You have the EU to thank if you’ve ever swum at Brighton Beach

They made our water quality better

Strict EU regulations on water quality are what took Brighton’s pride and joy from being filthy and cold, to just being cold.

As we enter summer, thousands of Brighton locals, students and tourists will flock to the beach to unwind and soak up some sun – some of whom will also enjoy a swim in the refreshing water.

What many of them might not be aware of is just how much Britain’s bathing water quality has improved over the last 40 years as a direct result of the EU’s Bathing Water Directive, introduced in 1976.

Image credit: David Hawgood [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Image credit: David Hawgood [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The directive was introduced in the interests of safeguarding public health and ensuring clean bathing waters.

It requires Members States to monitor and assess the bathing water’s levels of harmful bacteria (specifically E. coli and intestinal enterococci). In addition to this, EU member states must inform the public about the bathing water quality and beach management.

The 2015 bathing water quality report concluded that 95% of British beaches were given the green light in 2015’s bathing water quality results, with ‘excellent quality’ making up nearly 60% of that number. The EU as a whole saw 96% of coastal and inland bathing sites meeting the directive’s minimum requirements that year – with more than 84% attaining excellent status.

Karmenu Vella, the EU’s environment commissioner, stated:

“That is the result of 40 years investing in water and waste water infrastructure. 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.”

By Darwinek (Darwinek) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Image credit: Darwinek (Darwinek) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Marked improvements have been made particularly in recent years, according to data from the government’s Environment Agency. Levels of harmful E. coli and intestinal enterococci in Brighton’s seawater have dropped significantly, indicating that measures have been undertaken to reduce sewage contamination of bathing areas.

Even until 1991 around a quarter of British bathing sites were too dirty to swim in, but the threat of EU sanctions such as beach closures has resulted in dramatic change. Approximately £220 million has been spent on improving the country’s water quality since 2010, with future investments scheduled in the next few years.