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Bathing Water Directive

The European Bathing Water Directive aims to protect public health and the environment from pollution at bathing waters.

Waves in the sea

There are many reasons why people visit our coasts and lakes. The cleanliness, or quality of the bathing water, plays a part in the reasons people visit Wales.

Bathing waters – what's our role?

Natural Resources Wales monitors bathing water quality at sites that have been ‘designated’ by the Welsh Government.

  • We monitor 100 bathing waters in Wales and assess whether they comply with the standards of the current Bathing Water Directive (76/1160/EEC)
  • We identify the significant sources of pollution that cause individual bathing waters to fail and progress plans to improve the water quality.
  • We work with the water industry and The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) through the periodic review process to identify and prioritise sewage treatment works and sewerage infrastructure for improvement.
  • We work with farmers and land managers through initiatives such as sustainable drainage systems to identify pollution sources.
  • We work with householders and bushiness to ensure septic tanks and other treatment systems operate effectively. 
  • We also play a role in maintaining good quality bathing waters through our regulatory permitting process.

Bathing Water Directive - who does it affect?

Cleaner bathing water is an obvious benefit to the people using beaches, but it also has a direct effect on the local economy as a result of increased potential for tourism.

In terms of regulation, the Bathing Water Directive affects sewage treatment works and other business and industry, particularly dischargers of sewage affecting designated beaches that are failing to meet the water quality standards required.
Agricultural practices also contribute to pollution of bathing waters. Natural Resources Wales works with householders, farmers, landowners to advise on ways to reduce pollution.

Revised Bathing Water Directive

In 2015, our current directive will be repealed and the revised Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC) will come into force.

The revised directive poses a number of challenges for the Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, local authorities and beach operators. It aims to set more stringent water quality standards and also puts a stronger emphasis on beach management and public information.

Changes to our responsibilities

Within the revised Bathing Water Directive, the main changes that we are responsible for implementing and communicating include:

  • changes to the microbiological parameters measured and a reduction in the general parameters currently monitored
  • a change from measuring compliance using the pass/fail approach to classification based on four classes: poor/sufficient/good/excellent
  • the requirement for all bathing waters to be classed as ‘sufficient’ by 2015
  • the development of bathing water profiles for all bathing waters, and a general description based on the profile to be displayed at the bathing water location
    the ability to supply more information so the public can choose where to bathe


2008 - we generated our first list of bathing waters under the revised Bathing Water Directive
2011 - we published bathing water profiles for all bathing waters
2012 – we began monitoring for a four year classification to be in place by 2015
2015 - we will publish our first classification of bathing waters under the revised Bathing Water Directive