UK's 13 dirtiest beaches for swimming - full list of 'brown flag' winners

The UK's 13 dirtiest beaches for swimming have been revealed with each earning the dreaded 'brown flag'. Swimmers are being warned about the potential risk of serious illness if they take a dip in the sea at these locations.

Despite being England's fourth cleanest county for sea swimming in the summer, Cornwall has one beach that has received a 'Brown Flag Award' for its poor conditions.

Water quality readings are taken to detect levels of intestinal enterococci and escherichia coli (e-coli), indicators of faecal matter in the water. This contamination can come from various sources including sewage, agricultural livestock, wildlife, birds and road drainage.

Each beach is then given an official Environment Agency score: three stars for excellent, two stars for good, one star for sufficient, or zero stars for poor. Currently, 66.4% of England's monitored resorts have a three-star rating, while 4.3% score zero stars.

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According to UK travel site Holiday Park Guru, which analysed the Environment Agency's summer water quality data, Dorset, Devon and Suffolk boast the highest percentage of 'excellent' beaches for clean water.

However, Porthluney beach in Cornwall was singled out as one of England's dirtiest, despite Cornwall overall being the fourth cleanest county for sea swimming in the summer.

Hundreds of beaches have been scrutinised resulting in a list of 13 dirtiest spots, selected for 'Brown Flag Awards'. These spots have been offered bespoke brown flags adorned with a poo emoji to alert bathers.

In contrast, Cornwall sports 72 bathing spots with an 'excellent' rating, far surpassing any other English county by total number. Meanwhile, Lancashire sits at the bottom of the league table with none of its ten designated bathing spots achieving the sought-after three-star 'excellent' cleanliness title.

Falling into the bottom half of the table alongside Lancashire were Somerset, Norfolk, Yorkshire, and Kent. Successful players were the Isle of Wight, Lincolnshire, Northumberland and Essex, with their designated areas rallying the top two ratings - 'good' or 'excellent'.

Robbie Lane, a committed sea-swimmer from Holiday Park Guru expressed: "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. 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

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%

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