SIX beaches across south Essex have been downgraded in the 2008 Good Beach Guide.

Jubilee Beach, in Southend, failed to meet the standards of water quality set by the Marine Conservation Society which surveys all the UK's beaches.

Last year, Jubilee Beach was given a basic pass mark.

This year, it failed even to meet the mandatory water quality standard for such a grade.

It was one of just two beaches in the South East not to reach the legal standard - based on the level pollution from human sewage and animal waste.

However, nationwide the number of bathing spots recommended for excellent water quality in the society's annual guide fell by 10 per cent.

It pins this on an increase in sewage, street debris and animal waste washed down to the sea by storms last summer - the new guide is based on measurements taken between May and September 2007.

Labworth Beach, Canvey, Chalkwell Beach, Three Shells and Thorpe Bay all dropped two grades, from Recommended to a Basic Pass.

Shoebury Beach dropped one grade, from Recommended to (Minimum Legal) Guideline. Only four beaches retained their 2007 status - Westcliff Bay, Shoebury East, Leigh Bell Wharf and Thorney Bay, on Canvey.

Only two of those were awarded the top Recommended status, Westcliff Bay and Shoebury East.

Thomas Bell, the society's coastal pollution officer, said: "These latest results buck the long-term trend of cleaner bathing water, but we're pinning the blame squarely on last summer's exceptionally bad weather.

"Heavy rain sweeps pollutants such as raw sewage, street debris and animal waste directly from the land into rivers and the sea.

"Not all beaches are affected, but the problem for swimmers is knowing when and where this has happened."

Ray Howard, county councillor for Canvey and Castle Point borough councillor responsible for environment, disagreed with the survey.

He said: "There is no doubt the public enjoys using our beaches.

"Thousands of people flock to the beaches on Canvey when the weather is nice.

"That, to me proves it. Not only Canvey people, but some from many miles away come here, which is wonderful.

"Beaches have to be kept up to standard and that is a partnership between the public and council. People have to realise they can't throw litter on the beach. The council's responsibility is to keep cleansing and maintenance up to a high standard."

The society's Recommended status scheme is one of five UK beach standards, but is the only scheme to focus entirely on water quality standards and the risk of sewage pollution.

Three Shells set to lose its Blue Flag, as well

A POPULAR Southend beach is losing its prized Blue Flag status because of poor water quality.

The international awards scheme is a measure of water quality, beach cleanliness and facilities.

The status of Three Shells Beach has been downgraded from "Recommended" to "Basic Pass" in the Good Beach Guide.

It is also set to lose its Blue Flag status when the 2008 awards are published in June, according to Southend councillor John Lamb.

He said the downgrading was due to the quality of the water off the beach.

He explained: "We had a meeting with Anglian Water and the Environment Agency which confirmed there was no discharge from a pumping station. What is reducing our water quality is what is washed through after heavy rain.

"People have to get better at taking litter away with them and not leaving it about on kerbs or in parks.

"There is a problem with people not picking up dog waste, which gets washed down the storm drains or into Prittlewell Brook and then washed out to sea."

He added: "The water quality is better than it has been for years though and is still safe to swim in."

Mr Lamb added the Blue Flag status of the five other Southend beaches was not at risk this year.

Blue Flag and the Marine Conservation Society, which produces the Good Beach Guide, both use data from the Environment Agency, but employ different criteria in grading beaches.

Catherine Burbage, a spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: "The Marine Conservation Society has the highest standards in measuring water quality, but both are trying to show tourists which beaches to go to."

Traders' view

TRADERS are disappointed at Jubilee Beach's failure to meet the standard for water quality set out in the new Good Beach Guide. Roger Fisher, chairman of the Southend Seafront and Business Association said the two conflicting surveys were confusing and would hurt trade. He added: "If you look back 15 years, there is a vast overall improvement with the quality of the water. "It is nonsense to place much credence and reliability on an annual report. Even if it were done monthly, there would be blips. It needs to be done more frequently. "The Blue Flag is something to shout about, which tells visitors they will have a safe and clean environment."