Scotland's bathing water season begins

date01 June 2012

Scotland's 2012 bathing water season starts today (1 June), with more ways than ever for people to get information on water quality.

As well as the electronic bathing water signs at 23 beaches, which provide up-to-date information on predicted water quality, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) also provides this information via the web, Beachline and, new this year, mobile phone apps.

In addition to these electronic signs, static signs are now provided at each of the 83 bathing waters with information on known potential impacts, e.g. combined sewer overflows and diffuse pollution issues. This means that beaches where there can be a drop in water quality after heavy rain are identified and people are advised not to bathe for up to two days after bad weather.

In addition, the new Bathing Directive, which comes into force in 2015, has set new sample parameters.

Calum McPhail, SEPA's bathing water expert, said:

The new microbiological parameters that have been set are based on recommendations by the World Health Organisation, and are more closely linked to health protection standards. These give a much better indication whether faecal contamination is present and are much faster to analyse, meaning that public information will be even more up-to-date. We take almost 2,500 samples over the 107 day season, so being able to get information even quicker is fantastic for us and the public."

The revised Bathing Water Directive was introduced in 2006 and is changing the way bathing waters are managed. Water quality standards are becoming tighter and 2012 will be the first year of the four year data set which will be used to establish new classifications at the end of the 2015 season.

Calum explained:

Although parts of the Directive are not required to be in place until 2015, Scotland is already leading the way in terms of public information with a world leading system, which we've developed with strong support from Scottish Government. Our electronic beach signs, in place at 23 bathing waters, make up one of the largest real time public information systems in the UK, after roads and rail. This year we will be adding to the signs, website and phone line with a smart phone app, meaning people can easily check the water quality before they head off on a day out.

"The recent spell of good weather has had a lot of people heading to the beach to enjoy days out and, of course, we hope that this will continue until September. Unfortunately Scotland's weather is not always that compliant, but more information and more ways to access that information, means that everyone in Scotland should be able to enjoy their beach days."

Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

Clean, safe beaches are important to Scotland , they provide leisure pursuits for families and support tourism which provides valuable income to many seaside communities.  The recent good weather has shown the pleasure they offer not only to Scots themselves but also our visitors and we will continue to work to support the protection and improvement of our bathing waters.

"This year we have taken steps to provide additional onsite information at Scotland's designated bathing waters. This along with our much acclaimed electronic beach signs and the full information already provided on SEPA's website ensures the public are kept fully informed on the quality of our bathing waters."


Notes to editors

  • Some photographs of bathing water signs and water sampling are available, please contact SEPA's media team on 01786 45 25 65 or by email on

  • Scotland has 83 designated bathing waters. Profiles for each one can be viewed online.

  • 23 beaches have electronic bathing water signs, more information can be found on our website.

  • The bathing water season in Scotland runs from 1 June – 15 September every year.

  • Further information about the criteria used in monitoring Bathing Water Standards is available online.

  • The current EU Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC) was created to protect and enhance the quality of bathing waters throughout Europe. SEPA is now working with the Scottish Government during the implementation of their strategy 'Better bathing waters - meeting the challenge of the revised Bathing Waters Directive on Scotland' aimed at developing and meeting requirements of the revised Bathing Waters Directive as enacted by the Bathing Waters (Scotland) Regulations 2008, with first reporting against the revised directive expected in 2015.

  • Diffuse pollution is the largest pollution pressure on the water environment in Scotland, but it can be difficult to identify and control. The risk of diffuse pollution is worse during rainfall because nutrients, soil, chemicals and faecal bacteria can be washed from land into the surrounding water environment. Single discharge points might not seem to be an issue, but several combined across a whole river catchment can significantly affect water quality, including in EU designated bathing waters. Land and run-off management practices play a pivotal role in diffuse pollution mitigation.

  • Another source of pollution at beaches can be combined sewer overflows (CSOs). During heavy rainfall CSOs, which discharge diluted but minimally treated sewage to watercourses and coastal waters, are essential to prevent flooding. However, during extended periods of rain, which are not uncommon in Scotland, the combined effect of CSOs in a catchment can have a negative impact on the water quality. To minimise the impact of combined sewer overflows on water quality, SEPA imposes conditions requiring sewage litter and debris removal and on the location and frequency of their operation. SEPA continues to work closely with the Scottish Government, Scottish Water and the Water Industry to ensure that planned capital investment programmes aimed at upgrading sewerage infrastructure throughout the country are prioritised to maximise environmental benefits.