Scotland’s Bathing Water season starts

  01 June 2015
Scotland’s official bathing water season starts today (1 June), the first reporting period under the new EU Bathing Water Directive.

As in previous years, staff from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) will collect hundreds of samples from 84 designated Bathing Waters between now and the end of the season on 15 September. Electronic message signs will also display live water quality predictions at 23 locations, ensuring beach visitors are informed if bathing is not advised.

However, there are some significant changes this year, as this is the first full year of the new Bathing Water Directive. This year the final water quality assessments will be based on our monitoring results over four years, indicating the quality status of the normal condition for each location, rather than the old system which relied on single day samples.

The end of season outcome report will be very different. In previous years our Bathing Waters were referred to guideline, mandatory or fail, this year they will be in an excellent, good, sufficient or poor class - based on the four year data set and using tighter performance criteria, as standardised across the EU.

Probably the first change people will notice during the season is how monitoring results are displayed on our website. All samples are tested for the water quality indicator bacteria E Coli (EC) and intestinal enterococci (IE), and these figures will be displayed throughout the season as results are analysed. Single sample results above 500 EC and 200 IE are indicative that water was probably of low quality when the sample was taken. For inland waters the low quality boundaries are higher at 1000 EC and 400 IE.

Calum McPhail, SEPA Unit Manager in Environmental Quality, said:

“Of course we’re hoping for good weather this summer, not just so that we can get out and enjoy our beaches, but also because heavy rain is always the biggest threat to water quality. We all know that Scotland’s weather is unpredictable, which is why work is ongoing in SEPA, and with our partners, to improve water quality across the country. 

“Microbial source tracking techniques are available to us in-house to help identify pollution sources, so that they can be traced and tackled. Increased monitoring of on-site conditions also takes place to assess other potential risks to public health, including monitoring freshwater coastal influences (microbial inputs), algal blooms, seaweed, marine phytoplankton or any other visual pollution.

“The final water quality classification results for this season will be published at the end of September, once we have completed the statistical data calculations.”

Minister for Environment, Climate Change, and Land Reform Dr Aileen McLeod, said:

“As we move towards the new classification method we must be diligent in continuing to protect our bathing waters. This includes ensuring our waste water facilities are operating efficiently, encouraging farmers to consider carefully the risk of organic manures entering our rivers, educating householders and businesses on the risk from septic tanks or misconnected drains.

“SEPA and Scottish Water have worked closely with Scottish Government and other partners over the last few years to make improvements. We will continue to work to ensure our bathing waters are of good quality for the Scottish public and our many visitors to enjoy.”



Notes to editors

The revised Bathing Water Directive

Under the revised Bathing Water Directive:

  • classifications are calculated at the end of the 2015 season for display on all beaches at the start of the 2016 season;

  • the previous standards of mandatory and guideline have been replaced by classifications of excellent, good, sufficient and poor, based normally on a four year data set;

  • the total number of samples used over four years is much increased from the single year approach and better describes the general quality of each location;

  • water quality classification applies for the whole season;

  • percentile statistic – more robust science;

  • the overall condition of a location is described through bathing water profiles.

Wet weather problems

  • 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.     

Seaside Awards and Blue Flags

  • Keep Scotland Beautiful, Scotland’s charity for the environment, offers two beach awards, the Seaside Award and the international Blue Flag. These awards celebrate some of the cleanest and best managed beaches in the country, and have been used as a quality benchmark for Scotland’s beaches for the past 23 years. In 2015, 60 beaches have been recognised for their excellent management procedures for litter removal, safety and environmental responsibility. 46 of these beaches were sampled by SEPA in 2014 and achieved guideline or mandatory water quality under the previous EU Bathing Water Directive requirements. Further information is available at:

Further information