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Blue Flag for Beaches

East Strand Portrush. Photo by William Brown

In 2017 there were eight Blue Flag beaches and two Blue Flag marinas in Northern Ireland. The Blue Flag applies only during the current bathing season, from the start of May until mid-September. Individual Operators may decide to fly their flags during a shorter season, but cannot fly it outside the dates in their application.

In order to ensure the highest standards are maintained, Blue Flags must be renewed annually, and they can only be awarded to beaches which have been shown to have excellent water quality consistently throughout the previous four bathing seasons. The water quality on most of our beaches is measured by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs between May and September, and you can check the results by following the link on the page for each beach.

Although the bathing water quality criteria uses the EU Bathing Water directive 'Excellent' standard, the decision that the UK should leave the EU will have no effect on the Blue Flag programme. Participation is voluntary and the standard is applied equally around the world, in countries including Canada, Brazil and South Africa. Brexit will not change the standard required by the accolade prevent Northern Irish Beaches earning it.

In addition to the highest standards of bathing water quality, the criteria for obtaining a Blue Flag include other areas of environmental management, such as waste management and coastal planning and protection.

The Blue Flag Award is the definitive international beach award recognised in 49 countries, owned and run by the independent non-profit organisation Foundation for Environmental Education. The concept of the Blue Flag was born in France. In 1985, French coastal municipalities were awarded with the Blue Flag for complying with sewage treatment and bathing water quality criteria. Since then the Blue flag has grown hugely, with over 4100 beaches around the world now registered in the programme. The programme is designed to raise environmental awareness and increase good environmental practice amongst tourists, local communities and beach and marina operators. With its emphasis on improving environmental impacts, Blue Flags can now be awarded to marinas and even individual boats.

In 2017 the Blue Flag programme is an official supporter of the UNWTO International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

"Approaches to beach management have evolved in recent years as expectations amongst beach users rise and the range of activities on our beaches continues to diversify. The Blue Flag award helps to set a benchmark for standards in beach management, especially during peak season. It very much keeps us on our toes with raising public awareness about a range of beach issues and not just bathing water quality. Having an international award helps to highlight the quality of our beaches".

Richard Gillen, Coast and Countryside Officer, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.

You can download a copy of the criteria which must be met to gain the Awards. For further information on Blue Flag or any of our other beach awards, please contact Jen Firth at jennifer.firth@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.