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The British beaches covered with human feces

Some of Britain’s most beautiful stretches of water have been destroyed by dangerous levels of pollution (Image: PA / Getty)

It’s not for everyone, but jumping headlong into freezing seawater is an increasingly popular party tradition for many.

Thousands will head to beaches up and down the country this week, parting and celebrating the season by throwing themselves into the icy water.

For some it’s a great way to shake off the Christmas hangover – for others it’s a bracing way to look at the new year.

But for a country that takes great pride in its beautiful shores, there is an inconvenient truth lurking beneath the surface: Britain’s waters have a fecal problem.

While the vast majority of designated bathing waters are safe, eight stretches of water on the English coast are considered dangerous due to the amount of bacteria from raw wastewater and other pollutants in the water.

As of December 2021, there are eight areas on the English coast that health authorities have asked people not to swim in under any circumstances because they are contaminated with untreated wastewater or drains containing chemicals from industrial or agricultural areas.

In Scotland, where environmental management is decentralized, only one beach is considered “poor”, while none is in Wales or Northern Ireland.

Map of polluted beaches

These are the most polluted beaches in England and the government is under great pressure to get the water companies to clean up (Image: Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Boxing Day dip at South Shields

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but jumping in the cold sea is a festive rite of passage for many (Photo: North News)

Earlier this year, the Surfers Against Sewage campaign group pushed this issue up the agenda and called on the government to stop the practice of discharging overflow wastewater into natural water bodies during bad weather.

The government was forced to commit to pressuring private water companies to act, but has been accused of not going far enough or fast enough.

And to make matters worse, water quality data is not actually recorded outside of the summer months, meaning it is impossible for people to know exactly what you are swimming in in the winter.

A spokesman for the Surfers Against Sewage campaign said that swimming at this time of year is a tradition that ‘must be cherished’, but that it is threatened by poor water quality.

They told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s really shocking that people have to check to see if their local beach or river is contaminated with raw wastewater before a festive dip.


The beaches you really, really do not want to go to a spot of wild swimming this festive period

  • Cullercoats Bay, North Tyneside
  • Scarborough South Bay, North Yorkshire
  • Clacton (Groyne 41), Essex
  • Instow, North Devon
  • Ilfracombe Wildersmouth, North Devon
  • Combe Martin, North Devon
  • Burnham Jetty North, Somerset
  • Weston-super-Mare Uphill Slipway, Somerset

Boxing Day dip at South Shields

Quality testing is not performed in winter, which means that it is impossible to know how polluted the water is (Image: North News)

‘Government, industry and regulators need to listen to the public’s demands for change and work to stop wastewater pollution in the UK forever. Flowering rivers and gardens support thriving communities. ‘

Jenny Jones from the Green Party called on the government to take further action to purify the bathing water.

She said: ‘Children’s Day and the New Year’s dive in the sea is a great British tradition that could be ruined by the experience of our sewer-filled coastlines.

‘I can only hope that the water companies’ new statutory duty to gradually reduce pollution will be enforced by a reluctant government and that future dives will be both healthy and refreshing.’

A spokesman for the Danish Environmental Protection Agency said: “Although 93% of bathing waters are classified as good or excellent – up from 28% in the 1990s – there is clearly a lot more to do and we continue to work with all those who want to be part of the solution.

“We have increased the transparency and monitoring of bathing water quality to tackle this issue and drive the improvements that we all want to see.”

Get in touch with our news team by sending us an email at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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