In the UK, when you visit the beach, it might not always be hot but you expect the sea to be clean.
This wasn’t always the case.
There was a time when the UK wouldn’t designate beaches like Brighton, Skegness, Blackpool and Cromer as bathing waters, so it didn’t have to clean them up to make it safe to swim and paddle in the sea. As a result, many of our most popular beaches were disgusting. Condoms, tampons and poo were commonly seen floating near the shore and the sea was a danger to people’s health.
Until 1986 the government argued that only 27 UK beaches were used for bathing. And only 18 of those met EU standards for cleanliness.
But, in 1987, the EU threatened to sue the UK under the Bathing Water Directive unless it designated more bathing waters. It wanted to test UK beaches to make sure they were safe.
Eventually, the UK agreed and began to clean up its act. It set new standards for water treatment and ensured that sewage pipes extended further out to sea. This was a big leap forward but, even in the 90s, many of our beaches still weren’t great. The EU kept up the pressure and more and more UK beaches have been designated as bathing waters and cleaned up.
Thanks to EU standards, today we have 632 clean, welcoming bathing beaches and 98.9% of them are safe for swimming.
Alastair Harper, 'How the EU cleaned up my holidays', Green Alliance blog
Tony Juniper, 'Europe, the environment and the smell of 1973', HuffPost blog
The risk of Brexit to the environment
Image: Richard Walker via Flickr, CC2.0