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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

River quality, flood risk areas and clean beaches

Water quality in England, Wales and Scotland is generally of a high standard. Find out how clean your local beach or river is and check the flooding risks in your area. The 2004 Environmental Information Regulations also give you the right to access environmental information from public bodies.

River quality

In England and Wales, the Environment Agency monitors the quality of river water. In Scotland, this is the job of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Monitoring involves measuring pollutants and looking at the quality of the waterlife present. The information is publicly available to anyone who is interested. Results are published for:

Chemical pollutants and waterlife

Chemistry (pollutants) and biology (waterlife) are monitored, with rivers classified from A (very good quality) to F (bad quality).


Nutrients (substances like nitrates and orthophosphates) are also monitored. Rivers across the country naturally have different levels of these nutrients and they are not necessarily bad for the environment. However, they can sometimes harm wildlife and plants. Waters are classified from grade 1 (very low presence of nutrients) to grade 6 (very high levels of nitrates or excessively high levels of phosphates).


Environment Agency monitoring

In 2009 the Environment Agency monitored 495 bathing waters in England and Wales. Measurements were taken to check for traces of human sewage. Sampling began two weeks before the bathing season (15 May to 30 September) and twenty weekly samples were taken at places where people bathe. Almost all bathing waters (98.6 per cent) met the minimum standards, with 82.2 per cent clean enough to meet much stricter European standards.

SEPA monitoring

Beaches in Scotland are monitored by SEPA. In 2008, 91.3 per cent of Scottish bathing waters met the minimum standards.

Blue Flag beaches

Blue Flag is an independent, international award scheme for beaches that achieve the highest standards. The award is based on the quality of the water, good facilities like litter collection, toilets and life-saving equipment, and other factors. The quality of bathing waters has improved greatly over the last few years. In 2009, 119 beaches in England and Wales were awarded a Blue Flag, compared with 12 in 1987.


Flood maps are available from the Environment Agency. These are searchable by postcode or place name and show whether areas are considered to be at risk of flooding.

The Environment Agency also provides flood warnings and information about how to prepare for flooding if it happens. If you live in an area at risk, you may be able to register for warnings by telephone, mobile, fax or pager. Call the Floodline on 0845 988 1188 or visit the links below for more information.

Parks and green spaces

Green spaces are an important part of the local environment, providing open space and contact with plants and wildlife. Green spaces range from small village greens to National Parks. The Green Flag award is a national standard which recognises the best green spaces in the UK.

Noise, nuisance and litter

Problems like excessive noise, fly-tipping and litter can all have a big impact on your local environment. You can contact your local council to report cases of fly-tipping in your area.

Finding information on the environment

Under the Environmental Information Regulations you can request information from public bodies like local authorities, central government, health authorities, schools and universities.

Environmental information includes information about the following aspects of the environment and any policies, decisions or activities that could affect them:

  • air
  • water
  • soil
  • land
  • plants and animals
  • energy
  • noise
  • waste and emissions

You can find local environmental information by using the Environment Agency's postcode search. The website also provides other information, like sources of pollution in your area. Some of the information provided is detailed and quite technical.

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