A new EU directive on water quality will brand 25 popular British beaches - including Blackpool and Margate - as 'unfit' for tourists, with compulsory 'swimming prohibited' signs being erected and displayed prominently by next year.
The EU has significantly tightened its water bathing standards for beaches around Europe, decreeing that any beach failing to meet them will be required by law to bear warning signs clearly stating the dangers, including an image of a figure swimming with a red line though it.
Under the new guidelines, two Blackpool beaches will be classified unfit because of sewage problems as well as animal faeces from the resort's famous donkeys used for tourist rides, reports the Sunday Telegraph.
The Environment Agency says the new test will be twice as hard to pass.
Many tourist chiefs are furious at the move, claiming that the new standards are unfair. They point out that many of the country's beaches have in fact improved significantly in recent years, and that the EU has moved the goalpoasts.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Sue Aggett, head of environment at Teignbridge council in Devon, said: "The problem we have got is that water quality is actually improving year on year - it's the testing that has changed."
Last year only two beaches failed to meet EU bathing rules: Lyme Regis Church Cliff beach in Dorset, and Staithes in Yorkshire (pictured).
However, the new standards mean that a further 23 will be included in the list, and all will be required to display signs.
Seaton beach in Cornwall is one of those named on the list because of problems from sewage. Malcolm Bell, chief executive of Visit Cornwall, told the Telegraph it was unfair for beaches to have to display signs because it "gives the impression that things have got worse when they haven't - they've got better.
Agricultural waste is believed to be the main pollutant at 11 English beaches on the list. This is often due to effluent from livestock grazing near streams that feed into the sea.
The Environment Agency said: "Last year, the English coast was the cleanest since records began, with 99.5 per cent of swimming spots passing water quality tests compared to just 65 per cent in 1988.
"However, England's beaches will be under the microscope this summer as much tougher new EU standards come into force.
The new European standards will be twice as tough to pass in a bid by the EU to drive up standards across Europe.
In response the Environment Agency is urging water companies, businesses, farmers, local authorities and householders to continue to take action, reduce pollution and improve bathing water quality further."
Beaches on the EU 'swimming prohibited' list include:
Mouthcombe, south Devon
Burnham Jetty North, Somerset
Budleigh Salterton, Devon
Blackpool North, Lancashire
Blackpool Central, Lancashire
Henleaze Lake, Somerset
Teignmouth Town beach, Devon
Lyme Regis Church Cliff, Dorset
Morecambe South Beach, Lancashire
Walpole Bay, Margate, Kent
Clacton Beach (Groyne 41), Essex
Lancing Beach Green, Sussex
Water quality at designated bathing water sites in England is assessed by the Environment Agency. From May to September, weekly assessments measure current water quality, and at a number of sites daily pollution risk forecasts are issued. Annual ratings classify each site as excellent, good, sufficient or poor based on measurements taken over a four year period. You can see the results on the bathing water explorer website.
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