Last reviewed 2 June 2021

The UK was ranked last in Europe for bathing water quality in 2020 by Europe’s environmental regulators. 

The 2020 Bathing Water report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) showed almost 83% of Europe’s bathing water sites met the European Union’s most stringent “excellent” water quality standards. By contrast, UK showed only 17.2% of UK coastal and inland sites were judged excellent.

Data for the UK was skewed because of Covid restrictions which prevented most of the UK’s bathing sites from being sampled and therefore not classified in 2020. Out of 640 sites that should have been monitored, 457 (71.4%) received no assessment and were not classified in the rankings. 

Many of the locations in the UK that were tested were along the Welsh and Northern Irish coasts. Of those bathing waters that were assessed, 17.2% received an “excellent quality” status while 1.9% were judged to be “poor quality”, including Scarborough’s South Bay Beach, Hunstanton Beach in Norfolk and Combe Martin in Devon.

The lack of data pushed the UK to the bottom of the European bathing waters league. High ranking European bathing waters included Cyprus with 100% of its swimming waters designated “excellent” followed by Greece, Malta, Croatia and Austria all with over 95% of their sites qualifying as “excellent”. 

Commenting on the data, a government spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper, “the quality of bathing waters in England has improved significantly in the last 20 years. Visitors to coastal and inland swimming spots have over 400 bathing waters to choose from and can find out more information on the Environment Agency’s ‘Swimfo’ website.”

The EEA includes all 27 EU member states and non-members such as Turkey, Iceland and Switzerland. Following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, the Government decided to opt out of EEA membership, meaning he 2020 data will be the last to include the UK and no direct comparisons will be possible in future.