Located within Cardigan Bay and measuring approximately 600 metres in length, this north west facing bay is backed by sand dunes and is divided by the River Teifi, which flows onto the beach. The land surrounding the beach is predominantly agricultural, with the town of Cardigan located approximately 3 kilometres south east of Poppit Sands. The coastal waters and coastal belt form part of the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation, confirming the high conservation status of the area. The bathing water also lies within Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The water quality sample is located at the centre of the beach, to the north of the car park.
Natural Resources Wales continues to work with Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion County Council and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water to identify sources of pollution that may impact on Poppit Sands.
Inspections are carried out by Natural Resources Wales in partnership with the local authority and the water company. These are carried out pre-season (before the 15th of May) and mid-season, if required (during the bathing water season).
Discharges from storm overflows can occur within the vicinity of the bathing water. These discharges occur when heavy rainfall overwhelms the sewage system and causes diluted sewage to spill. They protect domestic properties in Cardigan from being flooded by sewage during periods of heavy rainfall.
A project known as Event Duration Monitoring (EDM) is underway to install telemetry on Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) within 2km of a bathing water by 2020 so that Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) know when the CSOs are operating and can work to reduce spills. One CSO near Poppit West is included in the project.
Wrongly connected waste water pipes affect the water quality of rivers and the sea. Any misconnections are investigated by the local authority.
Modern sewerage systems have two separate systems, one takes foul sewage to sewage treatment, the other takes rainwater runoff through surface water drains to rivers, lakes and the sea. Misconnections occur when waste water pipes are plumbed into surface water drains instead of the foul water sewerage system. This can give rise to pollution when the waste water is discharged directly to the environment through the surface water drain. For example, a washing machine or toilet may be incorrectly plumbed so that it discharges to the surface drain rather than the foul sewage drain.
Phytoplankton (microscopic algae) naturally increase in number at certain times of the year. This process is known as a phytoplankton bloom. These algal blooms can occur at any beach during the bathing season and are usually noticeable by a surface scum. This beach has a history of such blooms.
This bathing water is subject to short term pollution. Short term pollution is caused when heavy rainfall washes faecal material into the sea from livestock, sewage and urban drainage via rivers and streams. At this site the risk of encountering reduced water quality increases after rainfall and typically returns to normal after 1-3 days. Natural Resources Wales works to reduce the sources of this pollution through pollution prevention measures, work with agriculture and water companies.
Natural Resources Wales makes daily pollution risk forecasts based on rainfall patterns and will issue a pollution risk warning if heavy rainfall occurs to enable bathers to avoid periods of increased risk. At Poppit West there were a total of 2 warnings of a pollution risk forecast during the 2022 bathing water season, with 1 sample being taken on a day that coincided with these warnings.
Streams and rivers are typically affected by sewage or industrial run off from further up the catchment. Poppit Sands is heavily influenced by the freshwater of the River Teifi. This is illustrated by the low salinity levels sometimes seen in bathing water quality samples, which have higher levels of bacteria.
There are also numerous small streams and surface water drains which empty into the bay, these may sometimes be a source of reduced water quality especially, after periods of heavy rainfall.
A main focus of the pre-season inspections is the sewage system serving the town of Cardigan. The sewage treatment works uses ultra violet disinfection to provide a high quality effluent. This protects the quality of the bathing water. The discharge from the works is regulated by an Environmental Permit, setting strict physical, biological and chemical standards that must be met.
There are several continuous treated sewage effluent discharges from towns and villages to the River Teifi, with the most significant being Cardigan. Other notable discharges occur from the towns of Tregarron, Lampeter and Newcastle Emlyn.
NRW have worked closely with Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) to improve compliance with the respective environmental permit and increase protection of bathing waters however, NRW are aware of other ongoing issues affecting the compliance of the STW and are working with DCWW to implement a permanent solution.
Natural Resources Wales samplers make visual observations of the beach at every visit. This includes assessments of sewage debris, animal faeces, litter and oil or tar. At Poppit West, data are available for the four year assessment period from 2019-2022. Sewage debris was not observed at this bathing water. Animal faeces was not noted at this site. Trace amounts of litter were observed at the bathing water on between thirty and forty per cent of occasions. Oil and tarry residues were not noted at this site.
Significant areas of pastureland, occupied by livestock, feature in the largely agricultural catchment of River Teifi, which flows into the sea to the north of Poppit Sands. The Teifi is an extremely large watercourse and it can swell considerably following prolonged periods of heavy rainfall. This can have a major influence on bathing water quality. This is one factor attributing to the designation of a ‘sensitive catchment’. As a result, Natural Resources Wales carries out an extensive programme of farm visits, advising of best practice methods.
Poorly maintained private sewage treatment facilities could be a source of pollution, therefore the registration of all qualifying private sewage systems in Wales was required by 30 June 2012. The primary aim of this exercise is to provide increased protection for the environment and sensitive features such as bathing water beaches. Where discharges from properties are identified in the catchment that are not on mains sewerage, Natural Resources Wales will endeavour to ensure registration has been made, unless already a permitted discharge.
Natural Resources Wales places a high value on public participation in helping to trace sources of environmental pollution. Natural Resources Wales welcomes any comments or information from the pubic with regards to environmental pollution.
The natural drainage (hydrological) catchment surrounding the bathing water is predominantly agricultural, with the large residential town of Cardigan located 3 km in land of Poppit. The River Teifi is one of the largest in mid-Wales, draining a large agricultural catchment that begins in The Cambrian Mountains. There are several villages and towns located along its course, all of which can affect the water quality with runoff from the urban areas.
Seaweed (macroalgae) and phytoplankton (microscopic algae) are a natural part of the marine and freshwater environment. Below we note whether these have been recorded in quantities sufficient to be a nuisance.
The majority of sewers in Wales are “combined sewers” and carry both sewage and surface water from roofs and drains. A storm overflow operates during heavy rainfall when the sewerage system becomes overwhelmed by the amount of surface water. The overflow prevents sewage from backing up pipes and flooding properties and gardens. An emergency overflow will only operate infrequently, for example due to pump failure or blockage in the sewerage system.
Heavy rain falling on pavements and roads often flows into surface water drains or highway drains, ending up in local rivers and, ultimately, the sea. The quality of bathing water may be adversely affected as a result of such events.
It is Natural Resources Wales' role to drive improvement of water quality at bathing waters that are at risk of failing European standards. It is natural for water to run off the land to the sea. Water quality at a bathing water is dependent upon the type and area of land (the catchment) draining to the water and the activities undertaken in that catchment. The following sections serve to highlight potential sources of pollution, conditions under which they may arise and measures being put in place to improve water quality.