BLUE flags are flying on 341 beaches across France as the 25th Pavillon Bleu awards are announced – with 21 beaches cleaning up their acts to get their new flag this year.
The eco-label, which has run in France for 25 years, gives local authorities a push to improve and the 21 new beaches include the likes of Cannes, Dieppe and Honfleur which had previously been stripped of the award.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region has the most Blue Flag beaches with 25 communes represented and its Hérault department is a stand-out winner with 12 on the list.
The next best regions are Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, with 20 and Pays de la Loire, 14.
The Var department is close behind the Hérault with 10 communes on the list, then the Gironde with eight; followed by the Charente-Maritime, Loire-Atlantique, Seine-Maritime and the Vendée, all on seven.
Every coastal department has at least one Blue Flag beach except the Eure (Haute-Normandie), the Landes and Pyrenées-Atlantiques (Aquitaine).
Flying the flag means the local authority has a clean beach, with toilets, good disabled access, safe and clean sea water and plenty of rubbish collection facilities.
It also means the authority is aware of wider environmental considerations and is actively promoting them.
Pavillon Bleu is a voluntary scheme – free in the first year but costing e990 for communes of more than 10,000 thereafter. The group does not publish a list of beaches that fail the tests.
The private nature of the scheme is the reason that towns in the Landes and Pyrénées-Atlantiques have boycotted the Pavillon Bleu for years.
More stringent European legislation on water quality comes into force in 2014.
Communes will have to take more water tests – at least one a month depending on the length of the swimming season – and allowable pollution limits will be cut.
A study by surfing group Surfrider found more than 150 French beaches do not comply with the 2014 water safety standards – particularly for contamination with E-coli and fecal bacteria.
The majority of beaches are in the north-west where, for example, Brittany’s elongated bays make it difficult for seawater to wash pollution away. Finistère is badly affected and 41 beaches from 25 communes could face closure.
Beaches at Telgruc-sur-Mer, Brest, Ploumoguer, Lampaul, Guissény and Plougoulm have bacteria levels over the maximum in 25% of their samples – but the majority of resorts are only marginally better.
However, Le Conquet in Finistère won the Blue Flag this year after rethinking the way its beaches at Porsliogan and Portez were being used and set up a shuttle bus to avoid unsightly car parks and other pollution – and improve access for the handicapped.
Despite having the longest coastline in France Brittany has few Blue Flag resorts: seven in Loire-Atlantique, one in Côtes d’Armor, four in Finistère (including Le Conquet) and Ille et Vilaine has doubled its quota to two with St Briac sur Mer’s win.
Winning the Blue Flag can make a difference even for a resort like Cannes, on the Côte-d’Azur. It won back its Blue Flag 10 years after losing it and David Lisnard, premier adjoint to the mayor, said:
“We could live well enough without the Blue Flag, but we live better with it.”
The resort spent the 10 years since losing its title cleaning up its act removing obsolete infrastructure and installing a new sewage works .
Dieppe, too, lost its Blue Flag several years ago – in 2001 – and has doubled water quality checks, improved wheelchair access and made it easier for old people, mums-to-be and children to get on the beach.