Bathing Water

A system to inform the public introduced in West Somerset

West Somerset Council in partnership with Minehead Town Council, Old Cleeve Parish Council and Dunster Beach Holidays have started to display warning signs on the beaches at Minehead, Blue Anchor and Dunster to warn bathers when water quality is expected to be reduced.

You can now use this information to decide whether or not to go in the water. The Environment Agency notifies our partners at the above beaches to put up a temporary beach sign (like the one below) advising against swimming and paddling when water quality is likely to be reduced due to short term pollution.

Bathing Waters Sign

These warnings are part of the Short Term Pollution (STP) warning system as set out in the EU revised Bathing Water Directive (rBWD). The Environment Agency (EA) will be making daily predictions of pollution risk at bathing waters in West Somerset from the start of the 2015 bathing water season.

On beaches that have been designated as bathing waters, the EA are guided by the Bathing Waters Directive, which has been made stricter, setting out tighter water quality standards to protect beach users throughout the bathing season. Not all beaches are designated as bathing waters, there are 3 located in the West Somerset area.

A common cause of bathing water pollution is heavy rain washing bacteria from agricultural land, urban areas or sewers into the sea via rivers and streams.  Rainfall-driven pollution impacts some bathing water more than others.
 
Using trends identified in historic data, the Environment Agency is able to predict when rainfall is likely to reduce the water quality at many beaches and is working closely with West Somerset Council to inform the public when these ‘short-term pollution’ events are expected. 

 Visit the Environment Agency website at http://environment.data.gov.uk/bwq/profiles/ to get further information on water quality for beaches in West Somerset and also other locations across the country. Just search for the location of the bathing water by name, county, district or postcode.

The Beaches and Water Quality

Between Porlock and Blue Anchor along the beautiful West Somerset coastline there are four important EU Designated bathing beaches.

The water quality at these designated beaches of Porlock Weir, Minehead, Dunster and Blue Anchor is very good and to ensure it remains good, it is tested twenty four times throughout the bathing season (15th May to 30th Sept).  The testing is carried out by Environment Agency and reported to the public by Environmental Health at the Council.  The results can be viewed on this Council’s website (related documents) and at the visitor centres at Minehead and Porlock.

The bathing water quality is generally better at Porlock Weir and has been excellent here for a number of years.  The reason is thought to be a result of a number of factors, such as more true marine influence at Porlock with less agricultural run-off than other areas and also partly a result of sophisticated tertiary (membrane) treatment at Wessex Water’s sewage works in Porlock.  The Marine Conservation Society’s Good Beach Guide recommends a number of these beaches. 

However, there are no designated Blue Flag beaches in West Somerset.  The European Blue Flag Campaign is a European initiative and is administered in the UK by the Tidy Britain Group. It was first introduced in 1987 and recognises those beaches and marinas that are clean, well managed and promote care for the environment.  To be recognised for an award a beach must have attained the water quality guideline standard before being assessed for 24 other criteria.

To maintain the water quality, a number of agencies, public bodies and landowners all work together to ensure the water quality remains good.  For example, whilst the sea naturally cleanses the coastline, the Council helps by removing detritus at the beach in Minehead every day during the summer months and there is also a dog ban in place between May and September along this stretch.  Anyone interested in tackling the problem of pollution of the marine environment is encouraged to take part in a Beachwatch event and also, to adopt a local beach.

Along the West Somerset coastline an additional indicator of water quality is the presence of a rare reef-building worm (Sabellaria alveolata).  Sabellaria alveolata reefs are sensitive to environmental stress (like dredging and sewage) and provide the rich habitat for other species, such as bivalves, worms and amphipods.  These are an important food source for local fisheries. 

In future years, the water quality standards along the coastline will be getting tighter and more representative of risks to human health, so the need for all relevant bodies working together closely, will be even more important.  For example, a recent development by Wessex Water shows the times & occasions of sewer overflows.  At times during the year such during heavy storms, the capacity of the sewerage network can become inundated by rain-fall and there are a number of discharge points designed within this network, to allow the storm surges to escape into the environment.  By accessing the Wessex Water data before accessing the beach, will show whether the beaches could have been affected.

Across the UK from 2012 there will be signage at every EU Designated bathing beach displaying the water quality, which is a result of the work going on behind the scenes to protect these popular tourist locations.