Swimmers, sailors, surfers, sandcastle builders – all sorts of people love our coastline. Perhaps it’s because our beaches are among the cleanest, safest and best beaches in Britain. And we’re not just saying that. We’ve got the Blue Flags to prove it.

43 Blue Flags are flying at 40 beaches, three marinas and one boat tour operator. 2019 marked 31 years of the Blue Flag scheme in Wales - and once again Wales has more Blue Flag beaches per mile than anywhere else in the UK.

In Wales, we love getting sand between our toes – there are more than 100 beaches dotted along our coastline – and of these, 40 beaches were awarded Blue Flags in 2019. In addition, 18 beaches in Wales have gained the Green Coast Award – recognising the ‘hidden gems’ along our coastline – and a further 40 beaches have achieved the Seaside Award for their good water quality and facilities.

Sculpture on the beach
Golygfa o gwch a Phont y Bermo, Gwynedd

Barmouth, Gwynedd

That’s great! But what does a Blue Flag actually mean?

It’s an internationally recognised ecolabel, awarded to beaches and marinas for cleanliness, safety and high quality amenities.

Where in Wales are the most popular Blue Flag beaches?

As some of the best beaches in Wales, they’re scattered right round the coast. Pembrokeshire is the record-breaker: the only other county in the UK with as many flags is Devon. Other hotspots include Gower, Ceredigion, Gwynedd and Anglesey. Surfers ride the waves at Langland Bay, Newgale and Whitesands, while kitesurfers jump them at Rest Bay and Dinas Dinlle. Those who love traditional seaside fun head for Tenby, Porthcawl and Barmouth. There are also masses of family friendly beaches to visit.

Tenby harbour at low tide with houses and Caldey Island in the background.
Cliff at Tenby, Pembrokeshire Coast National park.

Tenby, Pembrokeshire

Who awards Blue Flags?

The International Blue Flag Jury, which meets twice a year and consists of environmentalists, conservationists and lifesavers. These impressive individuals are appointed by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), a non-profit organisation which aims to promote sustainable development worldwide.

Do they have to visit every single beach in the world (and if so, can I apply for the job)?

No, their task is to read the written applications they receive. Not all beaches are put forward: it’s up to the local authorities which look after them to decide whether to apply. Each applicant must collect and analyse seawater samples on a regular basis and pass numerous other tests. In Wales, this process is organised by Keep Wales Tidy.

Coastal View of Abersoch, Llŷn Peninsula.

Abersoch, Gwynedd

What are the main things a beach needs to win a Blue Flag?

As well as cleanliness, it needs good all-round management. Appropriate facilities including toilets, drinking water and lifeguards or lifesaving and first aid equipment must be in place. Public information and education are also important: maps, natural history information and up-to-date details of local water quality should be on display. In total, there are 32 criteria to fulfil.

Once a Blue Flag has been awarded, can it be taken away?

Yes. Each flag is awarded for a single season and it can be withdrawn if the beach no longer meets the scheme’s high standards. On the relatively rare occasions that this happens, much thought goes into getting the award back.

If you’re disappointed to hear a beach has lost its Blue Flag, find out what’s gone wrong. Sometimes changes occur unexpectedly – for example, in a very rainy summer, unusually high levels of pollution from agricultural and urban areas may wash into the sea. If the problem is minor, chances are it will soon be fixed.

Surfer on the beach.
Sandcastle on the beach

Whitesands Bay, Pembrokeshire

And what about the beaches that have never had a Blue Flag?

There are many small, wild beaches in Wales which, lovely though they are, don’t participate in the Blue Flag programme. However, Keep Wales Tidy runs two local schemes, the Seaside Awards for well-managed rural and resort beaches and the Green Coast Awards for environmental protection in rural areas, to give the best of these beaches the recognition they deserve.

To see where all our award winning beaches are located, take a look at Keep Wales Tidy’s map of award-winning beaches in Wales.

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