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Fancy a summer swim?

July 23, 2003 9:32 AM

The average British person does it five times a year - goes to the beach that is! Paddling in the Irish Sea is a much safer pastime than it was 20 years ago, claims a North West Euro-MP.

Decreases in water quality, and therefore an increased risk to public health, can occur due to bacterial pollution from inadequately treated sewage discharges or from a wide variety of sources such as run off from agricultural land.

Bathing water in the region has improved dramatically since the adoption of the European Bathing Water directive which sets maximum levels of harmful bacteria in bathing waters.

Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies is pleased at the impact of this EU law on water quality in the North West.

He said: "Seaside holidays are a British tradition and I am delighted that European law has ensured this is a healthier experience."

The Environment Agency monitors water quality in the North West. North West water quality assessor Jon Greaves said:

"When monitoring first began in the late 1980's, only a handful of our designated beaches complied with the mandatory standards. Last year 36 of our 37 beaches complied with the same standards, this reflecting a steadily improving trend over the intervening years."

The Improved Coastal and Recreational Waters project has secured £3 million of European grants to continue to work to reduce pollution and improve the quality of recreational waters.

Part of this study will also be used to research where bacterial pollution comes from. This is not always from sewage discharges. For example in Blackpool the 100,000 starling population on the North Pier creates a considerable amount of bacterial pollution in the water.

However, a Blue Flag Award has so far proved elusive to North West coastal resorts. These awards are presented to beaches that have water clean enough to pass the toughest tests set down by European law along with first class facilities including lifeguards, first aid and good access for disabled visitors.

Mr Davies said: "I hope that the new European initiative will provide the impetus towards the North West achieving it's first Blue flag award."

United Utilities has improved the majority of its sewage discharges to a satisfactory level, but there are still a number of beaches where inadequately treated sewage is discharged. The company has plans to upgrade most of these before 2005.