The UK has one of the lowest proportions of top quality bathing waters in Europe, according to research by the European Environment Agency.
Just 63.2% of Britain’s beaches met the most stringent water quality standards needed to be ranked as excellent.
The UK’s score is similar to that of Albania, where 62% of waters were rated as excellent. The only countries ranked lower were Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and bottom-placed Poland, where just 28% of the bathing water meets the most stringent quality standard.
The EEA’s annual report on water quality found countries including Greece, Austria, Malta and Cyprus had beaches with the cleanest waters in the continent, all with more than 95% reaching the excellent rating.
The three countries with the highest number of poor quality sites, where levels of bacteria from sewage and livestock runoff are at their highest, were Italy, France and Spain.
UK waters have barely improved since last year, when 61% of bathing water was rated excellent by the EEA.
In the UK, 3.3% of bathing water – 21 sites – was rated poor, while the water quality at 26.2% of sites was rated good.
Some 89% of beaches were rated excellent or good. But the proportion rated excellent – at 63.2% – puts the UK among the worst-rated countries in Europe.
Some of the beaches rated as poor or only sufficient quality include beaches along the Solway Firth, Eyemouth near Edinburgh, Ladram Bay near Sidmouth in Devon, Worthing, Bexhill and Bognor Regis Aldwick beach.
Across the continent, more than 85% of bathing water monitored last year met the “excellent” standard for water cleanliness.
“Our report confirms that … efforts over the last 40 years, mainly in wastewater treatment, have paid off. Today, most Europeans enjoy excellent bathing water quality,” said Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA’s executive director.