High level of excellence for Northern Ireland’s beaches

Date published: 29 September 2016

New figures are showing that Northern Ireland continues to enjoy some of the best bathing water quality in Europe.

Around the coast, 22 of the 23 identified bathing waters met the strict European standards for bathing water quality. Of these, 11 were classed as ‘excellent’ with a further nine classed as ‘good’.

Commenting on the figures, Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Michelle McIlveen stated that: “The water environment in Northern Ireland is so important to our society. Our beaches are paramount to health and well-being and a reflection of the wider coastal environment. They help to improve fitness as well as providing economic benefits through the promotion of tourism. I am pleased to see today that Northern Ireland’s bathing waters have performed so well. 

“We can sometimes take water for granted, whether it’s the water that comes out of our taps, water we use for recreation or water that is an essential part of our business operations. It is important that we continue to work hard to protect our water quality.”

In 2015, new standards were introduced for bathing waters which are approximately twice as stringent as the old benchmarks.

Minister McIlveen said: “Northern Ireland’s bathing water monitoring programme has been running for over 25 years. In that time bathing water quality has continually improved. The latest results give cause for optimism as we look to add new waters to the scheme.

“Our water environment is improving, and I applaud the efforts which have taken us thus far, but we cannot be complacent. It is imperative that we continuously work to resolve the issues within our control and mitigate against those outside it.”

Of the waters tested, only Ballyholme will be classed as having ‘Poor’ bathing water quality for the 2016 bathing season. Of the 20 times it was tested, 17 were rated excellent. But on three occasions, each as a result of heavy rainfall, a ‘poor’ reading was recorded.

The Minister added: “Ballyholme serves as a reminder that no matter how hard we work to make improvements, there is no room for complacency. Overall however, our beaches remain some of the best in Europe for water quality and I am committed to protecting and enhancing them wherever possible.”

Notes to editors: 

1. The results are as follows:

Bathing water 2016 Classification
Magilligan (Benone)                     Excellent
Magilligan (Downhill)                    Excellent
Portstewart   Excellent
Portrush (Mill) West                     Excellent
Portrush (Whiterocks)                  Excellent
Portballintrae Excellent
Brown’s Bay  Excellent
Helen’s Bay Excellent
Tyrella Excellent
Murlough Co Down Excellent
Cranfield (Cranfield Bay)             Excellent
Castlerock Good
Ballycastle  Good
Waterfoot Good
Carnlough Good
Ballygally  Good
Crawfordsburn Good
Groomsport Good
Millisle Good
Ballywalter  Good
Portrush (Curran) East                Sufficient
Newcastle Sufficient
Ballyholme Poor

2. DAERA officials, including the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, work closely with a range of stakeholders – Northern Ireland Water, local councils, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, the National Trust and Surfers Against Sewage – to strive for continued improvements to bathing water quality.  

3. DAERA continues to work with Northern Ireland Water to improve the water environment through targeted investment in improved sewage treatment and with the agri-food sector to administer a number of agri-environment incentive schemes.

4. The 1976 EC Bathing Waters Directive set three standards for bathing water quality (Excellent, Good, Poor). The standards relate to the numbers of bacteria in the water.

5. In 2015 a new EC Bathing Water Directive came into effect in full. It introduces standards for bacteria in water which are approximately twice as stringent. It contains four standards; Excellent, Good, Sufficient and Poor. Compliance with these standards is calculated on bathing water quality data over four years.

6. The new ‘Sufficient’ standard is approximately equivalent to the old “Good” standard.

7. In Northern Ireland 23 sites are formally identified under the Bathing Water Directive and a monitoring programme has been in place since 1988. The Directive aims to afford a certain level of health protection to bathers in waters where bathing is traditionally practised by a large number of people.

8. In 2016 DAERA commenced a formal review of bathing waters and sought nominations for candidate bathing waters to be assessed for identification. These are; Cloughey, Kilclief, Ballyhornan and Killough. A consultation on the Department’s proposals will issue later in 2016.

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10. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or email DAERA Press Office: pressoffice.group@daera-ni.gov.uk. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.

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