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Bathing waters

The UK has over 600 designated bathing waters


samples will be collected and analysed over a bathing water season


of bathing waters meet the minimum standard


reach the highest standards of ‘Excellent’

Investment has transformed our beaches: only 10% achieved the highest environmental standard in the '90s, compared to nearly 70% today.

There are about 600 locations protected in law for bathing. These are the only locations where investment has historically been approved by regulators for protecting swimmers, and monitored for that purpose. UK designated bathing waters are mostly coastal however there is a growing interest in inland bathing waters - in part to the rise in popularity of pastimes like wild swimming and paddleboarding - and a number of river locations are now designated or in the process of being designated.  


Water is regularly tested for bacteria by the Environment Agency between 15 May and 30 September in England and Wales, and 1 June and 15 September in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These periods are when most bathers will use the water and therefore represent ‘the bathing season’. Bacteria can get into the water from a number of sources including; animal manure, road run off, sewage and wildlife. 

Bathing Waters are categorised as ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’ or ‘poor’ based on bacteria levels. The local council must display information (online and on signs) about water quality and pollution sources during the bathing season. If there is a temporary pollution incident they must explain the nature of the problem and how long it’s likely to last. The Environment Agency produces a profile for each designated bathing water displaying the latest classification. Profiles provide lots of useful information about the bathing water and can help people decide on where to go. You can check these out on the Environment Agency’s Swimfo website.   

Working for rivers

Water and sewage companies are committed to supporting local communities and working with the Government to help create bathing rivers in every region of England. We need to phase out existing clunky and old-fashioned processes and work to develop a new set of rules and tests to ensure rivers are safe for people to use for recreational purposes.

Water and sewage companies will help communities to achieve potentially 100 new ‘designated bathing’ sites in rivers over coming years. The industry will cover the costs of water quality testing at 100 sites, help convene local stakeholders to prioritise improvements, develop guidance and toolkits and support citizen scientists. The details of how this will work will be developed over the coming months.

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