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Seaside peril at Hunstanton

15th June 2007 - the following article is reproduced by kind permission of Lynn News

SWIMMERS in Hunstanton have been told to enter the sea at their peril amid concerns that poor standards in water quality could lead to stomach bugs and other illnesses.

The West Norfolk resort has been included on a list of popular holiday destinations where the pollution from sewage and farm effluent is so high the water fails to meet the standards of cleanliness recommended by the European Union.

The revelation has been made in a forthcoming book entitled Sea Change, by Sunday Times Magazine journalist Richard Girling, which claims swimmers face a one-in-seven chance of catching an illness when they go into the sea.

The Marine Conservation Society said the assessment is based on stringent guidelines outlined in the EU Bathing Waters Directive, which was updated last year.

But beaches have until 2015 to meet the new standards and Hunstanton currently achieves the requirements of the directive's original 1976 draft.

However, the resort's main beach has seen its rating on the Good Beach Guide drop for 2007, when it achieved a mandatory pass compared to a guideline pass last year.

Around 35 per cent of the UK's beaches are rated at the same level.

The result means bathers face a 12 to 15 per cent risk of contracting an illness while swimming, compared to just four per cent last year.

Coastal pollution officer Thomas Bell said: "We would not recommend that people swim at beaches which only achieve this basic pass.

"We say the amount of pollution in the water still presents a health risk."

But Mr Bell was keen to stress that this year's guide was based on tests carried out last summer and water quality levels may have increased since.

He said: "Hunstanton has not failed anything, but it only achieves the basic legal pass.

"Last summer, in Norfolk, there were periods of heavy rain which had a huge impact on water quality due to run offs from agricultural land and streets.

"If it has been raining heavily we suggest staying out of the water for a day or two, or visit the Environment Agency website to check the latest results."

But Hunstanton Town Mayor Cllr Richard Bird has slammed the findings and believes the matter has been blown out of all proportion.

He said: "I find it ridiculous to be honest. I was in the water last July and must have been one of a thousand people in the sea. If this figure is to believed there would have been 150 people down the doctors with illnesses.

"I would suggest around one per cent of the people who come here actually go in the water. Most come to go to the promenade and visit the shops, arcades and facilities of the seaside.

"Although we are always pleased to see people in the sea there is a lot more to Hunstanton than just splashing about in the water."

A spokesman for West Norfolk Council said the authority works closely with Anglian Water and the Environment Agency to ensure standards are met and is confident the resort will continue to prosper.

She added: "We only narrowly missed out on a Blue Flag award this year, having achieved it the previous year, and the results for the current period show that Hunstanton has met all the guideline standards.

"Hunstanton has so much more to offer than bathing water, the beaches are clean and safe, the area won a silver Anglia in Bloom award last year and there are many tourist attractions which make the town a great place to visit."

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