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Where are the UK’s cleanest and dirtiest beaches?

With many Brits seeking to book the perfect summertime staycation soon, plenty of families will be looking to some of the UK’s most popular beaches where they can enjoy a dip in the sea and revel in the sunshine. However, when deciding which beach locations to pay a visit, hygiene can be an important factor, as some UK waters may be filled with bacteria of all sorts.

Keen to assess the true extent of the bacteria on the beaches of the UK, energy switching site SaveOnEnergy conducted a study of 546 coastal waters in England, Scotland and Wales and analysed official government readings for faecal indicators such as E. coli (EC) and Intestinal Enterococci (IE), before scoring them based on the measurements found. From this, we were able to rank and reveal the UK’s ‘cleanest’ and ‘dirtiest’ beaches, scoring them overall out of 100.

The UK beaches with the cleanest waters

When it came to finding the UK’s cleanest beaches, we scored each UK beach for E. coli and Intestinal enterococci measurements out of 50, combining these to make an overall cleanliness score out of 100. The higher the score, the cleaner the water on that particular beach was found to be.

According to our study, which analysed the quantities of bacteria and faecal indicators, Cornwall was home to the cleanest beaches of all, with four of the top five most hygienic waters being found in this district. In particular, Sharrow and Gyllngvase, both based in the popular coastal destination, had perfect final scores of 100, scoring 50 out of 50 for their waters’ lack of E. coli and Intestinal enterococci, leading them to be labelled the cleanest UK beaches of the 546 studied.

Meanwhile, Wales’ Silver Bay Rhoscolyn beach ranked as having the third cleanest waters in the UK. The beach, which is based in the Isle of Anglesey, scored 49.5 out of 50 for its E. coli measurements, and a perfect 50 out of 50 for Intestinal enterococci, resulting in an impressive overall score of 99.5 out of 100.

Cornwall’s Gwynver and Fistral South also ranked among the top five UK beaches with the most hygienic waters, with both achieving overall scores of 99.3 for their cleanliness and freedom from faecal indicators. Fistral beach also ranked among the top 20 highest rated coastal walks in the UK too! They were also shortly followed by Booby’s Bay, also situated in Cornwall, which was awarded a total overall score of 98.6 out of 100, having scored 49.3 out of 50 for both faecal indicators.

Interestingly, the vast majority of the top 10 cleanest beaches in the UK could be found in England, with only two Welsh beaches ranking this highly and no mention of Scottish beaches.

The beaches in England with the cleanest waters

Most of the UK’s cleanest beaches are situated in England, namely in Cornwall. However, Bournemouth’s Poole Shore Road Beach also ranked within the top five cleanest English beaches, having been awarded a promising score of 50 out of 50 for E. coli and 48.3 for Intestinal enterococci, equating to an overall score of 98.3.

Warkworth in Northumberland also featured as one of England’s cleanest beaches, with an overall score of 98 out of 100. Located less than a mile from the historic Warkworth village, the beach was awarded a score of 48 out of 50 for E. coli and a further 50 out of 50 for Intestinal enterococci.

The beaches in Scotland with the cleanest waters

Scotland’s cleanest beach was found to be Achmelvich, which is situated in the Highland region of the country. Overall, the beach scored 87.1 out of 100 for the cleanliness of its waters. More specifically, the Achmelvich was scored 43.2 out of 50 for its measurements of E-coli and a further 43.9 out of 50 for Intestinal enterococci measurements.

Moreover, Seacliff in East Lothian was revealed to be the second cleanest beach in Scotland. Renowned for being one of the country’s hidden gems, this private beach had an impressive overall score of 85.7 out of 100, after being awarded a score of 40.9 for E. coli and 44.8 for Intestinal enterococci.

Two beaches from Elie also featured among Scotland’s top five cleanest beach waters, Ruby Bay and Earlsferry. Ruby Bay in Fife had an overall score of 73.3, whilst Earlsferry and Elie Harbour had an overall score of 71.7.

The beaches in Wales with the cleanest waters

Silver Bay Rhoscolyn is Wales’ cleanest beach according to our research, with a total score of 99.5 out of 100. The sandy picturesque beach was awarded a perfect score of 50 for Intestinal enterococci and a score of 49.5 for E. coli.

Meanwhile, three of Wales’ most hygienic beaches were all situated in Pembrokeshire, including Marloes Sands, Broad Haven and Barafundle, with respective overall scores of 97.7, 96.8 and 96.7.

Rhosneigr also featured as the Welsh beach with the fifth cleanest waters, with a total score of 96.5 in our study.

The UK beaches with the dirtiest waters

Just as certain UK beaches boasted the cleanest waters, others proved far less hygienic, having been awarded significantly lower scores. Interestingly, of the 10 most dirty beaches in the UK, seven were found in Scotland.

Kinghorn (Harbour Beach) was ranked as the UK beach with the dirtiest water. The Scottish beach, situated in Fife, was awarded a final score of 0.1 in our study, with no points awarded out of 50 for Intestinal enterococci and just 0.1 points awarded for E. coli. It was shortly followed by Strathclyde’s Heads of Ayr and Ayr South Beach, which had respective total scores of 0.3 and 1.1.

The UK beach with the fourth dirtiest water was revealed to be Fisherrow Sands in East Lothian, Scotland. When it came to E. coli, Fisherrow Sands was awarded a score of 0.6 out of 50, and 0.7 out of 50 for Intestinal enterococci, equating to a final score of 1.3.

The only Welsh beach among the 10 filthiest in the UK is Rhyl in Denbighshire, which ranks as the beach with the fifth dirtiest water. Having been awarded a score of 1 out of 50 for E. coli and 0.4 out of 50 for Intestinal enterococci, the beach received a final score of 1.4 out of 100.

English beaches Southwold The Denes and Combe Martin also sat among the top 10 UK beaches with the dirtiest water, with respective final scores of 3.5 and 3.7 based on faecal indicators.

The beaches in England with the dirtiest waters

Southwold The Denes topped the list of England’s dirtiest beaches based on water sample data, receiving a score of 1.7 for E. coli and 1.8 for Intestinal enterococci, equating to an overall score of 3.5.

It was closely followed by English beaches Combe Martin, Morecambe South, Heacham and Tynemouth Cullercoats, which had respective final scores of 3.7, 4.7, 4.9 and 5.6 respectively.

The beaches in Scotland with the dirtiest waters

Kinghorn (Harbour Beach) in Fife ranked as the Scottish beach with the dirtiest water, scoring 0.1 overall based on samples. The popular destination to dog walkers and families was awarded a score of 0.1 for E. coli and 0 for Intestinal enterococci.

Ayr South Beach ranked as the Scottish beach with the third dirtiest water, receiving the minimum score of 0 for E. coli but a slightly higher score for Intestinal enterococci (1.1).

In fifth, Eyemouth in Berwickshire also featured as one of Scotland’s filthiest beaches, with a total score of 3.3. Of that, 0.8 was awarded for E. coli and 2.5 for Intestinal enterococci.

The beaches in Wales with the dirtiest waters

According to our study, based on water sample data, Wales’ dirtiest beach was Rhyl in Denbighshire. The beach with miles of golden sand was awarded a score of 1 for E. coli and 0.4 for Intestinal enterococci, which accumulated to an overall score of 1.4.

Meanwhile, neighbouring beach Rhyl East had a final score of 5.7, making it the beach in Wales with the second dirtiest water. The third filthiest beach in Wales was Cemaes, in the Isle of Anglesey. It was awarded a score of 5.3 for E. coli, but 1.6 for Intestinal enterococci, which made up to a final score of 6.9 out of 100.

Methodology:

  1. SaveOnEnergy.com/uk collected water sample data for England and Wales from one government database and data for Scotland from another government database. Northern Ireland did not provide access to comparable data, and so had to be omitted from the study.

  2. The data collected indicates measurements of Escherichia Coli (E. coli (EC)) and Intestinal Enterococci (IE). These bacteria are known as faecal indicators (FIOs).

  3. SaveOnEnergy.com/uk utilised measurements for the 95th percentile of data, which are calculated according to the government legislations for water safety standards.

  4. The dataset was then filtered for coastal waters, pertaining to beaches.

  5. The cleanest, and dirtiest, beaches were classified based on a combination of the water’s score for EC and IE, where a low combined FIO score translated to a dirtier beach.