Weston bathing water rated 'poor' and swimming discouraged

Busy Weston beach

The bathing water at Weston beach is rated 'poor' - Credit: Mark Atherton

Water quality at Weston's main beach has been rated as 'poor' in the latest classifications.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has released the latest ratings for bathing waters across the UK, for the first time since 2019.

And at Weston, the rating has dropped from 'satisfactory' to 'poor' since 2019. there was no report in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It means Defra now recommends against bathing in the sea at Weston's main beach.

However, elsewhere in North Somerset there was better news, with water quality improving at Uphill (rated as 'sufficient'), remains 'good' at Clevedon and 'adequate' at Sand Bay.

Now, North Somerset Council (NSC), the Environment Agency (EA) and Wessex Water (WW) say they are working together to find and tackle the cause of poor samples and continue to take action to improve water quality. 

Executive member for neighbourhoods and community services at NSC, Cllr Mike Solomon, said: “It is really pleasing to see that bathing water around North Somerset is generally classified as meeting the stringent standards. 

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"However, we want all our areas to reach the highest possible standards and so it’s very disappointing that Weston’s main bathing water rating has deteriorated. 

"Weston’s main beach will remain a popular destination and we’ll continue to do everything possible to ensure our visitors enjoy our beach, seafront and bathing waters.

"Everyone who lives in or visits our coastal areas can help do their bit to improve water quality. This includes particularly disposing of litter properly, cleaning up after their dog and not flushing inappropriate items down the loo." 

Cllr Mike Bell, executive member responsible for public health, said: "There are many reasons why Weston’s results may have dipped this year, including more visitors than usual over the summer, more business happening at concessionary outlets, and a larger than usual bird population, which may have been attracted by food left in higher levels of litter. 

"Our environmental teams will be looking at all the factors that can impact water quality and working with partners to take action to deliver improvements."

Bathing water results are usually announced annually and based on a variety of samples taken by the Environment Agency in the summer season. Readings can also vary due to weather, pollution from agricultural and urban sources and storm water overflows. 

NSC's director of public health, Matt Lenny, said: "People who use the beach may feel worried about these results.

"But there are no pass/fail standards for individual water samples, instead the classification is based on a statistical measure of all samples. A sample tells us the quality of the water at that specific time, but water can change even over the course of one day."

Jim Flory, area environment manager at the Environment Agency, said: "Weston’s bathing water quality is influenced by many factors, its location in a large estuary, and the potential for agricultural run-off from farms and businesses along the River Axe and around Weston. 

"We are working closely with North Somerset Council to identify potential issues and take action where it is needed."

Weston water quality Defra Jan 19

Defra now recommends against swimming at Weston's main beach - Credit: Defra

Misconnections, where drains send dirty water from toilets, showers and dishwashers into the wrong pipes and into rivers and the sea, are also a problem, he said.

Wessex Water said it has invested millions of pounds to make sure sewage received from homes and businesses in the area is treated to a high standard using state of the art UV treatment to kill bacteria, before being safely returned into the environment.

It has also renewed the main sewer around Marine Parade to reduce risks of deterioration and leakage which could impact water quality.

Ruth Barden, director of environmental solutions for Wessex Water, said: "We recognise that bathing water quality at Weston is a complex issue with a large number of often quite small contributing sources within the wider urban and rural area. 

"We have invested heavily to ensure bathing water isn't affected by our sewage treatment processes, so our focus has now been on working with the council and Environment Agency to support investigative work looking into other sources of potential pollution outside of our control.

"This includes checking for misconnections of foul sewage from private properties into the surface water system, which discharges straight into the sea."

Weston MP, John Penrose, said a clean beach was 'essential' for the town.

"As I hope local people would expect, as soon as I heard this news I got in touch with Wessex Water and the Environment Agency to see how we can get this problem fixed," he said.

"They say the water that's been anywhere near humans is cleaner than ever before, because of a huge treatment plant that has just been upgraded. And the number of storm overflows, which caused a big fuss in Parliament recently, was actually lower last year here too.

"The remaining problems come from run-off from farms into local rhynes and rivers, plus broken or misconnected pipes in our town’s Victorian sewage system, and even faeces from seabirds roosting on the beach at low tide.

"Whatever it is, we need them to keep going until it’s fixed. Weston's beach is one of the jewels in our crown and local people and visitors want to know it’s as safe as possible."