Blue Flags, Blue Flag look-alikes and Jolly Rogers

When the first Blue Flags were produced in 1989 for Britain’s foul bathing waters, they were issued to 22 resorts. Inspection of the analyses of these showed that not a single one had been proved to pass the mandatory standard of the 76/160/EC Bathing Waters Directive. Clacton, Lowestoft South, Bexhill, Cullercoats, Eastbourne, Lee-on-Solent, Sidmouth, Seaton, Jacobs Ladder, Blackpool Sands, Crinnis, Sennen Cove, Ansteys and Redgate, Oddicombe and Porthmeor had not been tested for salmonella or enterovirus. Exmouth had, and failed. The Wessex Water Authority, contrary to the stipulations of the EC Directive, declined to allow the results of their 1988 sampling at Bournemouth, Poole, Swanage and Weymouth for study, whilst for Corbyn and Quay West, no results whatsoever were apparent.

In addition to the aesthetic delights of having car-parks, first-aid facilities, accessible telephones, ease of beach access, beach guards, food outlets, toilets to hand, an absence of oil, seaweed and litter etc., the requirements for flying a Blue Flag are that the bathing water must pass both the EC Mandatory and Guideline levels. This most important demand was obviously being ignored, so placing the health of the trusting and unsuspecting users in jeopardy.

Para.15 of the 76/160/EC bathing Waters Directive clearly and unambiguously states, “Whereas public interest in the environment and in the improvement of its quality is increasing; whereas the public should therefore receive objective information on the quality of bathing water.” It was obvious that the Directive demands were being broken both by the false compliances being told to the public and by the absence of information. It was also very obvious that the Blue Flag Commissions own rules were being broken and that action to protect public health was called for.

The North Sea Action Group wrote to the Blue Flag Commission and the Tidy Britain Group immediately demanding rectification, but no such correction came about. Instead the sham continued the following year. The issue was taken to the Department of the Environment, placed before MPs, the tourist organisations and the media, but no apology nor did rectification result. It was then taken to the Advertising Standards Authority. Even they declined action, writing on 11th January 1993 “Matters relating to EC regulations do not fall within the terms of our reference as the ASA is unable to advise on questions of legislation. Although the Code requires that advertisements should be legal, the ASA is not itself a statutory body and cannot interpret or enforce the law.”

Having exhausted all possible actions taken with the UK authorities in an attempt to produce truthful compliance and thus provide a degree of safety to those trusting members of the public who actually believed that the claimed Blue Flag beaches were compliant, the North Sea Action Group took the matter as a formal complaint to the EC section dealing with public protection and environmental law. No response resulted. It was found after a year that the first submission and packs of evidence had failed to arrive. A duplicate was sent, which also never reached its destination. After eighteen wasted months of waiting a further pack was sent by courier in the form of Ken Collins MEP, Chairman of that committee. Investigative action began at last, and is still ongoing today.

It slowly became apparent that a reluctance to take action was evidenced and that a conspiracy appeared to exist that was much wider than just the United Kingdom. This may have been due to the fact that in January 1998 when Tony Blair was President of the European Parliament, true to the policies of the previous Conservative government in blocking all attempts made to improve our British beaches, washed his hands of an agreement made in 1996 to tighten standards and demand mandatory monthly sampling for enteroviruses, as well as covering all waters used for recreational purposes. He decided that the proposal would not come about in his Presidency. It still has not!

The North Sea Action Group produced evidence on the continuing scam to the 1989/90 House of Commons Environment Committee Enquiry into the Pollution of Beaches who reported in their conclusions (page xii, Volume 1, Report with Appendix ISBN 0 10 298090 X on ‘Inshore Bathing Water Quality, The EC Bathing Water Directive’) “We are convinced by the balance of evidence which we have received that, considered as a whole, the microbiological standards in the EC Bathing Water Directive are defective, with the result that, insofar as they relate to enteroviruses and salmonella there appears to be a tacit agreement between member States and the Commission to ignore them. However, we consider that in order to protect amenity and public health, sound bacterial and virus standards are essential; and these standards should as far as possible.”

It became apparent that direct action was needed, so the North Sea Action Group published many thousands of leaflets handing them out to bathers innocently using many mandatory failing ‘Blue Flag’ resorts. The pamphlets provided the factual status of the bathing water, a warning of the possible consequences of swimming in it, advice on what do if they succumbed to an infection, and who to write to attempt to get compliant bathing beaches. The resultant widespread media publicity obviously caused embarrassment to the ‘responsible’ authorities, as ‘look-alike awards’ came into being within a year.

Presumably to combat the exposure, Seaside, Golden Starfish, Rural Awards and various other Blue Flag look-alike awards were bestowed on many beaches that failed the Blue Flag standard, anxiously taken up by the tourist authorities of numerous seaside councils who over-ruled the public health concerns. To this very day we still have seen no action from either the UK or Europe, and various awards are being bestowed up resorts that are not proved to meet the European standards required.

The moral of this story is that you need to verify the claim made, not on the obvious aesthetic attributes but on the level of sewage bacteria and viruses present. Check it out with our Good Beach Guide to see if the bathing water has actually passed both the imperative mandatory and the guideline standard of the 76/160/EEC Bathing Waters Directive, and to what degree. Then, and only then, decide if you wish to enjoy recreation at that resort.

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