Successful season for Ayr (South Beach) as improvement works result in ‘Good’ status

  13 December 2021
The 2021 Bathing Water season has been a success for Ayr (South Beach) with water samples showing the beach achieved ‘Good’ status for the past season.
  • Ayr (South Beach) achieves ‘Good’ status for 2021/22 season through targeted improvement actions to reduce pollution.
  • SEPA collaborated with partners to clean up the water at one of Scotland’s busiest bathing waters, Ayr (South Beach) ahead of a unique ‘staycation’ summer. 
  • Around £10 million spent by Scottish Water on capital improvements has driven clear improvement in water quality.
  • Further £3 million Scottish Government funding to be spent in coming years to provide first-time provision for properties which currently discharge to the River Doon.
  • Farmers and land managers continue to show good compliance with environmental protection measures with around £50 million spent on improvements over last 10 years.
  • Keep Scotland Beautiful’s ‘My Beach, Your Beach’ encouraged beach users to take better care of sand and sea.

The improvement in water quality is the result of several years of partnership working between SEPA, and Scottish Water, supported by South Ayrshire Council and Scottish Government. Also, key is the work farmers and land managers, with the support of the National Farmers Union, have carried out in their catchments, often going beyond requirements, to protect the water environment. The largely dry summer also helped reduce pollution run-off. There will be continued collaboration and partnership working moving forward on improvement actions

Having been classified as ‘Poor’ for four years in a row, 2021 was a key season for Ayr (South Beach), as another poor classification would have resulted in the loss of its designated bathing water status. Results from this season show that the planned pollution control measures and improvement projects have resulted in a significant improvement in water quality and, with further improvements continuing into future years, Ayr (South Beach) will continue to be a valued bathing water location.

Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said:

“Improving Scotland’s water environment is a key priority for SEPA, and that includes the bathing waters so many of us enjoy. The success at Ayr (South Beach) clearly demonstrates the bold and timely action that can come from partnership working.

“All across Scotland, we seek to protect watercourses through licensing, inspection and regulation of discharge, advice and guidance to the public, industry, developers and local authorities, and pollution incident response.

“We will continue to work with our partners to raise or maintain the state of bathing waters all across Scotland, so that summer visits to the beach can be safer and more enjoyable for us all.”

Minister for Environment and Land Reform Mairi McAllan said:

“Scotland's bathing waters are so important to our environment and to people's health and well-being and it is great to see hard work and investment delivering results.

“This is great news for the people of Ayr and the thousands of people who visit its shores every year. Ayr beach is one of Scotland’s most popular visitor areas, with a long tradition of welcoming people from far and wide to enjoy its coastline. By investing in improving Ayr's bathing waters along with others across Scotland, we have made sure many more people can continue to enjoy them and will potentially bring a boost to the local tourism economy."

While season results are normally based on a four-year rolling average, when there is a significant improvement that is sustainable in the future, it is appropriate to use a “step-change” to classify using one season’s samples.

The improvements at Ayr (South Beach) are significant enough that, alongside continued beach management, on-going use of SEPA’s daily prediction signage and discounting systems and upgraded electronic signs for 2022, there is good confidence that a similar classification should be maintained in future years.

The Scottish Government funded “My Beach Your Beach” campaign which is delivered by Keep Scotland Beautiful has also successfully helped people care for our beaches and bathing waters by raising public awareness to reduce beach pollution from dogs, gulls, and litter.

Barry Fisher, CEO of Keep Scotland Beautiful said:

“This summer the successful My Beach Your Beach campaign recorded a 16% increase in visitors to the beach checking bathing water quality information, showing an increased awareness at a site where real time information is available. 

“Since 2018, when we launched the campaign, we have worked with local communities, in particular Don’t Trash Ayr, businesses and the local authority and have seen increased stewardship of the beach. Locals and visitors have become more aware of the actions that they can take to protect the sand and sea - including binning litter or taking it home, ensuring dog poo is picked up and removed, and not feeding the gulls.  We’d encourage everyone to heed this advice not just in the summer, but at all times of the year.”

Significant Scottish Water investment

Scottish Water’s investment of around £10 million, including increased storm storage capacity at two wastewater treatment works, and at a Combined Sewer Overflow asset at Belleisle has driven clear improvement in water quality at Ayr (South Beach).

Temporary chemical disinfection at Minishant septic tank also proved to be successful and this improvement will be made permanent with Scottish Water installing a new wastewater treatment works for this location.

Additional work in the coming years will include first-time provision for properties which currently discharge to the River Doon, with around £3 million of targeted Scottish Government funding as part of a programme of improvements. The aim is to connect as many of these as possible to the public sewerage system before the 2022 Bathing Season, as part of a programme of improvements funded by the Scottish Government. 

Simon Parsons, Strategic Customer Services Planning Director at Scottish Water, said:

“We’re delighted that our £10 million investment in wastewater infrastructure at Belleisle, Mauchline and Drongan has positively contributed towards protecting the bathing water status of Ayr (South).

“A collaborative approach with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, South Ayrshire Council and other key parties was instrumental to expediting this major investment and has ensured its successful delivery.

“In addition to the improved treatment capability that this investment brings, the continued operational diligence of our assets in the area is helping to ensure the best possible water quality is achieved. This is great news for local people, the local tourist industry and the environment.”

South Ayrshire Council’s Portfolio Holder for Environment, Councillor Ian Cochrane, added:

“I am delighted that the standard of bathing water quality at Ayr South Beach has been re-classified from poor to good. This beach is one of the busiest in Scotland, and it is reassuring to know that residents and visitors can continue to fully use and enjoy its waters.

“I would also like to recognise the outstanding work of all stakeholders involved, which has ultimately led to this outcome. Scottish Water, SEPA, the Scottish Government, the Council and local farmers and land managers have all made significant effort to achieve this result.”

Farmers and land managers working together to improve Ayrshire’s rivers

SEPA has been working alongside NFUS since 2010 with around 350 farmers and rural land managers in catchments across Ayrshire to reduce diffuse pollution.

Inspections have shown that of 350 Ayrshire sites, only a small number are still completing remedial measures. All others are fully compliant, with many adopting new practices and spending significant sums of money to improve slurry storage, fence off water courses and install alternative water supplies for livestock. Around £50 million has been spent on improvements, through self-funding and grants from Scottish Government, and in many cases, farmers have gone even further than is legally required to help protect Scotland’s water environment from farming activities.

Relationships with regional representatives of the NFUS, the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, SRUC consultants and Farming and Water Scotland are excellent and mean that consistent messaging about the role of good farming practices will be continued in future years.

Christine Cuthbertson, Ayrshire Regional Manager for NFUS, said:

“Farmers in Ayrshire’s priority catchments have a key role to play in protecting and improving the water environment, and over the last ten years have made significant improvements to minimise the diffuse pollution impact of producing the finest quality food for the nation.

“Our mild, wet, and changing climate can be challenging to farm in, but the industry has risen to that challenge and has invested significantly in new systems and process to improve the water quality of the burns, streams and rivers which are integral to our farming landscapes and lead to our bathing waters.

“The partnership approach of Scottish Government and SEPA working with NFU Scotland to encourage, engage, fund, and support land managers on an individual basis has been the key to the success of the priority catchment programme work and should be recognised as a model to deliver future climate change ambitions.”



Notes to editors:

Two group shots can be downloaded from SEPA’s image library to illustrate this news story. You do not need to register to access.

All current Bathing water classifications can be viewed online at Bathing Waters : Summary of last season (


The revised Bathing Water Directive

Under the revised Bathing Water Directive:

  • classifications are calculated at the end of the 2021 season for display on all beaches at the start of the 2022 season;
  • water quality classification applies for the whole season;
  • 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.