B4: Condition of bathing waters

Short Description

This indicator assesses the condition of bathing waters. It shows the percentage of designated bathing waters meeting conditions sufficient to minimise the risk of harm to bathers from faecal pollution. It is based on a set of microbiological tests (measuring E.coli and intestinal enterococci) performed on waters used for bathing. The bacteria can indicate the presence of pathogens that may cause severe stomach upsets and gastro-intestinal illness. Bathing waters are mainly coastal beaches but also include a number of inland freshwater lakes and two locations on a river.

Readiness and links to data

Data on Bathing water quality statistics are already published annually; longer-term trends are available in the State of the environment: water quality report.

Notes on indicator

In 2021 the River Wharfe at Cromwheel in Ilkley, Yorkshire was designated as a bathing water. This was followed by Wolvercote Mill Stream on the River Thames at Oxford in 2022. Both of these sites were classified as Poor. The learning from these sites is that despite classification standards for freshwaters being less stringent than those for coastal waters, achieving bathing water microbiological standards in a river remains a challenge. As such, if more rivers have bathing waters designated, there is the expectation that there may also be a corresponding increase in bathing waters that do not comply with the ‘sufficient’ standard under the Bathing Water Regulations. This change needs to be taken into account when reporting trends as the predicted drop in headline compliance does not necessarily mean existing (primarily) coastal sites have deteriorated.

Indicator components

Figure B4: Condition of designated bathing waters in England, 1995 to 2022

Table B4: Condition of designated bathing waters in England, 1995 to 2022

Year Excellent Good Poor Sufficient
1995 12.43 17.03 54.32 16.22
1996 16.18 19.36 47.75 16.71
1997 20.63 19.06 43.60 16.71
1998 24.37 20.35 37.94 17.34
1999 24.25 21.75 37.00 17.00
2000 26.17 21.98 33.83 18.02
2001 29.80 28.08 27.09 15.02
2002 36.86 29.24 21.62 12.29
2003 45.26 27.49 15.33 11.92
2004 46.00 29.54 10.41 14.04
2005 51.21 26.09 8.45 14.25
2006 52.78 26.39 8.23 12.59
2007 54.11 25.85 8.70 11.35
2008 53.14 22.71 9.42 14.73
2009 52.17 23.19 11.84 12.80
2010 51.33 24.46 11.62 12.59
2011 53.38 24.15 10.39 12.08
2012 50.00 28.61 11.54 9.86
2013 55.18 27.95 9.64 7.23
2014 60.82 24.76 5.53 8.89
2015 63.61 26.51 2.89 6.99
2016 69.49 23.73 1.45 5.33
2017 65.62 26.39 1.69 6.30
2018 67.14 25.24 2.14 5.48
2019 71.43 21.90 1.67 5.00
2020 - - - -
2021 71.00 24.00 1.00 4.00
2022 72.00 21.00 3.00 4.00

Trend description for B4

The number of designated bathing waters in England meeting at least the minimum standard (‘sufficient’, ‘good’ or ‘excellent’) has increased considerably from 45.7% in 1995 to 97% in 2022. The majority of this increase occurred in the period to 2015; since then, the number meeting at least the minimum standard has remained relatively stable at between 97% and 99%, though there has been a reduction of almost two percent in the latest data from 2021-2022. The number of bathing waters achieving ‘excellent’ status has increased considerably since 1995, with 72% meeting this standard in 2022. The number of bathing waters rated as ‘poor’ has remained below 3% since 2015, although it did increase slightly from 2021 to 2022. The slight increase is partially a result of the new bathing water designations for two rivers this year, both classified as ‘poor’.

Assessment of change

An assessment was undertaken using the B4 indicator to look at change in the percent of designated bathing waters meeting minimum standards of at least sufficient condition. A small increase (or improvement) in this metric was observed over the short term. A new method was introduced in 2015, so only data from that year onwards were included in the assessment. The new method is not directly comparable to the old method, so it is not appropriate to look at trends across both datasets. This meant there was not a sufficiently long time series for a medium or long-term assessment.

Change since 2018 has also been assessed. There has been little or no change in the condition of bathing waters since 2018 with no reported data for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The assessment is based on only 4 data points so should be considered as indicative and not evidence of a clear trend. It should also be noted that in 2018 nearly 98% of designated bathing waters were already in at least sufficient condition so there is little scope for further improvement in this indicator.

Further information on this assessment, along with details on the methodology, is provided in the Assessment background page. Summaries by 25 Year Environment Plan goal and information on indicator links are presented in the Assessment results pages. .

Table B4: Assessment of change

Component Subcomponent Period Date range Percentage change Smoothing function Assessment of change
B4 Meeting at least Sufficient Short term 2016 to 2021 3.52 Loess Improvement
B4 Meeting at least Sufficient Medium term N/A N/A N/A Not assessed
B4 Meeting at least Sufficient Long term N/A N/A N/A Not assessed

Note that assessment categories for the short term were assigned based on smoothed data, so percent change figures in Table B4 may differ from unsmoothed values quoted elsewhere. Percent change refers to the difference seen from the first to last year in the specified date range.

Indicator Metadata