Over the last 20 years we’ve made huge progress in making our beaches and bathing waters cleaner. In 1988 only 18% of our bathing waters met minimum standards, compared to 100% in 2014. But from 2015 the standards are much stricter so there’s more to do…

Testing cleaner seas

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.

Environment Agency water sample testing

Come on in, the water’s lovely!

The North West’s coastline is fantastic and now it’s official. Whether you swim, paddle or just take a stroll on one of the region’s many beaches, you can be assured of one thing today, the quality of the seawater is better than at any time in the last 30 years.

For the first time ever, all 27 of the North West’s coastal bathing beaches, meet the government’s required standards for water quality, with 8 meeting the even tougher standards needed for a Blue Flag. An additional 4 inland swimming spots at Windermere also met the Blue Flag water quality standards.

The water at our beaches has continually improved since 1988 when just 18% met the previous standards.

Since this time,  a huge range of organisations have worked to reduce pollution and look after rivers, lakes and the sea, including the Environment Agency, United Utilities, local authorities, farmers, environmental organisations and local communities and businesses.

In 2012, these partners came together to form the Turning Tides Partnership, to ensure effective co-ordination of all improvement works and developing a brand new campaign ‘LOVEmyBEACH’ to engage businesses and the public with their local beaches.

Neil Jack, Chair of The Turning tides Partnership and Chief Executive of Blackpool Council said:

“The improvements are a team effort across the whole region so it’s good to see how much cleaner the water is at our beaches. In Blackpool we’re immensely proud that all our bathing waters have passed and people can swim and paddle in the knowledge that the water meets these incredibly strict standards. To have the opportunity to retain the Blue Flag in Blackpool is really exciting.

“We’d like to thank everyone who has contributed towards making our seas cleaner from the National Farmers Union and Catchment Sensitive Farming project, to all the volunteers involved in beach cleans as part of the LOVEmyBEACH work, United Utilities’ investment in upgrading treatment works and building extra storm water storage, to every dog owner who bags and bins their dog’s mess to stop it getting in the sea.”

“For us to maintain and improve our bathing water quality, we ask everyone who lives, works and visits the North West to please do your bit to help us have even cleaner seas. There’s lots of information about what we’re doing and how you can get involved on the LOVEmyBEACH website.

Keith Ashcroft Environment Agency Deputy Director Cumbria and Lancashire said:

“We should be very proud of the continued improvement in the cleanliness of our North West bathing waters.  The improvements come as a result of major investment in how our waste water is managed and the efforts of our Turning Tides partners. We will continue to work to ensure bathing waters are maintained and improved further.”

North West coast

To flush or not to flush?

Environmental campaigners across the North West are calling for a change of rules on the way that wet wipes are advertised in the UK.

Members of the Fylde Peninsula Water Management Partnership are appealing to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) asking for them to outlaw the word ‘flushable’ from wet wipes advertisements.

In a letter written by Blackpool’s Cllr Fred Jackson on behalf of all partners, he has asked the advertising body to make it illegal for firms to use the misleading term ‘flushable’ in all adverts, promotions and on packaging.

The letter also lends its support to an original campaign from Wessex Water to stop all wet wipes being labelled as ‘flushable’.

Despite advertising claims, cleaning, baby and make up wipes are some of the main culprits of blocked drains in the North West, with United Utilities having to clear around 25,000 blockages every year at a cost of £10m – money which could be used to reduce customers’ water bills.

One in ten people in the North West has also suffered from a blocked private drain in the past leaving customers forced to pay out an average of £99 each time for a plumber to repair them.

At the same time, blockages in the public sewers can cause serious knock on problems for the area’s bathing water quality. Blockages can cause sewers to back up and spill over into watercourses or onto our beaches and into the sea.

Volunteers who regularly clean Fylde coast beaches with LOVEmyBEACH often find wet wipes washed up on beaches from when pipes spill into the sea. Not only is this unpleasant and polluting, but potentially harmful to wildlife as even the ‘flushable’ wipes don’t break down like toilet paper.

There is currently no legislation to enforce which products can or cannot be labelled ‘flushable’.  There are industry guidelines, but these are written by the industry that manufactures and sells the products rather than the industry that has to deal with the problems they cause.

Cllr Fred Jackson, Cabinet Member responsible for bathing waters at Blackpool Council, said: “The term flushable is completely misleading and just because something goes down the toilet does not mean that it doesn’t cause problems in the sewers.

“People should remember that only the three P’s should go down the toilet – pee, poo and (toilet) paper.”

Tony Griffiths, Wastewater Strategy Manager at United Utilities, said: “Our engineers see first-hand the misery these products can cause after a blocked sewer floods inside someone’s home.  It’s no wonder householders feel confused and betrayed when the packaging on some of these products is so misleading.”

Emma Whitlock, Fylde LOVEmyBEACH coordinator said: “It’s amazing how many wet wipes we find washed up when doing beach cleans with volunteers across the Fylde coast. They’re often tangled up with seaweed and not broken down at all, so please, think before you flush.”

pee poo paper