69.5% of English bathing spots meet top water quality standards
Almost seven in 10 bathing spots in England have met "excellent" water quality standards, new results show.
In 2016, 287 beaches and inland swimming sites in the country met the tough top standards set out in the European Union's Bathing Water Directive (69.5%), and 407 out of the 413 spots assessed passed the minimum grade.
But six bathing waters failed to meet even minimum standards: Scarborough South Bay, Yorkshire; Clacton (Groyne 41), Essex; Walpole Bay, Margate, Kent; Instow, Devon; Ilfracombe Wildersmouth, Devon; and Burnham Jetty North, Somerset.
The figures, which look at results for water quality over the last four years, are an improvement on 2015, the first year of results under the new EU system, when 63.6% of beaches met excellent standards.
This is partly due to improvements being made in infrastructure at or near bathing sites in recent years, which has helped reduce pollution and cut levels of harmful bacteria in swimming spots that can make people ill.
But this year's figures are also better than 2015 because of more favourable weather conditions.
Better weather reduces the risk of overflows from sewers and storm drains and the amount of urban and agricultural pollutants washing down to the sea when there is heavy rainfall.
The 2015 results include the very wet summer of 2012, which saw water quality at bathing sites drop.
Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: "England's bathing waters are enjoyed by millions of people every year, which is why I am delighted the water quality at our beaches and lakes is better than at any time since before the Industrial Revolution.
"This year more than 93% of bathing waters were rated excellent and good, but we're not complacent - we'll keep working to improve our environment and make sure it's protected for future generations."
Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said the organisation had led successful work to protect people, tourism and the environment around England's coasts.
"We will continue to ensure bathing waters are maintained and improved further, so we need partners and the public to work with us to reduce pollution.
"We encourage all beach-goers to check water quality advice; this is available at every bathing beach and on our Bathing Water Data Explorer website," he said.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Samuel Lowe said: "The continuing improvement of England's beaches and bathing water are a terrific success story.
"Ministers must now ensure that this is not the high water mark for the quality of our coastal environment - and that the tough EU rules that have driven these vast improvements are kept, no matter what Brexit looks like."