Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : Plans unveiled for new sites to become bathing waters [March 2023]

The press release issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 10 March 2023.

Four swimming spots in England are being considered to become designated bathing water sites and benefit from regular water quality monitoring from this spring, the Water Minister has today (10 March) announced.

Sykes Lane Bathing Beach and Whitwell Creek at Rutland Water, Firestone Bay in Plymouth, and a section of the River Deben at Waldringfield, Suffolk, have all progressed to a public consultation. If designated, it will take the total number of sites to 424, the highest number ever.

Once designated, the Environment Agency regularly monitors water quality at bathing waters 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.

The government’s Environmental Improvement Plan, published earlier this year, includes a target for everyone to live within a 15 minute walk of a green or blue space, such as bathing sites. As of 2022, there are 421 designated bathing waters in England (407 coastal, 12 lakes, 2 rivers).

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:

England’s bathing water sites are an important part of how we safeguard our precious coastal waters, rivers and lakes, as well as protecting the health of bathers.

The actions we have taken mean that people across the country will be able to swim at more sites and in better quality water, but we know there is more to do.

“I would strongly encourage all residents and bathers to take part in these consultations to help make sure we continue to have cleaner and healthier waters both now and for future generations.”

If the sites are designated, the Environment Agency will regularly take samples during the bathing season – which runs between 15 May and 30 September. Local residents, businesses, farmers and other members of the public are invited to have their say before the consultation closes on 24 March.

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 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 the 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 our Catchment Sensitive Farming programme.
  • Seeing record levels of fines for water companies who break the law. Since 2015, the Environment Agency has secured fines of over £144m. Government is making it easier for regulators to enforce fines and hold water companies to account – with a consultation to launch this spring.