Two of Scotland’s most popular beaches have been polluted in breach of basic safety limits because of heavy rain, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).
Prestwick in South Ayrshire and Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire have become the first bathing waters in Scotland this summer to fail sewage contamination limits first introduced 36 years ago.
They have both recorded two or more water samples with excessive faecal contamination since testing began on 21 May. This can give bathers and surfers ear and stomach infections, and in extreme cases can be life-threatening.
According to Sepa, the most likely cause of the pollution is the downpours that have plagued parts of Scotland in recent weeks. Heavy showers can cause sewers to overflow, and wash farm animal faeces from the land into the sea.
The failure at Prestwick “was likely caused by recent rainfall”, says Sepa. At Stonehaven, problems occurred because “a period of persistent and intermittently heavy rainfall coincided with a pollution incident on the Maxie Burn.”
A further six beaches have already recorded a single sample failure, and just need a second to fail for the season. They are Heads of Ayr and Millport Bay in Ayrshire, Brighouse Bay in Dumfries and Galloway and St Andrews East and Elie Harbour in Fife.
If the bad weather continues, it’s likely that more bathing waters will fail, perhaps exceeding last’s tally of four failures. “We are experiencing an unprecedented bathing season weather-wise,” says a Sepa spokeswoman.
Calum Duncan, from the Marine Conservation Society in Scotland, is calling for more money to fix overflowing sewers. “Once again it appears that some of our bathing beaches are bearing the brunt of a wet summer,” he says.
“With the climate only likely to get more unpredictable, and bathing water standards set to get even more stringent in 2015, it is imperative that investment continues.”
The rain is being blamed for other environmental problems. Gardeners are being besieged by plagues of slugs and snails, while the BBC naturalist, David Attenborough, has warned that populations of butterflies could crash.
The wet weather has also been good for the miniscule scourge of the Highlands, the midge. Experts are reporting a three or four-fold increase in the number of midges captured at sample sites compared to last year, with one site trapping more than 4.5 million since 10 May.