Popular Wicklow beach fails again to earn Blue Flag status

Bray Beach, which faces a long wait for its next Blue Flag.

Tom GalvinBray People

The founder of Bray’s Coastcare volunteer group has expressed his disappointment that the coveted Blue Flag will not be flying on Bray beach this year, as it emerged that despite a record-breaking 159 recipients of a Blue Flag and/or Green Coast award, Bray is yet again not among them.

Bray South Promenade lost its Blue Flag status last year, after its water quality was downgraded from ‘Excellent’ to ‘Good’, the second highest classification available based on analysis of bathing water samples over the past four bathing seasons.

Bray last flew a Blue Flag in 2021, when it was awarded the cherished status for a fourth consecutive year, after the Environmental Protection Agency rated the water quality as ‘Excellent’.

While the news is a blow to Bray’s swimmers, those further down the coast in Greystones can look forward to a dip in pristine waters as the town’s South Beach is one of three in the county to be awarded a Blue Flag, along with Brittas Bay North and Brittas Bay South. A total of 84 beaches and 10 marinas were awarded the Blue Flag for 2023.

After it was stripped of its Blue Flag last year, Bray Municipal District was told then that it could be another four years before the beach regains its status.

District Engineer Liam Bourke said Bray tends to obtain consistently excellent water quality results, however, one of the six samples taken saw a drop in quality. As the water quality is measured as an average over four years, he said it would be at least four years before Bray is given its Blue Flag again.

In addition to sewage treatment and bathing water quality, criteria for obtaining a Blue Flag include other areas of environmental management, such as waste management, coastal planning and protection, as well as public facilities.

Meanwhile, despite a total of 65 beaches across the country being bestowed with a Green Coast Award, there were none for County Wicklow, which will be a severe blow to the Coastcare volunteers in Bray, who do monthly clean-ups of the beach, harbour and seafront areas.

The Green Coast Awards were first presented back in 2003, beginning with four beaches in County Wexford, before being rolled out nationally in 2008. An important aspect of the Green Coast Awards is the involvement of Clean Coasts groups, and the founder of Bray Coastcare, Séamus Connor, expressed his dismay that Bray’s beach is without a Blue Flag or a Green Coast award, despite his team’s efforts.

“The Blue Flag emblem guarantees visitors a very high environmental quality, not just in terms of bathing water quality but also in terms of the range of facilities offered, such as litter and recycling bins, disabled access, toilet facilities, dog control, car parking and educational projects. Therefore, it is a real shame that once again Bray has failed to achieve this award,” he said.

“Bray Coastcare volunteers have worked tirelessly over the last 16 years to improve the coastal areas of our town and we have made massive improvements, for example, collecting 42 large bags of litter and filling a whole skip on our first ever clean up in 2007, to collecting an average of about five bags of litter from our beach, harbour, cliff walk and Bray Head areas in 2023.

“But to achieve a Blue Flag is a massive team effort, and although amazing work has been done and progress has been made by our group and other shareholders, such as our local authority, more needs to be done to ensure we meet the high standards set when it comes to our water quality and reduction in litter and dog fouling.

“Another area I personally think we can improve on is in education. We should have more educational projects on the topic of environmental awareness and responsibility in our classrooms, but also on our beautiful coastline.

“We live in a stunning town, so why not use it as the classroom from time to time? Over the past few years, I have gone into St Cronan’s Boys’ National School to give a talk to all sixth class pupils on the topic of ‘Our Environment, Our Responsibility’, which has been received really well, with some students years later saying ‘Hello’ to me on Bray Main Street and telling me that not only do they not litter, but that they join in with their local residents’ groups in keeping their local area clean and tidy.

“I think it is crucial that both Bray Municipal District and Wicklow County Council carefully study the report they will receive in order to find out the reasons why we have failed to meet the standards, to figure out how to fix the problems and get it done as a matter of urgency. It is clear that the award brings massive benefits, not just environmentally but also economically, to our town, so Bray Coastcare would love to see us not only achieve Blue Flag status but retain it year on year,” he added.

Bray Coastcare has received awards from An Taisce in the past, such as the Best Coastcare Group for the island of Ireland in 2008, and Mr Connor added that while receiving a Green Coast Award would be a remarkable achievement, “at the same time I must be realistic as most beaches that have a Green Coast Award are small beaches or coves, with very little human footfall, and as we know, Bray can become a very busy place, especially during the summer months”.

Mr Connor added that he intends to explore the issues further with the relevant authorities and aim to improve Bray’s chances of an award next year.