Poor water quality rating for Girvan beach

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People are to be advised against bathing in the sea at Girvan and Heads of Ayr after stricter European water regulations were brought into force.

A total of 80% of Scotland’s bathing waters have been confirmed as achieving the new, much stricter, European water quality standards, however 17, including Girvan and Heads of Ayr have been rated as having a ‘poor’ EU water quality classification.

As a result of the ‘poor’ classification, and in line with the requirements of the EU directive, signage will now be posted for the 2016 bathing season – which gets underway on 1 June – at Girvan, Heads of Ayr and Prestwick beaches, advising against bathing.

In contrast Culzean beach was given an ‘excellent’ rating and Maidens beach was classed as ‘good’.

The new classifications will be displayed by SEPA and Local Authorities across Scotland’s beaches from this month until mid-September. This summer SEPA will also be extending its network of electronic signs, providing daily real-time water quality information to six new key beach locations including Heads of Ayr.

SEPA is preparing tailored improvement plans to help each of the ‘poor’ bathing waters to meet at least the ‘sufficient’ standard by 2020. These will focus on delivering actions to address any problematic sources of pollution and improve the use of information and advice on when to avoid bathing, such as during abnormal incidents or short periods of increased risk of pollution following heavy rainfall.

Throughout this process, the agency will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government, Scottish Water, Local Authorities and other key partner organisations, such as local stakeholder groups, rural and agricultural sectors.

Calum McPhail, SEPA Environmental Quality manager, said: “It is encouraging to see that the majority of Scotland’s bathing waters are performing so well under the new Directive which has introduced much stricter standards for bathing water quality. However, we understand that some local communities will be disappointed, as we are, that 17 bathing waters have been rated as having a ‘poor’ EU classification, and many will be concerned when the new classifications are displayed on these beaches for the first time this month. It is important to remember that a ‘poor’ classification does not necessarily mean that water quality is continually poor, and in many cases this is due to historic episodes of reduced water quality following heavy rainfall.

“These are still fantastic beaches to visit, and our network of electronic information signs provide advice and details about any current water quality issues at the majority of these bathing waters.

“Scottish bathing waters have been increasing in number and improving in quality since our regulation and monitoring of EU bathing waters began in 1988.

“We are committed to building on this progress, and to continue to work with the Scottish Government and our key partner organisations to help all bathing waters to avoid ‘poor’ classifications by 2020.”

The new directive puts a greater emphasis on information provision for beach users and bathers, and to help even more people make informed decisions about whether to use bathing waters SEPA is increasing its daily water quality predictions to a total of 29 key beach locations this year.

This real-time water quality information is also available via SEPA’s website, smartphone app and Beachline number. In recent years, results in South Ayrshire have generally been good.

Girvan is currently included in the second cycle of SEPA’s priority catchment work to reduce sources of rural diffuse pollution from land use activities.

Extensive sampling is to take place to better understand the sources of pollution causing the poor classification. Following this, consideration will be given to installing an electronic bathing water sign that will predict the water quality on a daily basis.