Almost 95% of UK bathing spots clean enough to swim in but only 60% 'excellent'
Almost 95% of the UK's bathing spots are clean enough to swim in, figures show.
But the UK is lagging behind many other European countries in securing "excellent" levels of water quality at its beaches, a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) reveals.
In 2015, 377 UK coastal and inland bathing waters met stringent EU standards for classing water quality as excellent, just under 60% of all the country's 633 swimming spots.
This compares to an average of 84% across Europe, while eight countries - Cyprus, Malta, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Germany, Austria and Luxembourg, which scored excellent for all its 11 sites - met the top standard at 90% or more bathing spots.
The UK is also behind popular holiday destinations such as France, Spain and Portugal for the percentage of bathing waters meeting excellent standards, according to the report which looks at data from more than 21,000 sites.
Almost 95% of UK beaches met at least sufficient standards of cleanliness in 2015, according to the assessment under the revised Bathing Water Directive which measures water quality over a four-year period, close to the EU average of 96%.
But nearly one in 20 (5%) were judged as poor quality, the highest percentage in the EU, although other countries had more dirty bathing spots, with the UK's 31 failing beaches comparing to 95 each in France and Italy and 58 in Spain.
Because the assessment uses data across four years, the UK's results for 2015 are affected by 2012's record wet summer which saw pollution caused by heavy rainfall and sewer overflows used to prevent sewage backing up and flooding homes.
Measures have been put in place in the UK, including efforts to reduce pollution from livestock and investment in schemes to monitor and improve sewage treatment works and overflows.
But a wet summer in 2016 could cause problems at bathing waters with poor or sufficient water quality, the European Environment Agency said.
Overall, the cleanliness of swimming spots across Europe has improved markedly in the past few decades, and i n 2015, just 385 bathing sites across Europe were judged to have poor water quality, 1.6% of the total assessed.
Areas including Blackpool, Copenhagen and Munich are benefiting from investments in improvements in sewage works, which are leading to cleaner bathing sites at harbours, urban rivers and nearby beaches, the EEA said.
Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said the results were the result of 40 years of investing in water and waste water infrastructure since the Bathing Water Directive was first issued.
"It is a sign of EU legislation working well. And it is a perfect testimony to the fact that a highly evolved economic area such as ours can produce equally high environmental standards."
Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director, said: "Our assessment shows that bathing water quality has improved remarkably over the years.
"More and more bathing waters have not only reached the minimum requirements, but have improved to excellent standards."