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Blue Flag for Beaches and Marinas

East Strand Portrush. Photo by William Brown

In 2016 there were ten 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 on the NI Direct web site.

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 or 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 it’s 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.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful also runs award programmes for beaches with other characteristics and visitor profiles: The Green Coast Awards and the Seaside Awards 

The Criteria for a Blue Flag beach are:

  1. (I) Information about the Blue Flag programme and other FEE eco-label must be displayed
  2. (I) Environmental education activities must be offered and promoted to beach users
  3. (I) Information about bathing water quality must be displayed
  4. (I) Information relating to local eco-systems and environmental phenomena must be displayed
  5. (I) A map of the beach indicating different facilities must be displayed
  6. (I) A code of conduct that reflects appropriate laws governing the use of the beach and surrounding areas must be displayed
  7. (I) The beach must fully comply with the water quality sampling and frequency requirements
  8. (I) The beach must fully comply with the standards and requirements for water quality analysis
  9. (I) No industrial, waste-water or sewage-related discharges should affect the beach area.
  10. (I) The beach must comply with the Blue Flag requirements for the microbiological parameter Escherichia coli (faecal coli bacteria) and intestinal enterococci (streptococci)
  11. (I) The beach must comply with the Blue Flag requirements for the physical parameters including oil, tar, litter and other substances
  12. (G) The local authority/beach operator should establish a beach management committee
  13. (I) The local authority/beach operator must comply with all regulations affecting the location and operation of the beach
  14. (I) Sensitive area management
  15. (I) The beach must be clean
  16. (I) Algae vegetation or natural debris should be left on the beach
  17. (I) Waste disposal bins/containers must be available at the beach in adequate numbers and they must be regularly maintained
  18. (I) Facilities for the separation of recyclable waste materials should be available at the beach
  19. (I) An adequate number of toilet or restroom facilities must be provided
  20. (I) The toilet or restroom facilities must be kept clean
  21. (I) The toilet or restroom facilities must have controlled sewage disposal
  22. (I) On the beach there will be no unauthorised camping or driving and no dumping
  23. (I) Dogs must be prevented from entering the award area
  24. (I) All buildings and beach equipment must be properly maintained
  25. (I) Marine and freshwater sensitive habitats (such as Coral reefs or sea grass beds) in the vicinity of the beach must be monitored
  26. (G) A sustainable means of transportation should be promoted in the beach area
  27. (I) Appropriate public safety control measures must be implemented
  28. (I) First aid equipment must be available on the beach
  29. (I) Emergency plans to cope with pollution risks must be in place
  30. (I) There must be management of different users and uses of the beach so as to prevent conflicts and accidents
  31. (I) There must be safety measures in place to protect users of the beach
  32. (G) A supply of drinking water should be available at the beach
  33. (I) At least one Blue Flag beach in each municipality must have access and facilities provided for the physically disabled

I indicates the criteria must be fulfilled and G indicates that it is considered good practice but is not essential.

Winners of 2017 Blue Flag 

Newry, Mourne & Down District Council

1.       Cranfield West Beach

2.       Murlough Beach

3.       Tyrella Beach

SFFCauseway, Coast and Glens Borough Council

1.       Benone Beach

2.       Downhill Beach

3.       West Strand

4.       Whiterocks Beach

5.       Ballycastle Marina

Mi Mid Ulster District Council 

Ba  Ballyronan Marina

NaNational Trust

Po  Portstewart Strand