Sites in Rutland, Plymouth and Suffolk will receive bathing water status from May.

Four swimming spots in England are being designated as bathing waters ahead of the warmer months and will soon benefit from regular water quality monitoring, Water Minister Rebecca Pow has today (April 10) announced.

Following a two-week public consultation, Sykes Lane Bathing Beach and Whitwell Creek at Rutland Water, Firestone Bay in Plymouth, and a section of the River Deben at Waldringfield, Suffolk, will all be officially designated ahead of the 2023 bathing water season. The four new sites will take the total number of bathing waters across the country to 424, the highest number ever.

The Environment Agency regularly monitors water quality at designated bathing water sites and assesses whether action is needed to cut pollution levels, working with local communities, farmers and water companies to improve water quality at these locations.

Over the past decade, we have made good progress in improving bathing water quality at existing sites, thanks to robust regulation and strong investment. Since 2010, the proportion of bathing waters assessed as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ has increased from 76% to 93%. Meanwhile, 72% are considered ‘excellent’ – up from just 51% in 2010. This is the highest level ever, despite the classification standards for bathing waters having been made more stringent in 2015.

Today’s announcement follows on from the Plan for Water, launched by the government last week, which sets out the action being taken by government to clean up our waters and ensure a plentiful supply into the future.

It also follows the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan published earlier this year, which includes a target for everyone to live within a 15-minute walk from nature, such as bathing waters.

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:

These popular swimming spots will now undergo regular monitoring, starting this May, so bathers have up-to-date information on the quality of the water.

The regular monitoring also means that action can be taken if minimum standards aren’t being met.

We now have more bathing waters than ever, and we’ve worked hard in recent years to boost their status – with an incredible 93% now classed as good or excellent – and our new Plan for Water will help us go further and faster on our targets.

The Environment Agency will regularly take samples at the newly designated sites during the bathing season – which runs between 15 May and 30 September.

When selecting new sites, Defra considers how many people bathe there, if the site has suitable infrastructure and facilities, such as toilets, and where investment in water quality improvements following designation would have the most impact. All applications are assessed against these factors and only those that meet these factors are taken forward to public consultation.

This government has taken significant action in recent years to protect and improve the quality of water at designated bathing water sites at our rivers, lakes and coastal waters. This includes:

  • Setting strict new targets on water companies – designed to frontload action in important areas such as bathing waters – as part of our Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan. This requires water companies to deliver the largest infrastructure programme in water company history – £56 billion capital investment over 25 years
  • Increasing monitoring of discharges from approximately 5% in 2016, to nearly 90% in 2021. This will reach 100% cover by end of this year. Through the Environment Act, water companies are being required to make near real-time data on storm overflow discharges publicly available
  • Working with the farming community and regulators to reduce nutrient pollution from agriculture through our future farming reforms. The government has also increased the Environment Agency’s capacity to conduct farm inspections, with the target of conducting 4,000 a year, and doubled the funding for Catchment Sensitive Farming
  • Setting record levels of fines for water companies who break the law. Since 2015 the Environment Agency has secured fines of over £144m. The government is making it easier and quicker for regulators to enforce penalties and hold companies to account. Fines and penalties handed out to water companies will also be invested in schemes that benefit the environment.
Published 10 April 2023