'Brown flag' award given to UK's 13 dirtiest beaches for swimming - full list

Porthluney Beach at Caerhays Cornwall was said to be the worst for sewage in the UK
Porthluney Beach at Caerhays Cornwall was designated the worst for sewage in the UK -Credit:Getty

They’re the beaches in the UK it would be better not to swim in - because you could catch a serious illness. The ‘brown flag’ awards are created by analysing Environment Agency summer water quality data from hundreds of beaches.

Cornwall is England’s fourth cleanest county for swimming in the sea in summer - but one Cornish beach has been given a ‘Brown Flag Award’ for being one of the worst.

The water quality readings look for intestinal enterococci and escherichia coli (e-coli) levels to see whether there is ‘faecal matter’ in the water. This comes from ‘sewage, agricultural livestock, wildlife, birds and road drainage’ according to the Environment Agency.

Each bathing resort then receives an official Environment Agency score of: three stars (excellent), two stars (good), one star (sufficient) or zero stars (poor). Overall, 66.4% of England’s monitored resorts currently score a three star rating whilst 4.3% score zero stars.

Dorset, Devon and Suffolk have the highest percentage of ‘excellent’ beaches for clean water, according to UK travel site Holiday Park Guru, which analysed Environment Agency summer water quality data. Porthluney beach in Cornwall was branded one of England’s dirtiest, however Cornwall as a whole was England’s fourth cleanest county for swimming in the sea in summer.

The site analysed Environment Agency summer water quality data from hundreds of beaches. It has now isolated the 13 dirtiest beaches, which are being offered ‘Brown Flag Awards’.

The ‘winners’ are being offered complimentary brown flags featuring a poo emoji to display for swimmers. These beaches are rated as ‘poor’ by the Environment Agency due to bacteria such as e-coli from sewage and other waste.

Overall Cornwall has 72 designated bathing beaches that are rated as ‘excellent’ - more than any other English county by total number. Lancashire came bottom of England’s league table with none of its ten designated bathing spots achieving the coveted three-star ‘excellent’ rating for cleanliness. Somerset, Norfolk, Yorkshire and Kent were all in the bottom half of the league table. The Isle of Wight, Lincolnshire, Northumberland and Essex performed well, with all of their designated bathing areas gaining one of the top two ratings (‘good’ or ‘excellent’).

Keen sea-swimmer, Robbie Lane from Holiday Park Guru said: “We’re hoping to make a real splash in the papers with the launch of England’s first ever ‘Brown Flag Awards’! Commiserations to our 13 winners this year – you really are top of the plops. We just hope they’ll take up our offer of a free brown flag, although I’m afraid we can’t quite afford to provide a flagpole as well.”

“On a more positive note, high praise is warranted for England’s 273 beaches with the top rating for their water quality - including 72 beaches in Cornwall. You can find a full list of all the three star swimming spots at https://www.holidayparkguru.co.uk. With a bit of research, there’s a good chance you will be the only thing floating in the sea this summer!”

The Environment Agency only includes water quality readings from 15th May to 30th September when giving ratings to bathing areas. Sea water quality tends to be worse in winter after heavy rain.

Holiday Park Guru said that, although its ‘Brown Flag Awards’ uses official Environment Agency data, it does not have any official link with the Environment Agency or any other awards. It is intended as a tongue-in-cheek award to support the campaign for cleaner beaches.

It says: “The Brown Flag Awards are reserved for those select beaches which score a ‘poor’ rating (or should that be ‘poo rating’) from the Environment Agency’s water quality tests.”

The Brown Flag Awards Winners 2024

  1. Porthluney in Cornwall

  2. Southsea East in Hampshire

  3. Saint Mary’s Bay in Kent

  4. Littlestone in Kent

  5. Blackpool North in Lancashire

  6. St Annes North in Lancashire

  7. Heacham in Norfolk

  8. Weston Main, Weston Super Mare Sand Bay and Weston Super Mare Uphill Slipway in Somerset

  9. Dunster Beach in Somerset

  10. Bognor Regis, Aldwick in Sussex

  11. Tynemouth Cullercoats in Tyne and Wear

  12. Scarborough South Bay in North Yorkshire

  13. Bridlington South Beach in East Riding of Yorkshire

  14. County-by-county league table for clean beaches

Percentage of beaches rated ‘excellent’ by the Environment Agency for sea water cleanliness. From best to worst:

  1. Dorset: 89%

  2. Devon: 86%

  3. Suffolk: 83%

  4. Cornwall: 81%

  5. Tyne and Wear: 78%

  6. Northumberland: 77%

  7. Lincolnshire: 77%

  8. Hampshire and New Forest: 75%

  9. Isle of Wight: 73%

  10. Merseyside: 57%

  11. Essex: 53%

  12. Sussex: 52%

  13. Cumbria: 50%

  14. Norfolk: 50%

  15. Kent: 45%

  16. Yorkshire: 40%

  17. County Durham: 16%

  18. Somerset: 10%

  19. Lancashire 0%