SEPA working with farmers to help clean up Ayr South bathing water

  07 June 2021
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is encouraging farmers and land managers to play their part in improving water quality at Ayr South, one of Scotland’s busiest bathing beaches.
  • Farmers and land managers in the Ayr South bathing water catchment must play their part to help benefit local bathing water quality.
  • Past improvements have led to more than 90% of farms in the River Ayr and Doon catchments, which drain to Ayr South bathing water, being compliant - an increase of 50% in ten years.
  • SEPA has worked extensively with National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) to reach out to members, who can play a crucial role in protecting local watercourses.
  • SEPA is providing advice and information so that money spent by farmers is on practical steps to benefit farming operations and the environment.
  • The small numbers of farmers who continue not to comply could face a Fixed Monetary Penalty being issued.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is encouraging farmers and land managers to play their part in improving water quality at Ayr South, one of Scotland’s busiest bathing beaches.

Work by SEPA and local farmers since 2011 has led to a 50% reduction in the number of non-compliant sites in the catchment, and around 90% of farms in the area are now fully compliant in ensuring their practices are not negatively affecting watercourses.

Many farmers have undertaken new practices and spent significant sums of money on additional slurry storage facilities, fencing off entire stretches of watercourses to exclude livestock, and installing alternative means of livestock watering to reach compliance. Some have gone even further than is legally required, by planting riparian zones which move their farming activities further away from the water’s edge. 

The current programme of work is targeted at the remaining 40 or so farms which are still not fully compliant, while also reminding others of their ongoing responsibilities. 

It is hoped that further improvements to the catchment will have a positive impact on the bathing water at Ayr South beach, Scotland’s busiest bathing water, which relies partly on the water quality in both the Rivers Ayr and Doon and is likely to be busier than ever this summer with increased staycations. 

As the faecal bacteria within cattle slurry has the potential to affect water quality, the Agency is asking farmers in both catchments to undertake the following simple practical steps throughout the bathing water season to reduce their potential impact on water quality:

  • Slurry spreading
    • Ensure no slurry is spread within 10 metres of any river, burn or open ditch. When applying slurry on silage aftermath, check the weather forecast and if heavy rain is expected within 48 hours of spreading, delay slurry spreading by a day or two to reduce the potential for field runoff and water pollution.
  • Maintaining water course boundaries
    • Check livestock fences in grazing fields to ensure they are fully maintained. This minimises the potential of livestock poaching within 10 metres of a river or burn and polluting the watercourse.
  •  Steading drainage
    • Check surface water drains around livestock steading to ensure no contaminated drainage (slurry) is able to enter them from bedded sheds, cattle walkways or yards used periodically during the summer months. Ensure also that a clean roof and yard water are kept separate from dirty yards.

With COVID-19 restrictions easing, SEPA officers are being deployed back into the field to engage face-to-face with farmers, especially regarding areas of non-compliance on their units, focusing on practical low-cost measures which can be implemented quickly and easily to resolve potential and sometimes ongoing pollution. 

Farm inspections to non-compliant operators have been taking place since the end of April and will continue throughout the summer in both river catchments. These farm visits are part of SEPA’s priority catchment work and follow on from river walks and previous engagement, during which SEPA specialists walked the length and breadth of the catchments engaging with farmers.

Stephen Field, Land Unit Manager at SEPA, said: 

“The rural sector is vital to Scotland’s economic success and green recovery, as well as in ensuring our watercourses remain world class.

“SEPA has developed strong working relationships with farms in the River Ayr and Doon catchments and they regularly work with us to make improvements in their own environmental performance.  In those rare cases where significant regulatory challenges remain, we will continue to engage these operators to make improvements to their operations and advance responsible, low-impact practices. 

“Over the last ten years, a tremendous amount of work has been done by local farmers to ensure they are working more sustainably, through innovating their day-to-day operations and in some cases spending vast sums of money, exemplifying the shared goal of all parties to clean up our watercourses.

“We are clear that compliance is non-negotiable, and while we are keen to work with people, we are also making it clear to all that those who do not comply will feel the consequences in the shape of Fixed Monetary Penalties.

“In working with local farmers and NFUS through face-to-face visits, workshops and information sessions, SEPA has managed to reduce the number of non-compliant sites to just a fraction of what it was, and we’re now looking to reach out to the few remaining farmers with work still to do, for the benefit of the community and environment as a whole.”

Christine Cuthbertson, NFU Scotland Ayrshire Regional Manager added:

“Ayrshire farmers have made huge progress and investment in helping to protect our beautiful bathing waters which will be enjoyed by tourists and local people alike this summer. It’s also a very busy time for our members but we would encourage them to plan slurry spreading, maintain water course boundaries and check steading drainage, which will help to prevent any run-off and keep our watercourses to a high standard.

Whilst we hope to get some much awaited dry and sunny weather over the next few months, we know our weather can often be temperamental, so carrying out these simple checks and acting on them now, will be to everybody’s benefit.

Should any of our members have any queries or need further guidance, then they should not hesitate to get in touch with me at NFUS.”

Those who fail to make the required changes to their operations and continue to be non-compliant will be subject to enforcement action from SEPA in the form of Fixed Monetary Penalties of up to £600 per non-compliance.

For more information about the work being undertaken at Ayr South and other priority catchments, email  


Notes to editor

  • Often driven by rainfall, diffuse pollution arises from the loss of substances such as phosphorus, faecal pathogens, nitrates and pesticides, often bound to soil particles, from the land into the local water environment. Individually, these losses may be of little risk to water quality, but when combined across a whole catchment, they can have a serious impact on ecology and bathing waters. As such, diffuse pollution is recognised as the main cause of water bodies failing water quality standards in Scotland.

  • Diffuse pollution priority catchments have been identified by SEPA as catchments failing to meet environmental standards. Each catchment has a dedicated coordinator who is responsible for liaising with local land managers, organising visits and ensuring measures are implemented where non-compliances are identified as detailed within the Rural diffuse pollution plan for Scotland. This approach was agreed in partnership with the Diffuse Pollution Management Advisory Group (DPMAG).

  • The first RBMP identified 14 priority catchments containing some of Scotland’s most important waters (for conservation, drinking water, bathing and fishing), using a risk based approach for action.

  • More information about priority catchments can be found at Priority catchments | Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).