What has the EU done for UK beaches?

Anna Baum

10 June 2016

Thanks to the EU 95% of our beaches are clean enough to wade out into the sea.

In the 1970s we used to pump our untreated sewage straight into the sea.

EU laws have forced the UK to clean up its act.

Let's not forget that cleaner beaches are more likely to attract visitors to the seaside and boost local economies.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland
Bamburgh Castle and beach, Northumberland

Get involved in the campaign

What is the EU doing to help keep our beaches clean?

The EU's 1976 Bathing Water Directive - and successful legal action by the European Commission - has made our beaches as clean, clear and swimmable as they are today.

But it wasn't easy going...The UK fought hard to maintain the right to continue polluting.

Successive UK governments exploited whatever loophole they could find. They pumped untreated sewage into our ocean until 1998 - longer than any other European country.

Now, water quality at beaches is better than at any time in living memory, according to the Environment Agency.

Some of the UK’s most beautiful and loved beaches are protected in this way: Watergate Bay in Cornwall, Druridge Bay in Northumberland, Croyde Beach in Devon (main picture) and hundreds more which have reached good and excellent water-rating standards.

Watergate Bay Beach, Newquay, Cornwall
Watergate Bay Beach, Newquay, Cornwall

What more needs to be done?

Not all of our beaches reach the crystal clear standards we all deserve to paddle in.

At the moment only around 60% of UK bathing waters meet the new “Excellent” standard of the revised 2006 Bathing Water Directive.

The pristine water of Luskentyre beach, below, is truly idylic. All our beaches can be as clean as that - but we need the government to get serious about stopping pollution.

Luskentyre beach, Harris, Outer-Hebrides
The pristine waters of Luskentyre beach on the Isle of Harris could be in the Caribbean

Would leaving the EU hinder or help?

If the UK leaves the EU, we will no longer be subject to the Bathing Water Directive. Without external EU pressure it seems likely that standards will slip.

Staying in the EU delivers a win-win scenario of cleaner beaches and economic gain for sea-side economies.

We need to work together with the EU to make sure our beaches stay clean and sparkly, not toxic and dirty.

Get involved in the campaign

On Thursday 23 June we all get to vote on our EU membership. But you can't vote if you're not registered.

In the financial year 2014-2015, 90% of our income was from individual donations. Less than 1% of our funding was from the EU.

Promoted by Anne Schiffer on behalf of Friends of the Earth Trust, registered charity no. 281681, company no. 1533942, of The Printworks, 1st Floor, 139 Clapham Road, SW9 0HP

Brancaster Beach, Norfolk
Brancaster Beach, Norfolk

Camber sands, kent
Camber Sands beach, East Sussex


This article was first published on 23 May 2016


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Croyde beach, Devon