Clean bill of health, but beaches could do better

Enjoying the nice weather at Newcastle beach in Co Down
Enjoying the nice weather at Newcastle beach in Co Down

Northern Ireland’s beaches have been given a clean bill of health after a maritime organisation found not a single one failed their clean water test.

Previously, the Province had a sole beach which failed to make the grade – Newcastle, Co Down.

But now this under-performing stretch of coastline has improved, meaning that every single one of the 23 beaches surveyed met at least the minimum standards for swimming and bathing.

The results are to be found in an annual report by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

It draws up a league table of beaches based on tests done by the Environment Agency, which scans the coastline for bacteria from sewage and manure run-off from fields.

There are four grades: “fail”, “mandatory”, “guideline”, and “recommended” – with the latter being the top standard.

The MCS’s Rachel Wyatt said Northern Ireland has seen “quite a big improvement” in the last 10 years (with 65 per cent of its beaches now at “recommended” grade, compared to a dismal 30 per cent in 2004) but is still lagging behind the UK average of 73 per cent.

As for Newcastle beach’s newly-resuscitated reputation, the waste water network in the area has recently been upgraded and Cadogan Enright, a councillor in Down District, said this accounted for its cleaner results.

He said the improvements had come about amid a campaign by local environmentalists, adding: “It’s far from being perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than it was before.”

The bacteria the Environment Agency tests for are e-coli and intestinal enterococci, both capable of causing sore throats and upset stomachs.

The latest results have been the best ever for the UK in the 27 years the MCS league table has run – possibly because it was a relatively dry summer last year when the tests took place, so there would have been less run-off from farms into the sea.

However, new tougher standards, about twice as tight as those at present, are coming in from 2015 thanks to the EU.

Any beaches that then fail to make the grade will be marked by signs warning swimmers not to enter the water.

The water results come just weeks after a damning survey by the MCS showed that Northern Ireland had the worst beaches in the UK in terms of amounts of litter.

It found an average of more than 7,000 pieces of litter per kilometre across the seven beaches it checked – compared to roughly 4,400 in Wales, 2,300 in England and just under 2,000 in Scotland.