New tough European rules threaten beach's 'safe for swimming' status
Councillors have been told the water quality at a North Devon beach is of serious concern to the Environment Agency.
Members of Ilfracombe Town Council heard the outlook for Wildersmouth beach, near Capstone, was bleak as the agency strives to conform with tough new European bathing water regulations.
However, agency planning officer Johnathan Ponting said the future looked bright for Hele beach, which has also struggled with water quality problems.
Stringent new water quality guidelines will come into force across the UK in 2015 which will rate bathing waters as excellent, good, sufficient or poor. The guidelines, which are twice as stringent as the current ones, state all designated bathing beaches must be sufficient by 2015.
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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.
"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 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."
Mr Ponting said 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 county, town and district councillor Geoff Fowler said: "If the Environment Agency's work means we have a fighting chance of making the grade, we should go for it. If it doesn't look good we will have to look at de-designating Wildersmouth as a swimming beach."