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Bathing water quality awards explained

Blue Flags, MCS Recommended, Guideline...bathing water standards can be confusing. What do they mean? The main bathing water quality standards are explained here.
EU Bathing Water Quality Standards

Passed in 1976, the directive

  • defines a bathing water
  • sets out how sampling should be done
  • sets acceptable levels for three forms of bacteria in the sample
  • three standards are described in the directive 'mandatory' (also referred to as good), 'guideline' (excellent) and 'failed' (poor)

The EU publishes these results in January each year for the previous years bathing season.

Although three forms of bacteria are included in the directive the EU only report against two of these.

UK Bathing Water Quality Standards

This is legislation for the UK based on the EU Directive. It is slightly tighter than the EU standard, because it includes sampling and reporting of all three types of bacteria tested for in the samples.

In England and Wales the Environmnet Agency takes and analyses 20 samples at each beach over the bathing season (May to September). Defra report these results in November each year for that years samples.

In the UK the 'guideline' (excellent) standard is used for compliance with the Blue Flag award.

Blue Flag Awards

Blue Flags are awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) based on 32 criteria of which one is UK bathing water quality guideline (excellent) standards. The also reflect accessibility, beach cleanliness, safety and other facilities.

In England the Keep Britain Tidy group administer the awards on behalf of FEE.

Good Beach Guide

Compiled by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the Good Beach Guide uses the EU directive standards but MCS set there own rules for assessing the bathing water.

The MCS rules require that no samples fail the mandatory (good) standard and the bathing water must pass the guideline (excellent) standard. Furthermore MCS include all sample results even if taken in extreme weather.

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