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Laws & Compliance 

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The Water Framework Directive (WFD) focuses on ensuring good qualitative and quantitative health, i.e. on reducing and removing pollution and on ensuring that there is enough water to support wildlife at the same time as human needs.

The Habitats Regulations form the foundation of the UK’s nature conservation laws and the UK’s compliance with international environmental treaties. According to Wildlife & Countryside Link coalition, the Habitats Regulations are effective and fit-for-purpose regulations, and any revocation or significant reform would weaken nature protections risks significant costs and delays to the UK’s environmental obligations, commitments and reputation, nature and people, and those interacting with the current regime. They say that the Government should retain and strengthen these regulations, building on the strong foundations offered by these most important of site and species protection rules.

To protect our waterways and the health of swimmers, the Environment Agency monitors the water quality at more than 400 designated beaches and inland waters across England. The sampling programme is set out in law in the Bathing Water Regulations. During the bathing water season, our officers take around 7000 samples across designated bathing water sites and these samples are then tested in the lab. The results can be found on our Swimfo website, enabling swimmers to make an informed choice.

Water Quality standards have been set for Bathing Waters based on World Health Organisation research into the incidence of stomach upsets in people bathing in waters with different levels of bacteria. Water is tested for two types of bacteria, E. coli and intestinal enterococci. These bacteria usually get into water from sewage and animal manure. Tests are carried out regularly, usually weekly, by government environmental agencies between 15 May and 30 September in England and Wales, and 1 June and 15 September in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Bathing Waters are categorised as ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’ or ‘poor’ on the basis of bacteria levels. Sites are rated annually, and on a short term basis in response to temporary pollution. By law, the local council must display information, online and on signs at Bathing Waters, about water quality and pollution sources during the bathing season. If there is a temporary pollution incident they must explain the nature of the problem and how long it’s likely to last. If a Bathing Water is classified as ‘poor’, an ‘advice against bathing’ symbol must be put up on site and online, along with information about pollution sources and what action is being taken to clean it up. This doesn’t mean you can’t swim – the sites remain open – but there might be an increased risk of getting ill.

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