UK ranked last in Europe for bathing water quality in 2020 | The water
British swimmers hoping to enjoy certified clean and healthy waters this summer were once again disappointed. Only 110 coastal and inland sites were rated as excellent in the latest bathing water quality data from the European Environment Observatory.
However, most of the UK’s bathing sites were not classified in 2020, as Covid-19 restrictions prevented sampling. This means that out of 640 sites, 457 have not received any verdict in the ranking drawn up each year by the European Environment Agency and published on Tuesday.
Twelve sites where a verdict could be reached were judged to be poor, 29 of sufficient quality and 32 good.
The lack of data pushed the UK to the bottom of the European rankings, rivaled only by Poland, where only 22% of sites were rated excellent, in the ranking of 31 EU Member States plus Albania and Switzerland. The other 29 countries all had at least 50% of supervised bathing sites classified as of excellent quality, and for the vast majority – 24 countries – the figure was at least 70%.
Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Croatia and Austria led the field with 95% or more of their sites rated as excellent. All Cypriot sites received top marks.
2020 data will be the last to include the UK. The EEA includes EU member states and non-member countries such as Turkey, Iceland and Switzerland, but the UK has chosen to withdraw from EEA membership after Brexit, which means that no such comparison will be possible in the future.
The UK has performed poorly on bathing water quality for years, consistently appearing near the bottom of the table while other countries, including Eastern European states, have performed poorly. notable improvements.
A Guardian investigation last year found that water companies dumped raw sewage into rivers more than 20,000 times in 2019, and dumped thousands of tons of raw sewage on beaches.
A government spokesperson said: “The quality of bathing water in England has improved dramatically over the past 20 years. The latest data from 2019 shows that 72% met the highest standard of Excellence, while 98.3% passed the minimum standard.
“Visitors to coastal and inland swimming sites have the choice of over 400 bathing waters and can find more information on the Environment Agency’s ‘Swimfo’ website.”
Overall, the EEA said that 83% of coastal and inland sites in Europe were excellent in 2020, broadly in line with recent years. Only 1.3% of sites tested, or 296 across the continent, were rated as poor quality, up from around 2% in 2013. Coastal sites performed better than inland sites, with 85% and 78% respectively rated as excellent.
About 6% of normally monitored sites across Europe could not be reached due to Covid-19 restrictions. Countries also tend to leave out many bathing sites that are used in practice, so the actual situation might be different, especially for inland sites, and people might be put in. danger if the bathing places they use are not supervised.
Lidija Globevnik, project manager for bathing waters at the European Subject Matter Center and author of the report, said: “There are many sites that are not identified as bathing waters, but people still swim there. The authorities should pay more attention to the observation of these sites and take action if there is a problem. “
She said the climate crisis was also having an impact on bathing waters and inland sites in particular, as periods of drought reduce the amount of water in rivers and lakes, which could concentrate pollutants from the sea. agricultural runoff and other sources.
“There is not enough water in some places, which means bacteria proliferation in inland waters and higher risks,” she said. “It can be better managed by looking at agriculture, hydrology and water extraction. All of this needs to be handled with care. “
The European Commission recently launched a review of the Bathing Water Directive as part of its zero pollution action plan. The current rules could be updated and an online public consultation is planned for suggestions on necessary improvements.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, said: “The quality of bathing water in Europe remains high and this is good news for Europeans who will be heading to beaches and resorts. swimming sites this summer. It is the result of over 40 years of the Bathing Water Directive, hard work by dedicated professionals and cooperation. The zero pollution action plan adopted in May will help keep our waters healthy and safe, as well as our seas and rivers clean. “
The Covid-19 pandemic had no impact on water quality, but led to the closure of many bathing sites or limited access due to social distancing requirements, although many people were encouraged to bathe in nature.
Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the EEA, said: “The quality of European bathing water remains high after four decades of action to prevent and reduce pollution. EU law has not only helped to improve overall quality, but has also helped identify areas where specific action is needed. “