The Sunday Herald can reveal that Heads of Ayr in South Ayrshire and Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire will tomorrow be officially branded as failures for the 2012 bathing season by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).
Both bathing waters have recorded levels of faecal contamination in excess of safety levels agreed by the European Union in 1976. The contamination can cause ear and stomach infections and, in extreme cases, be fatal.
At Heads of Ayr, animal faeces washed off the shore during heavy rain were blamed for the contamination. According to Sepa, this had “possibly” been combined with pollution from sewage discharges.
At Stonehaven, Sepa said there had been a “pollution incident” as well as heavy rainfall. Two other beaches – Prestwick in South Ayrshire and Sandyhills on the Solway Firth – narrowly missed been classified as failures because of new rules which enable short-term pollution to be discounted if it is predicted and the public warned.
Although this year’s two official failures were fewer than last year’s four, the overall level of pollution in 2012 was significantly worse than in 2011. As many as 49 other bathing waters failed to meet the tighter guideline standard this year, compared to 39 last year (see table below).
Sepa samples 83 formally “identified” bathing waters around the coast up to 20 times between May and September every year. This year’s official bathing season finished yesterday.
The legal standards are due to be substantially tightened up over the next three years, meaning that more bathing waters are likely to fail. Sepa estimated in May that as many as 20 could be heading for failure.
Andy Cummins, from the campaign group, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), demanded tougher action by Sepa and the public sewage company, Scottish Water, to curb the pollution. “Failing bathing waters present bathers and surfers with an alarming array of health risks,” he said.
“They have had 36 years to achieve the bare minimum water quality standards so it’s both shocking and shameful that many Scottish beaches are still failing and face being condemned from 2015.”
Cummins warned that the risks to water users would get “considerably worse” if Scottish Water went ahead with plans to turn off vital ultra-violet treatment for sewage at key bathing waters. SAS is petitioning the Scottish government to maintain year-round treatment at important surfing and recreational beaches.
According to Calum Duncan, from the Marine Conservation Society in Scotland, run-off from farms and overflowing sewage outfalls were probably to blame for the pollution. “Given the atrocious weather, it could have been much worse,” he said.
“With summers set to get wetter and stormier and bathing water standards tougher, effort must be increased. All combined sewer outfalls must be mapped, monitored and, if necessary, improved.”
Scottish Water argued that there had been a significant decrease in pollution incidents over the last ten years. “Every time there is a bathing water failure we investigate the performance of our assets in those catchment areas,” said a company spokesman.
“We have experienced the wettest summer in 100 years, and this naturally has an effect on the quality of bathing waters through increased run-off from land. Scottish Water is working to raise awareness of diffuse pollution.”
The company had been helping to encourage farmers and landowners to reduce run-off. “Recently we seconded five people to Sepa to walk river catchments across Scotland and gather information about how the surrounding land management impacts on water quality,” the spokesman added.
Sepa’s environmental quality manager, Calum McPhail, said he was pleased with the performance of the information systems that warned the public about pollution. “We will be issuing a full release on this year’s bathing water results on Monday, so are unable to provide fuller comment at this time,” he said.
Scotland’s polluted beaches
year / bathing waters in breach of safety limit / in breach of guideline / within guideline2011 / 4 / 39 / 40
2012 / 2 / 49 / 32