A shingle beach in the Bradford district had the highest level of faecal matter of all UK waters analysed in a new study.

The Wharfe at Cromwheel, Ilkley, is a popular tourist spot and can be accessed from the Riverside Walk footpath alongside the river. When the river level is low, a gently sloping shingle beach is exposed.

It was the first section of a river in England designated a bathing water site.

But, according to a study by waste collection company, Clear It Waste, it ranks as the UK's worst beach for water quality if you’re looking to enjoy a swim this summer. 

The company said the Wharfe at Cromwheel, Ilkley, is the best beach to avoid for swimmers with the highest count of E.coli cfu per 100ml (839) and an overall cleanliness score of 1.65/10.

Escherichia Coli (E. coli) is bacteria typically found in the intestines of humans and animals, if a person is exposed to it symptoms can include diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

Clear It Waste said: "The E. coli counts in this study are a strong indicator of sewage or animal waste contamination."

Tests also showed an average E. faecalis count (cfu/100ml) of 1579. That compares with a count of just 79 in the waters of Scarborough's South Bay.

The E. faecalis counts indicate the contamination of faecal matter in water. Symptoms of E. faecalis exposure can include fever, nausea and vomiting.

The report adds: "Located in the Bradford district, the waters surrounding this beach have been impacted by an average E. faecalis count of 1,579 cfu/100ml, the highest of all UK waters analysed in the study."

The Environment Agency tests bathing waters throughout the summer months.

In the three years since it was designated a bathing site, Wharfe at Cromwheel has been classified as ‘Poor’ for bathing water quality.

In response to these poor results, the Environment Agency started an investigation into the bacteria used to assess bathing water quality. It also sampled upstream and downstream of several Yorkshire Water sewage treatment works upstream of the Cromwheel at Hebden, Grassington, Burnsall, Beamsley and Draughton and added another fixed bacterial unit at Burnsall.

It blamed bad weather as a significant influencing factor in the bathing water quality at Cromwheel.

Publishing the results last month it said: "After rain, bacterial levels at all sampling sites, from Kettlewell to Cromwheel, are elevated, indicating that activities across the whole Wharfe catchment are impacting on bathing water quality, and none of the four upstream sites tested met the bathing water standards in 2022 and 2023.

"During dry conditions at Cromwheel, there are similar levels of bacteria from both human (water company sewage discharges and private septic tanks) and agriculture (cows and sheep) sources. Following rainfall, which leads to increased run off of water from the land in the catchment, this distribution changes, with the amount of bacteria from cows and sheep becoming much more significant than sewage and keeping bacteria levels high in the river for over 48 hours after the rain.

"The analysis shows that while sewage inputs close to Cromwheel have a short-lived impact on bathing water quality, the catchment-wide agricultural input from further upstream leads to longer term high bacterial levels in the river."

Yorkshire Water is to improve the sewer network as part of country-wide investment from water companies.

The EA has increased compliance checks on water company assets and the number of officers dedicated to regulation. This includes all 11 Yorkshire Water Sewage Treatment Works in the catchment above Cromwheel, Ilkley Sewage Treatment Works downstream, storm overflows within the catchment and pumping stations within 5km upstream of Cromwheel.

A number of private discharges have been inspected to check compliance with permits such as fish farms, private sewage treatment plans and trade sites.

The EA's agriculture team is providing advice to farmers in the Wharfe catchment on slurry and manure management and checking compliance with the regulations, and offering guidance on access to grants to make improvements.

The report concluded: "The journey to improving bathing water quality at Cromwheel is complex and needs a co-ordinated effort from the whole community and partners - including the water company, farmers, land managers, tourist sites and residents - to identify and progress action to improve the bathing water quality."

The latest research was conducted by Clear It Waste UK