Better water quality ratings for beaches

Girvan beach.
Girvan beach.

Maidens and Culzean beaches have received ‘good’ EU water quality ratings this year while Girvan is rated as ‘sufficient’.

However Heads of Ayr and Ayr South beaches have both received poor ratings as the 2017 bathing water season begins.

The annual classifications set out whether water quality alone – not the overall beach environment – is poor, sufficient, good or excellent, and therefore suitable for bathing, based on four years’ of monitoring data.

For 2016, Culzean, Girvan, Maidens, Prestwick and Troon (South Beach) all achieved the much stricter European water quality standards introduced in 2015 – an improvement for Girvan and Prestwick, which were previously designated as poor, but a reduction in classification for Culzean and Troon.

Culzean and Maidens were classified as ‘good’, while Girvan, Prestwick and Troon (South Beach) were all rated as ‘sufficient’. This means they are suitable for bathing during the official bathing season, which runs from June to September.

However, bathing waters at Ayr (South Beach) – which was rated as sufficient last year – and Heads of Ayr have been classified as poor.

This means the electronic signage put in place by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and South Ayrshire Council at these two locations will advise against bathing when the real-time water quality is assessed as poor.

At Ayr (South Beach), work is underway by SEPA and Scottish Water to try and determine the sources of pollution entering the bathing waters with a view to reducing or eliminating their impact.

Heads of Ayr bathing water is affected by sewage and agricultural sources, and that water quality deteriorates after heavy rainfall. SEPA is preparing plans to help ensure all waters meet at least the ‘sufficient’ standard by 2020.

Mike Newall, South Ayrshire Council Head of Neighbourhood Services, said: “I am disappointed that bathing water quality has been classified as poor in two locations. However, the action being taken by SEPA and others to address the pollution issues is very encouraging and I would hope to see a marked improvement in future years.

“We can all do our bit to help too by respecting the beach environment and those using it.

“Simple things like not encouraging groups of seagulls to gather by feeding them, cleaning up dog waste and disposing of your litter appropriately really can make a difference.

“In the meantime, our beaches remain fantastic places to visit and we advise all visitors to check the water quality signage and follow any advice given.”

SEPA has formed an Ayrshire stakeholder partnership group. This is focused on working together across the relevant statutory organisations and local communities to ensure that we coordinate our activities and identify additional actions to solve problems or address factors which may contribute to causes of poor water quality.

Calum McPhail, from SEPA’s Environmental Quality Unit, said: “While many bathing waters in Ayrshire have met the tight EU water quality standards, we understand that the local community will be disappointed, as we are, that Heads of Ayr and Ayr (South Beach) have been rated as having a ‘poor’ classification.

“It is important to remember that a ‘poor’ classification does not necessarily mean that water quality is continually poor. These are still fantastic beaches to visit, and we are working with the Scottish Government and our key partner organisations to help all bathing waters to avoid ‘poor’ classifications.

“Our electronic information signs are available at both Ayr (South Beach) and Heads of Ayr, but also at Prestwick, Irvine, Saltcoats/Ardrossan, Largs, and Millport to help people make informed decisions about whether to use bathing waters. We make daily water quality predictions and display these forecasts on our electronic signs at the beaches, our website and smartphone app. Potential water users can then see if the water is likely to be acceptable or not on any specific day.”

Christine Cuthbertson, Ayrshire Regional Manager, NFU Scotland, said: “The farming community in Ayrshire has long recognised our part in protecting and improving risks of pollution arising for farm steadings and fields. We have made considerable progress over a number of years in order to comply with the relevant rules and regulations. For example along with Scottish Government support, Ayrshire farmers have invested several millions of pounds in improved facilities.”

Kerry Davidson, Technical Lead in Environment Science and Regulation at Scottish Water, said: “Scottish Water is committed to doing everything it can to help protect the environment and Ayrshire’s bathing water quality. We have already invested substantially to improve many of our assets in Ayrshire and have recently completed studies to better understand the impact our assets have on bathing waters in Ayrshire.

“We are currently working with SEPA to finalise further investment priorities.

“Customers and businesses can help by ensuring that they only flush and drain the right things down toilets and sinks, not sanitary items, bathroom wipes, fats, oil or grease, and avoid causing blockages to drains and sewers which can cause pollution on beaches.”