Burnham-On-Sea beach

The Environment Agency says sea swimming will not be encouraged on Burnham-On-Sea’s main beach ‘for the foreseeable future’ due to continuing water quality concerns.

The agency has written to Burnham and Highbridge Town Council to confirm the news following its latest test of the water quality on the main beach next to the jetty.

Signs have been put up advising people not to swim and the beach will also be de-designated as ‘bathing water’.

The Agency’s Environment Manager Jim Flory says: “The Environment Agency has issued permanent advice against bathing at Burnham Jetty at Burnham-On-Sea.”

“This advice is issued under the Bathing Water Regulations because water quality has been classified as ‘Poor’ for five consecutive bathing seasons at Burnham.”

He adds: “The beaches’ location at the mouth of the Brue and Parrett and the associated catchment areas that these rivers drain has meant it has not been possible to achieve the improvements we would have all liked to have seen.”

“This is despite the huge efforts made through the Bathing Water Steering Group. However, the enormous investments in time, resources and infrastructure have resulted in significant improvements in quality over the last 10 years.”

“We will continue to work with the Steering Group to ensure that the improvements made to date remain.”

“If any future developments occur that could influence the bathing water we will assess these in relation to the possible impact on the beaches’ water quality.”

The Agency says it will continue to take occasional water quality samples during this year’s bathing season to confirm that there is no deterioration in quality.

A spokeswoman added that while bathing at Burnham beach is not ‘banned’, it is prohibited.

She explained: “Under the Water Framework Directive the bathing water quality at Burnham Jetty has been classified as Poor. This is the fifth consecutive time it has been classified as Poor. As a result the directive requires that signs are put up advising people not to swim, the beach will also be de-designated as a bathing water meaning that it will no-longer be routinely monitored. Swimming is not prohibited, the directive only serves to provide information on water quality to allow people to make informed decisions on whether they wish to use the water or not. The beach remains open for people to use and enjoy.”

“One of the main sources affecting water quality at Burnham Jetty is ‘diffuse pollution’, which is where pollution washes off the land and flows down streams and rivers and into the sea, this comes from both agricultural and urban land.  Pollution can also come from sewage treatment works and combined sewer overflows (CSOs).”

“The Environment Agency has been working with Wessex Water, Sedgemoor District Council, Burnham Town Council, Natural England, the Internal Drainage Board, local tourism groups and the NFU to try and reduce the possible sources of pollution affecting the beach at Burnham.”

“This has resulted in Wessex Water completing a £36 million programme of sewerage improvements, in and around Bridgwater, aimed at reducing storm water discharges from combined sewer overflows (CSO), improving sewage treatment and building sewerage capacity to meet future growth in and around Bridgwater.”

“Wessex Water has an additional scheme planned at West Huntspill sewage treatment works, which will be completed by 2020, aimed at further improving the quality of the discharge from the works.  In the meantime Wessex Water have put in place additional temporary treatment to improve the discharge from the works until the permanent work can be completed.”

“We have worked with Wessex Water to reduce the number of misconnections (foul sewer connections to surface water drainage) from homes and businesses via the StreamClean partnership.”

“Together with our partners we have conducted catchment walkovers to identify potential sources of pollution, and taken remedial action where possible. Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming officers have worked with farmers to tackle potential pollution sources by introducing better farming practices. This includes advice and access to funding to improve, for example, storage facilities, manure management and improved yard drainage. Since 2007, more than 2,000 farms have been visited and £16million in grants issued.”

“We have continued to support the Litter Free Coast and Sea Somerset campaign, led by the Severn Estuary Partnership. The project aims to educate and influence behaviours that can protect and improve bathing water quality, such as fewer cases of sewer blockages from fat and flushed objects triggering combined sewer overflows.”

“There have been significant improvements in the water quality at Burnham as a result of these measures, however this has not resulted in the beach passing the higher standards set by the new Bathing Water Directive. The reason for this is linked to the beach’s location next to the mouth of the Rivers Parrett and Brue. As a result the beach is often washed by river water that has drained from these two very large catchments. This in turn has made it extremely difficult to control every source of bacteria that may affect the beach across an area of several hundred square kilometres.”

Town councillor Cllr Nick Tolley confirmed at a meeting of councillors: “Sadly there is no end date when swimming will be allowed at the moment.”

Burnham Jetty North was one of 10 beaches across the UK that were previously regarded as safe but are now deemed unsuitable for swimming under the EU’s sea water safety standards. It is widely acknowledged locally that the sea water quality has improved over the years but more stringent testing does not identify this.

The water quality concerns resulted in Burnham’s annual summer Stert Island sea swim being cancelled, as reported here in 2016, ending a 15-year tradition.

Pictured: Archive photos of Burnham-On-Sea beach in previous seasons


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