from Sunday Herald, 03 June 2012
Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB), the government-funded anti-litter charity, has come under fierce attack for giving high-profile “seaside awards” to beaches that have been officially condemned as badly polluted.
Five bathing waters in Ayrshire, Aberdeenshire and Fife rated as having “poor” water quality by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) have been publicly lauded by KSB for their “high standards of cleanliness, safety, and water quality”.
The revelation could deal a fatal blow to the credibility of KSB’s “empty and meaningless” beach awards, according to the campaign group, Surfers Against Sewage. Serious flaws in the awards had been exposed, it said.
This was denied, however, by KSB, which insisted that it was simply applying the current legal standards. The quality of the bathing water was only one of the criteria it used to grant awards, it said.
A new analysis by Sepa has revealed that 20 of Scotland’s official bathing waters would fail new pollution limits due to come into force in 2016. They will replace 36-year-old limits seen by many as out-dated, inadequate and unable to protect against illness.
Five of the beaches rated by Sepa as “poor” – the worst possible rating – were last week crowned by KSB as winners of their “coveted” seaside awards. They were South Beach in Ayr, Millport Bay on the island of Great Cumbrae in North Ayrshire, Seafield at Kirkcaldy in Fife and Stonehaven and Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire.
A further five beaches categorised by Sepa as just “sufficient” under the new pollution rules – the second-worst rating - also received awards from KSB. They were at Aberdeen, Kinghorn in Fife, Nairn in Moray, and Fraserburgh and Balmedie, in Aberdeenshire.
Many of the beaches rated as either poor or sufficient by Sepa are concentrated in the southwest, with 10 in Ayrshire and seven in Dumfries and Galloway. Six are in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, with two each in Argyll and Bute, Moray and Fife (see table below).
KSB was accused of “damaging and devaluing their awards” by Andy Cummins, the campaign director of Surfers Against Sewage. “Beaches that we know will fall far short of the revised standards are being celebrated with empty awards and meaningless flags,” he said.
“Keep Scotland Beautiful’s awards trade on their credibility. We have already exposed serious flaws in some of these awards and the Sunday Herald’s exposé could be the final blow to the public’s confidence in these schemes.”
Cummins pointed out that bathing waters that met the best of the old standards from 1976 still gave swimmers a one-in-20 chance of contracting a gastro enteritis infection. “The standards are woefully outdated and don’t offer the public proper protection from sewage-related illnesses and other pollutants,” he argued.
Bathing water pollution can be caused by faeces from farm or other animals being washed off the land by rain, or by sewers overflowing after heavy showers. It can trigger stomach, skin or ear infections, and in very extreme cases can be lethal.
The Green MSP, Alison Johnstone, warned that people are confused by different pollution standards. “The public needs clarity about the quality of bathing waters,” she said.
“Looking at the quality of a beach over a longer period, which is what Sepa is preparing for, makes a lot of sense. It would be helpful if other organisations followed this approach so the public have clarity.”
KSB, however, defended its approach, pointing out that the award-winning beaches rated as poor all had electronic signs warning when the water was polluted. Bathing water quality was only one of a minimum of 15 criteria used to assess awards, said chief executive, Derek Robertson.
“KSB’s seaside award beaches cannot be expected to currently meet bathing water quality standards which do not come into force for four years,” he told the Sunday Herald. “We make these seaside awards on the basis of current European Union bathing water rules and all beaches awarded in 2012 achieved the legal standard.”
KSB was working with Sepa and others to cut pollution and to make sure that the seaside award criteria would be “fit for purpose” when the new rules came into force in 2016, Roberston added. “It is important that we recognise where Scotland’s best beaches are for families and tourists to visit.”
The official bathing season, which marks the start of Sepa’s monitoring for the year, began on Friday. Water sampling is changing to match the new pollution rules, and will be assessed over four years instead of one.
Sepa’s assessments of beaches as poor or sufficient were “a worst-case scenario for our own internal planning purposes,” said the agency’s environmental quality manager, Calum McPhail. “We know that there have been improvements in water quality, and we are working hard to ensure there are more.”
20 bathing waters rated as “poor”
Southerness, Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway
Sandyhills, Dalbeattie, Dumfries and Galloway
Rockcliffe, Dalbeattie, Dumfries and Galloway
Brighouse Bay, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway
Dhoon Bay, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway
South Beach, Ayr, South Ayrshire - but given a Seaside Award
Heads of Ayr, South Ayrshire
Girvan, South Ayrshire
Millport Bay, Great Cumbrae. North Ayrshire - but given a Seaside Award
Seamill, West Kilbride, North Ayrshire
Saltcoats/Ardrossan, North Ayrshire
Gailes, Irvine, North Ayrshire
Ettrick Bay, Rothesay, Argyll and Bute
Luss Bay, Argyll and Bute
Lossiemouth East, Moray
Rosehearty, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire
Cruden Bay, Peterhead, Aberdeenshire - but given a Seaside Award
Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire - but given a Seaside Award
Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Fife - but given a Seaside Award
Portobello West, Edinburgh
12 bathing waters rated as “sufficient”
Harbour, Kinghorn, Fife - but given a Seaside Award
Eyemouth, Scottish Borders
Carrick Bay, Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway
Mossyard, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway
Pencil Beach, Largs, North Ayrshire
Prestwick, South Ayrshire
Maidens, Maybole, South Ayrshire
Central Beach, Nairn, Moray - but given a Seaside Award
Rosemarkie, Fortrose, Highland
Aberdeen, City of Aberdeen - but given a Seaside Award
Tiger Hill, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire - but given a Seaside Award
Balmedie, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire - but given a Seaside Award
This story was followed up by The Scotsman.