast majority of our beaches pass the current standards and they have seen a massive improvement over the past 20 years, but we are moving to a system that uses much tighter standards than the current ones that we report to.
“Tourism is a massive part of our economy in some of these areas and there is no doubt that if some of these beaches do have signs advising against bathing it could be damaging for the economies in those areas.
“The Environment Agency has been working to get as many of those beaches as possible to meet those standards.”
Temperatures are expected to rise tomorrow to just shy of the hottest seen this year, with the South East expected to get up to 73.4F (23C), about the same as is forecast for the south of France.
In East Anglia, however, showers are expected, while Scotland will experience windier and wetter conditions.
Full list of 55 beaches at risk of failing bathing water regulations
Seaham Hall Beach, County Durham
Seaton Carew North, Hartlepool
Seaton Carew Centre, Hartlepool
Saltburn, Redcar and Cleveland, North Yorkshire
Staithes, Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Clacton Groyne 41, Clacton on Sea, Essex
Southend Jubilee, Southend on Sea, Essex
Walpole Bay, Margate, Kent
Hastings, East Sussex
Southsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire
Bembridge, Isle of Wight
Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset
Lyme Regis Church Cliff Beach, Dorset
Seaton, South Devon
Ladram Bay, South Devon
Budleigh Salterton, South Devon
Teignmouth Town, South Devon
Torre Abbey, Torquay, South Devon
Paignton Sands, Torbay, South Devon
Mothecombe, South Devon
Wembury, South Devon
East Looe, Cornwall
Crinnis Golf Links, East Looe, Cornwall
Gorran Haven, Little Perhaver, Cornwall
Mounts Bay Wherrytown, Penzance, Cornwall
Porth, Newquay, Cornwall
Instow, North Devon
Ilfracombe Wildersmouth, North Devon
Ilfracombe Hele, North Devon
Combe Martin, North Devon
Burnham Jetty North, Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset
Weston-super-Mare Uphill Slipway, North Somerset
Ainsdale, Sefton, Merseyside
St Annes, Lytham Saint Annes, Lancashire
St Annes North, Lytham Saint Annes, Lancashire
Blackpool South, Lancashire
Blackpool Central, Lancashire
Blackpool North, Lancashire
Heysham Half Moon Bay, Lancashire
Morecambe South, Lancashire
Morecambe North, Lancashire
Biggar Bank, Walney Island, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria
Sandy Gap, Walney Island, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria
West Shore, Walney Island, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria