Water quality at all Merseyside beaches from Southport to West Kirby

Southport Beach
Southport Beach -Credit:Visit Southport

As frostbitten mornings give way to clear skies and sunshine, a trip to the beach provides a fun, easy and affordable day out for families looking to make the most of the good weather.

But before you break out the buckets and spades and pack up the deck chairs, it's worth checking the bathing water quality at your local sands - and making sure the Environment Agency has not issued a pollution warning.

Southport, Ainsdale, Formby, Wallasey, Moreton, Meols and West Kirby beaches are all closely monitored by the authority to ensure bathing water quality does not slip.

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Here are the ratings for all Merseyside's beaches, from north to south.

Southport - Rating: Sufficient

Southport beach received 17 pollution risk warnings last year, based on Environment Agency forecasts on rain, tide, wind, sunlight and seasonality. These factors affect the levels of bacteria that get washed into the sea from livestock, sewage and urban drainage via rivers and streams. When bacteria levels are predicted to be high, the Agency declares a "short term pollution event" and advises people against entering the water.

When the tide does come in, bathing waters at Southport are highly affected by the Ribble Estuary and the River Ribble, which can result in reduced water quality after heavy rainfall. The area also contains significant areas of farmland both around the estuary and further inland which can impact water quality.

There are a number of nearby sewage treatment works, including Southport and Preston, which can impact Southport bathing water quality. A storm overflow operates during heavy rainfall to prevent sewage flooding homes and gardens, with a number of these existing along the banks of the River Ribble and the estuary. Water company United Utilities spearheaded a huge overflow improvement programme in Chorley, Blackburn and Preston in 2013, which helped protect water quality on the Southport coast.

Southport beach
Southport beach -Credit:Jill Jennings, Visit Southport

Ainsdale - Rating: Sufficient

Ainsdale beach is also affected by the River Ribble and the Ribble Estuary. The Environment Agency said: "Whilst there are no water company assets discharging directly to the beach at Ainsdale, there are a number located on the River Ribble and its estuary which can impact Ainsdale’s bathing water quality, particularly after rainfall." The area is also affected by farmland.

A number of sewage treatment improvement projects by United Utilities over the years have improved problems with sewage overflows, protecting Ainsdale's bathing water quality. Despite this, its rating fell from two stars (good) in 2022 to just one star (sufficient) in 2023.

Formby - Rating: Excellent

Formby suffered from occasional reductions in bathing water quality during the 1990s. The Mersey Basin Campaign, a 25-year government-backed community initiative to improve the environment in Merseyside, aimed to help protect the coastline. Short-term declines in bathing water quality at Formby have been linked to reduced water quality in the River Alt, which enters the Irish Sea about 5km south of the beach.

Despite being located between two large estuaries, Mersey and Ribble, The Environment Agency noted "there is a limited impact on the bathing water quality at Formby from these estuaries". Formby has achieved consistently high quality ratings from the authority, earning three stars (excellent) for the past five years.

Wallasey - Rating: Excellent

Wallasey beach is located on the northern end of the Wirral Peninsula, close to the Dee Estuary and the Mersey Estuary. The Mersey Estuary is understood to have limited impact on the Wallasey bathing water as the estuary generally flows directly out into the Irish Sea and does not reach the bathing waters on the northern end of the Wirral peninsula.

Bathing water quality was vastly improved by the building of the Wallasey detention tank in 1996. This reduced the number of sewage discharges on the North Wirral coast. Meols Sewage Treatment Works, south west of Wallasey, was upgraded by United Utilities in 2001 and again in 2005, releasing treated sewage through a long sea outfall 5km out to sea.

The bathing water quality in Wallasey has risen in the past five years from two stars in 2021 to three stars thereafter.

Moreton - Rating: Excellent

Like Wallasey, Moreton is located on the northern end of the Wirral Peninsula, close to the Dee Estuary and the Mersey Estuary which have limited impact on the beach's bathing waters. Its nearest sewage works is the New Brighton Pumping Station, 6km away. This was upgraded by United Utilities in 2008 to reduce the number of discharges made during the summer. Between 2015 and 2020, the water company also installed equipment to monitor sewage spills in the area.

No pollution risk warnings were issued for Moreton last year. The beach has achieved consistently high quality ratings from the Environment Agency, earning three stars (excellent) for the past five years.

Meols - Rating: Excellent

Meols beach is also located on the Wirral peninsula, close to the Dee Estuary and the Mersey Estuary which have limited impact on its bathing waters.

Meols has been awarded three stars (excellent) for its bathing waters for the past five years.

West Kirby - Rating: Good

Bathing water quality at West Kirby beach has fallen from three stars (excellent) in 2022 to two stars (good) in 2023. Located on the eastern side of the mouth of the Dee Estuary, the River Dee covers a large area which impacts on the coast. The extent of agricultural land means that, during and after periods of heavy rainfall, animal bacteria in the water can significantly increase due to run-off, affecting the quality.

There are two storm overflows to the south of West Kirby bathing water at Shore Road and Caldy. Both of these were upgraded by United Utilities in 2009. There are no known impacts from these discharges on the bathing water.