West Norfolk’s beaches were given mixed reviews in the Good Beach Guide 2014, with Heacham left celebrating an excellent rating while Hunstanton levels had slipped down to a minimum standard.
The guide was released on Tuesday and a record number of UK beaches were given the Marine Conservation Society’s top water quality award following the driest summer since 2003.
Among these was Heacham Beach, which saw an increase from the mandatory standard of minimum water quality to the recommended standard of excellent water quality.
Peter Colvin, chairman of Heacham Parish Council, said: “We’re very happy that the standard of Heacham beach is being recognised. We have a team of volunteers who regularly clean up the beach and after the tidal surges at the start of the year, the Environment Agency have done a lot to help clean up the beaches and the sea.
“We’re delighted by the news, because it recognises the hard work of our volunteers who give up their time to comb the beaches picking up litter and anything that washes up.”
He added: “We actually have a beach clean-up being held on April 26, organised by the Marine Conservation Society, in exchange for Marks and Spencer vouchers. It all helps to keep our beaches clean for those residents who use them all year round and for visitors.”
Business owners in the area were thrilled at the news and hoped it would help encourage even more tourism in the coastal village.
Barry Willett, the new park manager for Heacham’s Pioneer Holiday Park, said: “Congratulations to Heacham. That’s good news for all our holidaymakers and residents and we’re hoping for a busy season for all the local community.”
Hayley Remon, sales manager at Park Resorts Heacham Beach Holiday Park, said: “Heacham beach achieving an excellent rating is wonderful news for us, because the beach is one of the main reasons so many people holiday here.
“To be able to offer our owners peace of mind that the water quality here is excellent. At times like these when the sun is shining and the beach is so inviting, there is no better place to be.”
It was also good news for Old Hunstanton beach, which saw a rise from a minimum to higher water quality, taking it to a guideline rating.
Just a few miles along the coastline, Hunstanton Main Beach saw a big decline from a previously excellent rating, to a minimum water quality rating. Councillors were disappointed at the downgrade but do not expect to see any change in the number of visitors.
Elaine Clutton, mayor of Hunstanton, said: “People have been coming to Hunstanton for many years because it is a safe, clean beach and beause of the beautiful coastline.
“Hunstanton is still as lovely as ever so we are a bit disappointed with the results, but it is a lovely resort and people will continue to come here because they know and love it.”
Norfolk County Councillor Richard Bird lives in the town. He said: “If there is a lot of flood water like there was this winter, it runs off the fields and into the sea, taking all the stuff the farmers put on the fields with it.
“These things last a very short time but most people aren’t bothered by the rating – if the sun shines, people come down to the beach and paddle in the sea. It won’t make a blind bit of difference, the effect is minimal.”
He added: “Next year we could have a dry winter and the rating could be back to excellent again, but people will still continue to fill our car parks, and our beaches, in the meantime.”
Business owners are not expecting a decline in trade over Easter or the summer months after the beaches stayed busy over the last few sunny days.
Jane Wallis, of Hunstanton’s The Pavillion, said: “I don’t think this would affect those who have been to Hunstanton before, they know the quality of the beach is good for families. But for those who haven’t been before and who see things like this online, it could make a difference.
“If the kids want to build sandcastles on the beach, they can do it here. If people prefer to go to Old Hunstanton, there is only a 20 minute walk between the beaches.
“I haven’t noticed any difference in the numbers visiting Hunstanton. Wednesday was lovely and sunny and there were loads of people on the beach and visiting our great town.”
The results come just months after the east coast of England was hit by the worst tidal surge in 60 years forcing hundreds to evacuate their homes following severe flood warnings.
Marine Conservation Society coastal pollution officer Rachel Wyatt said: “Most people don’t realise what a big impact the weather can have on bathing water quality, but this has really been highlighted in recent years.
“The years 2008, 2009 and 2012 were amongst the wettest summers on record since 1910 and fewer UK bathing waters met minimum and higher water quality standards because of increased pollution running off rural and urban areas and overloaded sewers.”