Ever wondered how Defra work out bathing water classifications? How one bathing spot is ‘good’ and another ‘excellent’?
Volunteers from the Fylde coast were curious about this process, and as some of them clean beaches that are designated for swimming and paddling, they are likely to spot a member of Environment Agency team out taking a sample.
The volunteers met with the Environment Agency (EA) samplers at St Annes North bathing beach to learn about the process and see them take a demonstration sample.
Firstly, Bob who is one of the samplers, explained the process they go through 20 times every summer at each bathing water. With 31 across the North West needing regular sampling this keeps the team very busy!
The samplers use a sterile 1 litre bottle for each new sample, with the location, date and time that the sample was taken labelled on, so that when it is sent to the lab to be tested the sample can be identified.
They then get their waders on and walk out to the sea, aiming to go in about 1 metre depth of water. Bob explained that with varying weather and wave conditions this can sometimes be tricky and in extreme weather they wouldn’t take the risk of going in and would have to postpone the sample.
Once in the water they lower the bottle to about 30 cm below the surface and open the lid, filling up the bottle and then sealing it again underwater so there is no contamination from the air. They also take some water in a metal tube to measure pH, salinity and temperature for the EA’s data collection.
Whilst out on the bathing beach the samplers do other surveys, recording the number of ‘bathers’ – that’s anyone in the water whether paddling, swimming or kite surfing, and other people and dogs on the beach (even though dogs are excluded on most bathing beaches during the summer!)
They also note amounts of litter and other debris, all of which gives a detailed profile of each bathing beach which can be found on the EA website: https://environment.data.gov.uk/bwq/profiles/
Taking the water sample back to the car the samplers store them in a fridge to keep bacteria from growing or declining in numbers. The sample is then sent to a laboratory where some of the water is put in a petri dish and bacteria cultures are grown. The lab is looking for E.coli and Intestinal Enterococci, as these are key indicators of faecal matter in the water that could make people ill.
The results are published on the EA website (follow the link) and from these bathing water classifications are determined.
The volunteers really enjoyed seeing this process and understanding more about what goes into the classifications which this year has led to brilliant results for the North West coast, with all bathing waters passing the standards for the next bathing season.