Scottish beaches are declared unacceptable

The present water quality situation on Scottish beaches is not acceptable, according to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).

The result of this year’s survey of water quality at Scottish beaches has shown a slight increase in the number of Scottish beaches failing the minimum mandatory European standards, says SEPA. However, says the Agency, the number of sites passing the most stringent bathing water quality standards has equalled the previous best.

Each summer, 60 beaches are monitored 20 times between June and mid-September by SEPA for compliance with the European Bathing Water Directive which is designed to protect and enhance the quality of such waters throughout Europe. This summer, 51 beaches achieved mandatory passes, compared to 53 for 1999, though 40% of beaches – equal to last year’s record total – achieved the most stringent guideline values, indicating excellent water quality.

“The bathing waters that have failed this year are ones that have tended to fail in the past,” said SEPA’s Head of Water Policy, Colin Bayes. “As with before, the main reason for poor water quality at these sites is sewage effluent. The planned major investment by the water authorities must address the historic legacy of inadequate sewage treatment facilities and sewerage infrastructure in Scotland. SEPA is currently engaged in close dialogue with the water authorities to seek to ensure that their capital expenditure will be targeted to deliver maximum environmental benefits.”

Though SEPA is responsible for monitoring beaches, it is also up to other bodies such as water authorities to find solutions to the problem, and a big pooled effort is required, a SEPA spokesperson pointed out to edie.

“Clearly, the present situation is not acceptable,” continued Bayes. “There is, however, an ever-increasing amount of data that we can use to drive forward bathing water quality improvements.” This year, says Bayes, research work in Ayreshire has helped identify improvements in farming practices which will reduce the risk of livestock waste polluting bathing waters. Extensive upgrading of sewerage systems will also be required, said Bayes.

“Things are improving but it is a national disgrace that we can still be swimming in sewage at some of Scotland’s most popular beaches,” said Dr Richard Dixon, Head of Research at Friends of the Earth.

The campaign organisation acknowledges the contribution of the weather to the last two year’s results. Dry sunny conditions in 1999 helped to minimise pollution, with wetter conditions in 2000 resulting in more overflowing sewage systems. “1998 was an exceptionally bad year, 1999 exceptionally good, 2000 has shown us the real picture is somewhere between the two, which means there is still plenty to do to bring our beaches up to scratch,” said Dixon.

Friends of the Earth are keen for more Scottish beaches to be included in the annual survey. “We know there are plenty of other beaches out there which should be on the list and we have been working with local communities this summer to collect the evidence needed to get their beaches the status they deserve,” said Dixon. “We are already seeing beaches which are not on the list slipping down the priorities with new investment providing only mediocre water quality.”

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