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‘Top of the plops’: Heacham Beach reputation sinks to new low with ‘Brown Flag Award’

The reputation of a village beach plagued by pollution has reached a new low after it was handed a ‘Brown Flag Award’.

Heacham Beach has become renowned as Norfolk’s most noxious beach in recent years, with the standard of the bathing water consistently deemed to be 'poor'.

Debates over the cause of this have been fiercely fought, with many complaining about waste from Anglian Water’s Heacham Wastewater Treatment Works flowing into the sea.

Heacham has been handed a tongue-in-cheek ‘Brown Flag Award’
Heacham has been handed a tongue-in-cheek ‘Brown Flag Award’

However, the water company has insisted that seabirds are the main culprits.

Whatever the cause, the beach has now gained another unwanted tag after research found it has England’s seventh-most unclean sea water - leading to it being handed a ‘Brown Flag Award’ by travel website Holiday Park Guru.

The 'winners' are being offered tongue-in-cheek brown flags featuring a poo emoji to display for swimmers. These beaches are rated as 'poor' by the Environment Agency due to high levels of bacteria such as e-coli from sewage and other waste.

Holiday Park Guru has handed Heacham the 'Brown Flag Award'
Holiday Park Guru has handed Heacham the 'Brown Flag Award'

Liberal Democrat councillor Rob Colwell, who has been outspoken on the problems at Heacham before, has once again slammed the state of the water.

“It is shocking that it is 2024 and we are still allowed to dump waste into the sea,” he told the Lynn News.

“When canvassing around Heacham over the last month, several people have raised their concerns over the fact that they can’t swim at the beaches.

“It is one of the highlights of living in North West Norfolk, and people are being prevented from swimming.

“People are genuinely sad.”

Heacham Parish Council hosted a public meeting to discuss these problems last month, with Anglian Water and the Environment Agency making presentations at the event.

Now, after awarding the village a ‘Brown Flag Award’, Robbie Lane from Holiday Park Guru - who is a keen sea-swimmer - said: “Commiserations to our 13 winners this year – you really are 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.”

An Anglian Water spokesperson told the Lynn News they can “categorically deny” that waste from its site is the cause of pollution at Heacham.

They sent a report which says recent findings have “clearly shown that bird waste from the nearby mudflats is the dominant source of the problem affecting the bathing water quality”.

It adds that the water recycling centre has an ultra-violet light disinfection system which is designed to remove bacteria and harmful viruses.

The report adds: “There is no storm overflow near to the bathing water at Heacham and the Water Recycling Centre has year-round UV treatment, which further cleans the water we return to the environment from the site to protect the bathing water.”

“As we know the poor water quality is not due to any Anglian Water activity, we've been working with the Environment Agency to trace the source of the problem using microbial studies designed to identify potential sources of bacteria.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We have been working for several years on improving the water quality at Heacham.

“We work with the council, Anglian Water, and other partners to identify and reduce pollution sources, which is complex as there is no one clear source at Heacham.

“In addition to this ongoing work, our key priorities this year will be to continue visits in the area and investigate any potential sources of pollution.

“We hope to secure funding to conduct further research into the impact of environmental conditions on Heacham water quality.”

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