Plus…England’s 13 dirtiest beaches are awarded ‘Brown Flag Awards’

Dorset is England’s cleanest county for swimming in the sea, according to a new league table.

Almost 90% of Dorset’s beaches are rated as ‘excellent’ for clean water in summer, according to UK travel site Holiday Park Guru, which analysed Environment Agency data from hundreds of beaches.

Devon, Suffolk, and Cornwall make up the rest of the top four.

The 13 dirtiest beaches are being offered ‘Brown Flag Awards’ – including Blackpool (Blackpool North Beach), Weston Super Mare (Weston Main Beach), and Bognor Regis (Aldwick).

The ‘winners’ are being offered complimentary brown flags featuring a poo emoji to display for swimmers (image attached). These beaches are rated as ‘poor’ by the Environment Agency due to bacteria such as e-coli from sewage and other waste.

None of Dorset’s beaches have been awarded Brown Flag Awards for 2024.

Lancashire came bottom of England’s league table with none of its ten designated bathing spots achieving the coveted three-star ‘excellent’ rating for cleanliness. Somerset, Norfolk, Yorkshire and Kent were all in the bottom half of the league table.

The Isle of WightLincolnshire, Northumberland and Essex performed well, with all of their designated bathing areas gaining one of the top two ratings (‘good’ or ‘excellent’).

Keen sea-swimmer, Robbie Lane from Holiday Park Guru said:

We’re hoping to make a real splash in the papers with the launch of England’s first ever ‘Brown Flag Awards’! Commiserations to our 13 winners this year; you really are at the top of the plops. We just hope they’ll take up our offer of a free brown flag, although I’m afraid we can’t quite afford to provide a flagpole as well.”

On a more positive note, high praise is warranted for England’s 273 beaches with the top rating for their water quality – including 34 beaches in Dorset. You can find a full list of all the three star swimming spots at With a bit of research, there’s a good chance you will be the only thing floating in the sea this summer!”

For more details, see:

**Whilst Holiday Park Guru’s ‘Brown Flag Awards’ uses official Environment Agency data, it does not have any official link with the Environment Agency or any other awards. It is intended as a tongue-in-cheek award to support the campaign for cleaner beaches.**

The Brown Flag Awards Winners 2024

The Brown Flag Awards are reserved for those select beaches which score a ‘poor’ rating (or should that be ‘poo rating’) from the Environment Agency’s water quality tests:

  1. Porthluney in Cornwall
  2. Southsea East in Hampshire
  3. Saint Mary’s Bay in Kent
  4. Littlestone in Kent
  5. Blackpool North in Lancashire
  6. St Annes North in Lancashire
  7. Heacham in Norfolk
  8. Weston Main, Weston Super Mare Sand Bay and Weston Super Mare Uphill Slipway in Somerset
  9. Dunster Beach in Somerset
  10. Bognor Regis, Aldwick in Sussex
  11. Tynemouth Cullercoats in Tyne and Wear
  12. Scarborough South Bay in North Yorkshire
  13. Bridlington South Beach in East Riding of Yorkshire

Weston Super Mare’s three water quality reading locations all rated poor but they have just been awarded one Brown Flag Award as Holiday Park Guru can’t afford three flags.

County by county league table for clean beaches

For the 2024 county league table, Holiday Park Guru analysed data at every designated bathing beach in England. The study looked at the percentage of beaches in each county that achieved the Environment Agency’s top rating for water cleanliness (three stars = “excellent”).

Percentage of beaches rated ‘excellent’ by the Environment Agency for sea water cleanliness. From best to worst:

  1. Dorset: 89%
  2. Devon: 86%
  3. Suffolk: 83%
  4. Cornwall: 81%
  5. Tyne and Wear: 78%
  6. Northumberland: 77%
  7. Lincolnshire: 77%
  8. Hampshire and New Forest: 75%
  9. Isle of Wight: 73%
  10. Merseyside: 57%
  11. Essex: 53%
  12. Sussex: 52%
  13. Cumbria: 50%
  14. Norfolk: 50%
  15. Kent: 45%
  16. Yorkshire: 40%
  17. County Durham: 16%
  18. Somerset: 10%
  19. Lancashire 0%

(N.b. some counties have been combined for the table, such as East and West Sussex)

How was the data gathered for the Brown Flag Awards?

Holiday Park Guru used Environment Agency data based on “7,000 samples at…424 bathing waters in England” which is calculated annually based on samples from the previous four years”. (Source: Environment Agency). They excluded rivers and lakes and just focused on beaches.

The water quality readings look for intestinal enterococci and escherichia coli (e-coli) levels to see whether there is ‘faecal matter’ in the water. This comes from ‘sewage, agricultural livestock, wildlife, birds and road drainage’ according to the Environment Agency.

Each bathing resort then receives an official Environment Agency score of: three stars (excellent), two stars (good), one star (sufficient) or zero stars (poor). Overall, 66.4% of England’s monitored resorts currently score a three star rating, whilst 4.3% score zero stars.

Water quality readings are only taken from 15th May-30th September. During the winter, water quality tends to be lower along England’s coastline as higher rainfall causes more sewage and waste water to overflow into the sea and into rivers.

More info:

  • This is a new analysis using publicly available data, gathered from the Environment Agency’s Swimfo Map. The Environment Agency includes lakes and rivers in London, Bristol etc in its data. We manually filtered the data to come up with the Brown Flag Awards, which focus on swimming in the sea on a beach holiday. We also crunched the numbers to create a league table. It is being released now to coincide with the Bank Holiday Weekend and the start of the bathing season on 15th May (that is the date that the Environment Agency considers to be the start of the bathing season).
  • For simplicity and to create larger data sets we have bundled some counties together. We included North East Lincolnshire alongside Lincolnshire, and East Sussex alongside West Sussex as well as combining Yorkshire’s counties.
  • Some resorts have ‘permanent advice against bathing’ such as Clacton (Groyne 41) in Essex. We haven’t included these in our data as they are no longer designated as bathing areas.
  • Weston Super Mare has three different water testing areas, all of which are rated as poor. We’ve only given them one Brown Flag Award for the whole resort as they are close together (and we can’t afford three flags).
  • Holiday Park Guru is an independent blog which mostly focuses on UK staycations. The URL is . It has a sister site called Isle of Wight Guru.
  • On request, we will send one of these tasteful poo emoji flags to any council or other body responsible for a Brown Flag Beach.

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