Ilfracombe's Wildersmouth beach could be declared as unfit for swimming
COUNCILLORS have been told the water quality at an Ilfracombe beach is of serious concern to the Environment Agency (EA).
Last week members of Ilfracombe Town Council heard the outlook for Wildersmouth beach near Capstone was bleak as the EA strives to conform with tough new European bathing water regulations.
However, EA planning officer Johnathan Ponting said the future looked bright for Hele beach which has also struggled with water quality problems.
In 2015 stringent new water quality guidelines will come into force across the UK which will rate bathing waters as excellent, good, sufficient or poor.
The guidelines, which are twice as stringent as the current ones, state that all designated bathing beaches must be sufficient by 2015.
Beaches which do not pass muster will have to display signs declaring them unfit for swimming.
The first of four annual water quality tests to determine these levels were taken this summer.
Mr Ponting said although increased rain had caused water quality to deteriorate at many beaches across the south west, Ilfracombe's two main beaches had actually improved since last year.
He said: "Last year only two beaches in the south west failed to make the cut, this year it was 15 and that's all down to rainfall.
"Woolacombe beach's water quality was 500 per cent worse than 2011.
"However, Hele and Wildersmouth actually did very well with both passing the current water quality standards.
"It's early days but the signs are pleasing, it shows that our efforts are having an effect."
Mr Ponting said 20 misdirected sewage outlets had been identified and fixed in Ilfracombe in the past year.
He said: "We've also given fencing materials to 14 farms to keep cattle out of streams which flow into the sea.
"These are direct sources of contamination which have been stopped."
Mr Ponting said the agency was increasingly confident about Hele beach but remained very concerned about Wildersmouth.
He said: "We believe Hele will be sufficient by 2015 but Wildersmouth is still at risk.
"It is heavily affected by urban pollution and the point at which the water quality is monitored is very close to the river which carries this pollution into the sea.
"Under the new guidelines it is right at the bottom end of poor and is one of the beaches we are most concerned about.
"We will continue to work on it but there's no promises."
Mr Ponting said the EA would be investigating the culverts at Hele and Wildersmouth over the next few months to determine other sources of contamination.
He said: "We are also hoping to launch a publicity campaign to show the community how they can play their part in improving water quality."
Mr Ponting explained that beach owners can apply for a beach to be de-designated as a bathing beach.
He said: "We don't promote de-designation if a beach is simply too difficult to fix but if a beach isn't being used for swimming then you can make a case to Defra."
Ilfracombe Town Council's clerk Pauline Williams said data recorded by the town council showed evidence of just two people swimming at Wildersmouth in the past two years.
Ilfracombe County, town and district councillor Geoff Fowler said: "If the Environment Agency's work means we have a fighting chance of making the grade then we should go for it.
"However, if it doesn't look good we will have to look at de-designating Wildersmouth as a swimming beach."