Popular Rock beach in north Cornwall was one of 78 UK beaches to fail the minimum legal standard bathing water test in this year’s Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Good Beach Guide, compared to only 53 last year.

The MCS saw the biggest year-on-year fall in the number of recommended beaches in the survey’s 22-year history, with less than half of the beaches tested being recommended. In total, 370 (47.5%) are recommended out of 777 tested, compared to 444 in last year’s survey—a 16.5% drop.

Rock was a surprise entry in this year’s beaches that failed to meet minimum standards, but the beach at Staithes in north Yorkshire is a permanent fixture in the list, having failed 17 times in the past 21 years.

The North-East of England saw a drop of 23% in the number of beaches recommended—only 34 out of 64 tested, compared to 44 last year. In the South-West, the number of beaches that failed the bathing water test rose dramatically from three in 2008 to 13 in 2009.

Less than half of the beaches in Wales are recommended (46%), where beaches are particularly vulnerable to pollution run-off from farmland that carries fertilisers and animal waste.

The bathing water tests, conducted from May to September 2008, coincided with the seventh wettest British summer on record. MCS suggests that the steep drop in water quality is largely due to flood water mixed with sewage gushing from sewer outflows and polluted storm water running off farmland and city streets into rivers and the sea.

Thomas Bell, MCS coastal pollution offer, says: ‘MCS is recommending 25% fewer beaches than three years ago, and we’re becoming concerned that the existing infrastructure for handling storm pollution may not be up to the job.’

MCS believes that counter pollution measures are needed, such as new farming practices, investment in sustainable urban drainage systems, an expansion of the sewage system and end-of-pipe monitoring on sewer outflows.

Mr Bell adds: ‘Poor quality bathing water carries health risks. We advise people to use the Good Beach Guide and do three things: pick bathing beaches with a good water quality record, stay out of the see for at least 24 hours after heavy storms, and report pollution problems via the Good Beach Guide website.’

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