Lancashire's beaches rated dirtiest in UK for swimming water quality, according to Environment Agency

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Lancashire's beaches have been rated as the worst in England for offering clean swimming water in summer - but Morecambe ranks ahead of Blackpool overall.Morecambe is rated 'sufficient' and has a rating of one star (out of a possible three stars). Meanwhile, Blackpool North and St Annes North have won 'Brown Flag Awards' for achieving the lowest rating possible ('poor' or zero stars).

The nation's 13 dirtiest beaches are being offered 'Brown Flag Awards'.

The 'winners', which includes Blackpool North and St Annes North, are being offered complimentary brown flags featuring a poo emoji to display for swimmers.

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These beaches are rated as 'poor' by the Environment Agency due to bacteria such as e-coli from sewage and other waste.

None of Lancashire's designated bathing spots are considered 'excellent' for the quality of their sea water in summer. In Dorset, 89% of beaches are rated as 'excellent' for summertime water quality.

Dorset, Devon and Suffolk have the highest percentage of 'excellent' beaches for clean water, according to UK travel site Holiday Park Guru, which analysed Environment Agency summer water quality data from hundreds of beaches.

Somerset, Norfolk, Yorkshire and Kent are also in the bottom half of the league table.

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The Isle of Wight, Lincolnshire, Northumberland and Essex performed well, with all of their designated bathing areas gaining one of the top two ratings (‘good’ or ‘excellent’).

Keen sea-swimmer, Robbie Lane from Holiday Park Guru said: “We’re hoping to make a real splash in the papers with the launch of England’s first ever 'Brown Flag Awards'! Commiserations to our 13 winners this year – you really are top of the plops. We just hope they’ll take up our offer of a free brown flag, although I’m afraid we can’t quite afford to provide a flagpole as well.

“On a more positive note, high praise is warranted for England's 273 beaches with the top rating for their water quality. You can find a full list of all the three star swimming spots at Holiday Park Guru. With a bit of research, there's a good chance you will be the only thing floating in the sea this summer!"

It is worth noting that the Environment Agency only includes water quality readings from 15th May to 30th September when giving ratings to bathing areas. Sea water quality tends to be worse in winter after heavy rain.

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Whilst Holiday Park Guru's 'Brown Flag Awards' uses official Environment Agency data, it does not have any official link with the Environment Agency or any other awards. It is intended as a tongue-in-cheek award to support the campaign for cleaner beaches.

The Brown Flag Awards Winners 2024

The Brown Flag Awardsare reserved for those select beaches which score a ‘poor’ rating (or should that be ‘poo rating’) from the Environment Agency’s water quality tests:

sea water qualitysea water quality
sea water quality | sea water quality

County by county league table for clean beaches

For the 2024 county league table, Holiday Park Guru analysed data at every designated bathing beach in England. The study looked at the percentage of beaches in each county that achieved the Environment Agency’s top rating for water cleanliness (three stars = “excellent”).

Percentage of beaches rated 'excellent' by the Environment Agency for sea water cleanliness. From best to worst:

Dorset: 89%

Devon: 86%

Suffolk: 83%

Cornwall: 81%

Tyne and Wear: 78%

Northumberland: 77%

Lincolnshire: 77%

Hampshire and New Forest: 75%

Isle of Wight: 73%

Merseyside: 57%

Essex: 53%

Sussex: 52%

Cumbria: 50%

Norfolk: 50%

Kent: 45%

Yorkshire: 40%

County Durham: 16%

Somerset: 10%

Lancashire 0%

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(N.b. some counties have been combined for the table, such as East and West Sussex)

How was the data gathered for the Brown Flag Awards?

Holiday Park Guru used Environment Agency data based on “7,000 samples at...424 bathing waters in England” which is ‘calculated annually based on samples from the previous four years”. (Source: Environment Agency). They excluded rivers and lakes and just focused on beaches.

The water quality readings look for intestinal enterococci and escherichia coli (e-coli) levels to see whether there is ‘faecal matter’ in the water. This comes from ‘sewage, agricultural livestock, wildlife, birds and road drainage’ according to the Environment Agency.

Each bathing resort then receives an official Environment Agency score of: three stars (excellent), two stars (good), one star (sufficient) or zero stars (poor). Overall, 66.4% of England’s monitored resorts currently score a three star rating whilst 4.3% score zero stars.

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Water quality readings are only taken from 15th May-30th September. During the winter, water quality tends to be lower along England’s coastline as higher rainfall causes more sewage and waste water to overflow into the sea and into rivers.

Holiday Park Guru is an independent travel site which mostly focuses on UK staycations. It has sister sites called Isle of Wight Guru and The Sleep Guy.