Visiting a beach is an extremely popular pastime for both locals and visitors and the Solent has some excellent beaches on offer. From shingle to sand, resort to rural there is plenty to choose from. One way to ensure that you are visiting a safe, clean beach is to look out for those which have won a Solent Water Quality Award, Seaside Award or Blue Flag Award. The Marine Conservation Society's Good Beach Guide is a good source of information on beaches, their facilities and awards, copies are available from 01989 566017.
The Blue Flag is the international accolade for resort beaches with excellent bathing water quality and well managed facilities. The Solent and Isle of Wight boast seven Blue Flag beaches at: West Wittering in West Sussex; Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor on the Isle of Wight; and West Hayling and Beachlands on Hayling Island in Hampshire.
A Quality Coast Award is given to both resort and rural beaches that comply with at least the EU mandatory (good) bathing water standards. Both awards are managed by an organisation called ENCAMS. To be eligible, beaches must also provide visitor information and demonstrate good environmental management. This includes ensuring that the beach has an adequate cleaning regime and that visitors are encouraged to respect the beach environment. All award resort beaches include bans on dogs, whilst rural beaches request owners to be responsible when visiting beaches with their pets.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) provide the latest information on water quality for European beaches.
The facilities offered at a beach and any local restrictions on their use, such as allowing dogs to use them, can usually be found on notices in the beach car park or at main access points to the beach. It is important to read these signs and follow their advice.
The Solent Water Quality Award is a local award for beaches attaining a good standard of water quality as laid down by EU standards. The local authority will indicate this by displaying an Award Plaque together with current water quality results at the beach. They may also fly the Solent Water Quality flag.
Every year, the Environment Agency tests bathing waters on a weekly basis from 15 May to 30 September. They are looking for evidence of sewage related bacteria because there is a risk of contracting ear, nose and throat infections as well as stomach upsets through swimming in contaminated water. The quality of the water is judged against set criteria and when the results are good or excellent there is little risk to your health. You can find the latest results on a beach noticeboard, on the Environment Agency's website or by contacting the relevant local authority.
Over the last fifteen years real improvements in bathing water quality have been made, largely due to investment by the local water company, Southern Water, so that today many more beaches are suitable for bathing. More changes will be seen over the next fifteen years as revisions are made to 1970s policies.
To maximise your enjoyment at the beach there are some simple things you can do to keep you and your family safe.
Checking tide times and weather forecasts is important so that you don't become stranded at high tide and wear appropriate clothing. Resort beaches will have this information on hand in a prominent place and lifeguards or local beach wardens will be able to give you more advice. On hot days it is important to keep covered up and use high factor suncream, particularly on young children and babies, it is also important to drink water regularly to avoid dehydration.
If you decide to go swimming then you should adhere to any beach zones that may be in place and understand the flags used by lifeguards which show where it is safe to swim. You should avoid alcohol and swimming on a full stomach and swim parallel to the shore within your depth. Inflatable toys can be particularly dangerous and it is essential that children are strictly supervised when using them. Some of the larger beaches run safety schemes and zones for children to avoid them getting lost on busy days and it is a good idea to use these. If you find a lost child they should be taken to the lifeguard station, beach office or first aid post.
If you see any suspicious objects such as drums or canisters washed up on a beach don't touch them and inform the lifeguards, beach wardens or Coastguard immediately (dial 999). In you see any signs of water pollution contact the Environment Agency on 0800 807060.
Litter is a big issue on many beaches. It can be dangerous to both people and wildlife and is an eyesore spoiling people's enjoyment. It is very important that all beach users clear up after themselves and use the litter bins or recycling facilities provided at the beach or take all their litter home with them.
Adopt-a-Beach is a coastal environmental initiative organised by the Marine Conservation Society involving local individuals, groups and communities in caring for their coastal environment. Anyone in the UK can adopt their favourite stretch of coast and take part in quarterly beach cleans and surveys to monitor litter throughout the year and help reduce it at source. Further information is available at www.adoptabeach.org.uk or telephone 01989 567815.