Ballyholme beach has NI’s dirtiest water

    By Lesley Walsh

    BANGOR’S Ballyholme beach has the worst bathing water in Northern Ireland, according to a new report.
    The local strand, which is popular among sea swimmers, is the only coastal bathing water in the Province to fail to reach minimum quality standards.
    The 2022 results of Bathing Water Compliance tests revealed that Ballyholme dropped from ‘Sufficient’ to ‘Poor’ this year, news that will concern the dozens of sea swimmers who flock regularly to the popular beach.
    Not far round the coast, both Crawfordsburn and Groomsport clinched the top spot of ‘Excellent’ however, Helen’s Bay dropped one space from that classification to score ‘Good’. Elsewhere in the borough, beaches at Ballywalter, Millisle and Cloughey also achieved the highest standard.
    The local beaches were among 26 bathing waters around Northern Ireland’s coast to have been tested, with 21 others being deemed ‘Excellent’ – a prerequisite for the coveted Blue Flag Award.
    The water tests were carried out in the context of stringent water quality standards set out in The Quality of Bathing Water Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008.
    Results were assessed from 20 samples collected at each beach during the bathing season which annually runs from June 1st to September 15.
    The drop in quality at Ballyholme comes after considerable effort has been expended by Northern Ireland Water to improve sewage treatment in the Ballyholme area, including a new treatment plant at Luke’s Point.
    A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) described the situation at Ballyholme as ‘very disappointing’.
    “The higher bacterial counts happened after wet weather events when our waters experienced pressures from both waste water overflows and from farm runoff,” he said.
    “We are determined to see improvement here and we will be redoubling our efforts and continuing to work with both NI Water and the agriculture sector to investigate the sources and to reduce water pollution.”
    A spokesman for Ards and North Down Council stated that with DAERA being the responsible authority for bathing water quality, the council was its ‘operator’.
    “As bathing water operator, the council is required to update signage and notify the public if bathing is not recommended due to poor water sample results,” he said.
    “Four of the beaches we manage were classified as excellent for water quality in 2022, with Ballyholme receiving a poor classification. While this is disappointing, there were only two occasions during the bathing season when advice was issued to the public to avoid using the beach, with the majority of water samples taken indicating excellent water quality at Ballyholme.”
    “The poor water quality results in September were likely the result of heavy rainfall at the end of that month. This often results in agricultural runoff which impacts beaches with watercourses such as Ballyholme. “

    Excellent Quality





    Brown’s Bay







    Magilligan Benone

    Magilligan Downhill


    Murlough (Co Down)

    Portballintrae Salmon Rock

    Portrush Curran (East Strand)

    Portrush Mill (West Strand)

    Portrush Whiterocks



    Good Quality


    Helen’s Bay


    Sufficient Quality


    Poor Quality