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Clean water campaigners Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) are calling for 34 British beaches to be stripped of their Blue Flag status.

SAS have uncovered information revealing these beaches can not meet the strict standards requiring public warnings after sewage discharges set by the international body responsible for the Blue Flag programme. SAS flew their Brown Flag at Whitburn beach in the North East. Whitburn has a Blue Flag but yet the European Commission (EC) is taking the UK to the European Court of Justice for “too frequent” and “excessive” spills from storm water overflows at Whitburn.

English Blue Flags not meeting the criteria:
Region Responsible, County Council, Beach:

SW – Cornwall, Polzeath
SW – Cornwall, Gyllyngvase
SW – Cornwall, Carbis bay
SW – South Hams, Devon Challaborough
SW – South Ham, Devon Bigbury on sea
S – IOW, Ventnor
S – IOW, Shanklin
S – IOW, Sandown
SE – Thanet, Kent, Joss Bay
SE – Thanet, Kent, Margate main
SE – Thanet, Kent, West bay, Westgate
SE – Thanet, Kent, Botany bay
SE – Thanet, Kent, Ramsgate main
SE – Waveney DC, Suffolk, Lowestoft south
E – North Norfolk, Norfolk, Cromer
E – North east Lincs, Lincolnshire, Cleethorpes central
NE – Scarborough, Yorkshire, Filey
NE – Scarborough, Yorkshire, North Bay beach
NE – Scarborough, Yorkshire, Whitby west cliff
NE – Sunderland City, Northumbria, Seaburn (Whitburn)

Welsh Blue Flags not meeting the criteria:
North Wales – Denbighshire, Prestatyn central
North Wales – Ynys mon, Llanddona
West Wales – Gwynedd, Fairbourne
West Wales – Gwynedd, Abersoch
West Wales – Ceredigion, Aberporth
West Wales – Ceredigion, Llangrannog
SW Wales – Pembrokeshire, Newgale
South Wales – Swansea, Glamorgan, Langland
South Wales – Bridgend, Glamorgan, Rest bay

Scottish Blue Flag not meeting the criteria:
Scotland – Fife, West Sands
Scotland – Fife, Elie Ruby bay

NI Blue Flag not meeting the criteria:
NI – Coleraine, County Londonderry, Castle rock
NI – Coleraine, Antrim, Portrush west
NI – Coleraine, Antrim, Whiterock west

Blue Flag programme is a world wide initiative ran by the independent non-profit organisation FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education). There are Blue Flag beaches in North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, New Zealand and throughout Europe. The Blue Flag is a recognised standard of excellence for water quality and beach cleanliness. For a beach to achieve the acclaimed Blue Flag status it must first meet a set of strict criteria. The full list of the criteria can be found here.

Using Freedom of Information data requests, SAS have uncovered that at least 35 beaches around the UK can not possibly meet the imperative criterion 28, requiring beach operators to warn the public during and after emergency pollution event, such as a sewage discharge from a combined sewage overflow. The criterion clearly states that “As long as the hazard persists, the public should be informed of the pollution or potential danger by posting information at the beach, at all access points, in the media, tourist offices or other relevant means of communication. If the hazard is in the form of polluted water then the public must be informed that bathing is not safe and the beach should be closed to swimming. If there is any infringement of Blue Flag criteria, e.g. sewage pollution, and to ensure the integrity of the Blue Flag, the flag must be temporarily withdrawn and information posted on the Blue Flag information board or at the beach.” However, none of the 35 beaches listed request real time information on CSO discharges and so cannot possibly warn the public during or after a discharge of raw sewage.

SAS commend criterion 28, as it echoes SAS’s calls for better information allowing the public to make informed decisions about using the water before being exposed to potentially harmful pathogens from sewage pollution. Disappointingly, the integrity of the entire iconic Blue Flag programme is questioned by these 35 UK’s Blue Flag accredited beaches that are not in the position to meet this imperative criterion. It is a major concern to SAS that these 35 beaches could have the Blue Flag flying whilst the public could unwittingly be swimming around in raw sewage discharged from nearby combined sewer overflows. Pathogens associated with sewage polluted waters include Ecoli 0157H, Hepatitis A, Gastro Enteritis and much more.

SAS have a 20-year successful track record of promoting sustainable achievable solutions and this summer SAS has pioneered a new scheme that can help these beaches regain their Blue Flag status. CSOs on the Blue Flag beach Porthtowan (Cornwall) have been upgraded with telemetry that alert South West Water, the Environment Agency, Cornwall Council and SAS as soon as sewage discharges into the river and sea. The relevant authorities are then armed with the information needed to ensure the public can be adequately warned, meeting criterion 28 of the Blue Flag scheme.

There are 131 Blue Flag beaches in the UK, 71 in England (20 of which do not meet the criteria), 7 in Scotland (3 of which do not meet the criteria), 45 in Wales (9 of which do not meet the criteria) and 8 in Northern Ireland (3 of which do not meet the criteria). 35 beaches represents 27% of the UK’s Blue Flag beaches. SAS have exposed these 35 beaches around the UK but we suspect many other Blue Flag beaches around the UK are also failing to meet this imperative criterion and so failing to meet the Blue Flag guidelines. There are over 20,000 CSOs around the UK and accessing information on CSOs is incredibly difficult and time consuming.

The Blue Flag website comments on their auditing process: “For the Blue Flag programme, the beaches and marinas that apply for the award go through a series of control points. The first is during the application period, when the sites are reviewed by first a national jury and then an international jury. Then if the site is awarded with the flag, they are visited at least once a year by a national controller who will assure that all criteria are being met. Every year about 10-15% of the sites are also visited by an international controller. If there are non compliances, then the flag is removed until they are fixed, or for the rest of the season, depending on the severity.”

SAS Campaign Director, Andy Cummins says: “This disturbing revelation questions the integrity of the prestigious Blue Flag Programme. At 35 beaches around the UK the Blue Flag can be flying and people could be in the sea bathing in sewage-polluted waters without warning. To ensure the Blue Flag isn’t devalued SAS are urging Blue Flag’s governing body to lower these 35 Blue Flags until they meet all the imperative criteria.”

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