Britain’s beaches matter

Action needed to protect our coastline

The sun is out, there’s a Bank Holiday on the horizon and many of us will be thinking of planning a trip to the sea side.

But people might think twice after this week’s announcement that Britain’s beaches have been found to be the dirtiest in Europe, only ranking above Ireland. This is bad news for those of us who enjoy a trip to the beach and it is bad news for coastal communities – already struggling with higher than average unemployment – and their economies, which are heavily dependent on a healthy coast.

Tourism is the largest employer in coastal areas. With the warm weather finally here, coastal communities are counting on visitors to come and spend money. But news of poor quality beaches could threaten a vital season for them, as well as the marine life that calls the British coast home.

Efforts to clean up Britain’s coastline have already had some success. Since 1976, the UK has been subject to the EU’s Bathing Water Directive (BWD), which gave member states targets to meet certain water quality standards in bathing areas. By 2015, 97% of England’s bathing waters had passed the EU Commission’s minimum standards, compared to only 27% in 1990.

Coastal communities have been taking back control and leading the conservation efforts. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has run its Beachwatch beach litter survey and clean-up programme since 1994. In September 2015, its flagship event, the Great British Beach Clean, had a record-breaking number of volunteers. Over 6,000 people attended 340 beaches around the UK over one weekend. Volunteers collected 277,354 litter items, with an average of 3,298 items of litter per km of beach.

As this week’s reports show, much more still needs to be done to build on this good work and beach-cleans alone won’t solve the problem. Action from government and businesses is urgently needed. Post-Brexit, the government must retain and strengthen the EU’s Bathing Water Directive and commit to having the continent’s cleanest coastline. That way everyone can get out and enjoy Britain’s beautiful beaches!

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