South West bathing waters score a 98% pass rate

The results of tests undertaken over the summer using tougher new European standards to assess the quality of bathing watersin the South West have been published by the Office of National Statistics revealing a pass rate of 97.94%.

“The Association is pleased to be able to share the news that the region has achieved a 98% pass rate for bathing water quality as it directly benefits those who come to walk the Coast Path. This is largely thanks to our principal sponsor, South West Water, investing in bathing water quality in recent years and so we are very proud to be partners with them.”

Of the 144 designated bathing waters in Devon and Cornwall just three - Instow and Ilfracombe (Wildersmouth) in Devon and East Looe in Cornwall - have been rated as ‘poor’ under the new standards, which are twice as tough as in previous years. Last year all bathing waters in Devon and Cornwall passed the old standards.

Malcolm Bell, Chairman of the Bathing Waters Liaison Group for the South West and Chief Executive of Visit Cornwall, welcomed the results while noting that the slight reduction in the pass rate is due to the tightening of the standards, not a deterioration in water quality.

He said: “Thanks to massive efforts over the last twenty years by Defra, the Environment Agency, water companies, councils, local communities, farmers and environmental organisations bathing water quality is better than ever.

“This is the first time that the results have been reported against tougher new European Union standards introduced in 2015 and it is important to note a change in the classification process does not necessarily mean a change in actual quality. It’s the way in which water quality is measured that has changed. Bathing waters are much cleaner and have continually improved since 1990 when just 27% met European water quality standards.”

The new EU regulations classify bathing waters as excellent, good, sufficient or poor based on the level of bacteria in the water as monitored by the Environment Agency between May and September. Up to four years of results from 2012 to 2015 are combined to indicate water cleanliness.

In accordance with the EU directive, signs issuing ‘advice against bathing’ will be erected at the three failing beaches before next year’s bathing season begins in May.

Malcolm said: “The new rules judge water quality on a four-year average, so this year’s results include 2012 – the wettest summer on record for 100 years – and do not fully reflect the improvement work that was undertaken and completed in time for 2015 bathing water season.

“The beaches rated as poor have five years to improve so it’s really important that all the organisations and the local communities involved continue to play their part to improve bathing water quality.

“The vast majority of our beaches have passed this tougher test with flying colours and we should be particularly proud of this.”

Bathing water quality can be affected by many factors including rainwater running off roads and roofs, run-off from agricultural land, water company infrastructure, sewage from privately owned treatment works and septic tanks, boats or even animals such as dogs or seabirds on the beach. This can be made worse by heavy rain.

To view the full list of bathing water ratings, visit

South West Water has invested more than £2billion to improve bathing water quality across the region over the past 20 years. In 2014/15, the company invested a further £20million to deliver even cleaner seas at nine beaches in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall which were considered to be at risk of not meeting the new standards.

The classification of three beaches as poor is not related to the performance of South West Water’s assets.

Of the 144 bathing waters in Devon and Cornwall:

103 have been rated excellent - 71.33%

28 have been rated good -19.58%

10 have been rated sufficient - 6.99%

3 have been rated poor - 2.10%

1 is closed 

Published on: Nov. 9, 2015