Bathing waters at Seaton beach received an Excellent classification

Defra announces 2015 bathing water quality results

The bathing waters at East Devon’s eight beaches have all passed the new stringent testing standards set by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). 

The announcement of the 2015 bathing water quality results, which was made by Defra earlier today, revealed that four of the district’s beaches received an Excellent classification – which is the highest and cleanest class, while three received a Good water quality rating and one, Ladram Bay (which is privately owned and managed) a Sufficient rating. 

Overall, the 2015 results for East Devon bathing waters are the best that the district has ever received. However, the classifications announced today are based on combined results from 2012-2015.

The revised bathing water directive uses figures calculated from four years of data, which are based on combined samples. The new annual classifications – Excellent, Good, Sufficient and Poor - are in turn based on these figures, using a percentile calculation.

Bathing water quality is measured by the amount of bacteria within a water sample. Counts are undertaken throughout the bathing season to see if the water quality meets the European Union's (EU) Bathing Water Directive. The directive sets limits for a number of substances and all countries in the EU have to make sure their popular beaches meet these standards. These popular beaches are known as designated bathing waters.

East Devon beach results

East Devon has eight designated bathing waters, two of which (Ladram Bay and Sandy Bay) are privately owned and managed. 

  • Four beaches – Seaton, Beer, Sidmouth Jacob’s Ladder and Sandy Bay– have received an Excellent classification, which is the highest and cleanest class
  • Three beaches – Sidmouth Town, Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth– were classified as Good, with generally good water quality
  • One beach – Ladram Bay received a Sufficient rating, which means their water meets minimum standards 

Testing the waters – working with the EA to improve water quality

Bathing waters at beaches are sampled and tested by the Environment Agency at weekly intervals between May and September, with a minimum of 20 samples tested. There are two measurement criteria - a minimum standard, which must be met in order for a bathing area to pass and a higher standard, which member states should strive to achieve. 

East Devon’s Environmental Health (EH) team receives daily water quality risk forecasts (relating to all our official bathing waters) from the Environment Agency. These forecasts are part of the EA’s pollution-risk forecasting programme. 

As soon as East Devon receives a water quality warning, EH notifies the Streetscene team, who then put up a sign on the relevant beach, advising people not to swim, as the bathing water quality may have been adversely affected by rainfall. The sign will have the day’s date on it, so bathers can be reassured that the information given is completely up to date. 

Council officers ensure that a warning sign (if required) is in place by 10am on the same day that the water quality warning has been issued by the EA. If no warning has been issued, there will be no sign.  So if the EA considers there to be a risk on any given day, then the signs will reflect that.

This system is new this year and is a big improvement on the old method, which simply informed bathers of the measured water quality from last week – by which time the situation would have changed. 

Importance of warning signs

Commenting on the UK Bathing Water results, East Devon District Councillor Iain Chubb, portfolio holder for the environment, said:

This is a fantastic result, which is the outcome of the ongoing work we are doing with the EA to manage our beaches on the beautiful Jurassic Coast. Our bathing waters are most certainly cleaner, than they have ever been in the past. However, it is important to remember that they are particularly susceptible to short term pollution, caused by, for example, agricultural run-off into rivers and streams such as the fast responding upstream catchment areas of the Otter and the Exe.

On 25 separate days this season (out of the 140 days that the season lasts), we have put out 90 warning signs. This has been a major undertaking for our Streetscene officers who have to get the signs across all East Devon’s beaches, whenever the forecast applies. But we strongly believe in the importance of making sure that the signs are put up whenever there is a forecast for reduced quality bathing water. 

Environment Agency

Dr Pete Fox, Director of Land & Water at the Environment Agency said:

Water quality at beaches is better than at any time in living memory, with dramatic improvements having been made over the past few decades. The Environment Agency has led successful partnership work to monitor, investigate and reduce pollution, which has benefited the environment and people with nearly all of England’s beaches (97%) meeting the new stringent water quality targets.

The Environment Agency will continue to encourage water companies, local authorities, farmers, and businesses to work together to maintain and improve water quality. The results are based on samples taken by the Environment Agency over the past four years. Information about each beach is available on the Bathing Water Explorer website.

The Environment Agency publishes information about water quality at England's bathing waters on their online Bathing Water Data Explorer.