Two Kent beaches named among the dirtiest in the UK and given 'Brown Flag Award'

Two Kent beaches have been named among the dirtiest in the UK. Littlestone and St Mary's Bay have been given the mock 'Brown Flag Award' for achieving the lowest rating possible.

Where blue flags recognise clean and sustainable water, brown flags were awarded to the beaches ranked the lowest by the Environment Agency. This is because of their levels of bacteria such as e-coli from sewage and other waste.

UK travel site Holiday Park Guru found that St Mary's Bay was the third 'dirtiest' beach in the UK, followed by Littlestone which ranked fourth. Kent ranks 15th out of 19 English seaside counties with 45per cent of its official bathing spots rated as 'excellent' for water cleanliness in summer, including St Margaret's Bay and Herne Bay.

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The 'winners' are being offered complimentary brown flags featuring a poo emoji to display for swimmers.

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 13 beaches in Kent.

'Advice against bathing'

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “The Environment Agency issued ‘Advice against bathing’ for the bathing waters at St. Marys Bay and Littlestone. This follows previous water quality sampling results indicating higher levels than recommended of pollutants. The advice is issued to make the public aware of the suitability for bathing and the beaches continue to be open for public use.

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St Mary's Bay on the Romney Marsh -Credit:KentLive

“We will continue to regularly sample the bathing waters over the summer and at the end of the season the results will be assessed alongside those of the previous three seasons. Should an improvement in classification be seen, then the ‘Advice against bathing’ would be removed for 2025.

“Fortunately, with 96 per cent of bathing waters in England meeting minimum standards last year, bathers have plenty of options. The public can easily find out about their local bathing water quality by searching for SWIMFO on"

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:

  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

The Environment Agency only includes water quality readings from May 15 to September 30 when giving ratings to bathing areas. Open Water Lead at Southern Water Tom Gallagher said: “We work in partnership with the Environment Agency, councils and other bodies to protect and enhance the quality of our seas.

"Investigations by us and the EA have shown that St Mary’s Bay and Littlestone are being affected by a combination of private sewerage, illegally misconnected facilities plumbed straight in to surface water drains and other run off. We’re investing to track down the misconnection as a single misplumbed toilet can put 20000 litres of sewage straight on to the beach.

"We’re also connecting cess pit owners to the public sewer at our expense and relining our sewers to make them more robust. We and the EA are confident storm overflows or treatment works in the area are not associated with high samples recorded.”

For the 2024 county league table Holiday Park Guru analysed data at every designated bathing beach in England. The study looked at the percentage of beaches in each county that achieved the Environment Agency’s top rating for water cleanliness (three stars = “excellent”).

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%

How was the data gathered for the Brown Flag Awards?

Robbie used Environment Agency data based on “7,000 samples at...424 bathing waters in England” which is ‘calculated annually based on samples from the previous four years”. He excluded rivers and lakes and just focused on beaches.

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.

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