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Fisherrow Sands becomes first bathing water in Scotland to be re-designated

Date published: 31 May 2023

Bathing waters

Fisherrow Sands has been re-designated alongside a new designation at Wardie Bay as a Scottish bathing water by the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition Màiri McAllan.

  • Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition Màiri McAllan, re-designates Fisherrow Sands as a Scottish bathing water
  • The designation, alongside a new designation at Wardie Bay, brings the total number of Bathing Waters in Scotland to 89
  • Samples will be taken by SEPA to monitor water quality and the bathing water will receive an official classification for the 2024 season
  • Locals and visitors encouraged to play their part in protecting and improving the quality of the bathing water

Fisherrow Sands in East Lothian will be one of 89 Scottish designated bathing waters in 2023, as it becomes the first to be re-designated following over £3 million of investment.

The decision was made by Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition, Màiri McAllan, who also designated Wardie Bay, resulting in the highest number of Scottish bathing waters on record.

The Scottish bathing water season begins on 1st June year and runs until 15th September, with 1,500 water samples taken by Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) staff at bathing waters around the country. These are analysed in SEPA’s accredited laboratories, and the results posted online. Once the season is finished each bathing water will receive an official classification for 2024.

Improving water quality at Fisherrow Sands

Local outdoor spaces are integral to our physical and mental health and managing them well can improve well-being and other social and cultural benefits for local communities and visitors alike.

Pressures included overflows from the drainage network and misconnections from homes and businesses to surface waters.

SEPA have worked closely with the Scottish Government, Scottish Water, East Lothian Council and wider stakeholders to drive improvements and ensure these issues are addressed.

Over £3 million has been spent on works to improve water quality. This includes upgrades to waste water pumping stations, resolving multiple mis-connections and improvements to the sewer network to reduce spills. Sampling evidence from 2021 and 2022 indicates that, following this work, Fisherrow Sands can meet bathing water quality.

Màiri McAllan, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition said:

“As a result of our investment in protecting and improving bathing waters across Scotland we now have the highest number of designated Bathing Water sites ever, with 98% passing bathing water quality standards and more rated as ‘excellent’ than ever before.

“However, we are not complacent. We continue to work closely with SEPA and Scottish Water to monitor and improve water quality on our designated beaches and in our designated lochs, to ensure that as many people as possible are able to enjoy them throughout this summer and beyond.”

Ruth Stidson, SEPA’s Principal Scientist for bathing waters, said:

“SEPA have been driving improvements at Scotland’s bathing waters for over 20 years. While it was disappointing to see Fisherrow Sands de-designated, it’s good news that it is re-joining the list again in 2023. This means that we will be taking formal samples this season, the electronic beach sign will be switched back on to show water quality predictions, and Fisherrow Sands will receive a classification for the 2024 season.

“Unfortunately, the solutions to many water quality issues can take time and investment to resolve. We know that can be frustrating for communities, but this is yet another example of a project that is delivering real improvements for our environment and communities.”

Cllr John McMillan, East Lothian Council’s spokesman for Environment, Economic Development and Tourism, said:

‘East Lothian’s coastline is a popular attraction for people enjoying a range of water sports or simply a relaxing day out. The improvements to water quality at Fisherrow are welcomed with the return of Bathing Water status’.

Professor Simon Parsons, Scottish Water’s Strategic Customer Service Planning Director, said:

“Scottish Water is committed to continuing to support the protection and improvement of Scotland’s rivers, coastal waters and beaches and we are pleased to hear from SEPA that there are more bathing waters than ever before and a record number rated excellent.

“We look forward to playing our part in ensuring bathing waters become destinations for people to enjoy Scotland’s fantastic coastal waters.

“At Fisherrow we have worked with SEPA, East Lothian Council and other partners, who are all playing their part in tackling the wide range of factors to help improve the water quality. We have invested over £3 million on works to improve water quality. This includes upgrades to waste water pumping stations, resolving multiple mis-connections and improvements to the sewer network to reduce spills.”

The bathing water will be officially monitored between 15 May and 15 September, with results reported on our website, and it will receive an official classification for 2024. The bathing water electronic sign will be switched on again and display daily bathing water quality predictions and other messages.

In common with other bathing waters that have rural and urban inputs, Fisherrow Sands can have elevated bacterial test results following heavy rain. SEPA’s daily water quality forecasts will advise when poor water quality may be expected.

My Beach Your Beach

Keep Scotland Beautiful’s My Beach Your Beach campaign also ran at the beach during 2022 to support bathing water quality improvements. This includes key things that everyone can do to help such as binning litter, picking up after dogs and not putting any un-flushable items down the toilet.

My Beach, Your Beach launched in 2018, and over the last five years has supported bathing water quality improvements at seven Scottish beaches, in partnership with local community groups and beach managers. You can find out more, watch the campaign film and read the report at My Beach, Your Beach.

Paul Wallace, Campaign and Social Innovation Manager said:

“My Beach Your Beach has raised awareness of actions that everyone can take to help protect the sand and sea; from not littering, to bagging and binning dog poo and never feeding the gulls. The campaign has achieved positive behaviour changes and highlights the vital role communities play in protecting and enhancing local environments and delivering real improvements in bathing water quality.

“We’d like to thank the communities we worked with, the local authorities managing the beaches, and our partners and funders. We look forward to rolling out the campaign collateral across Scotland’s Award Beaches this summer giving the campaign an ongoing legacy.”

De-designation and improvement works

Fisherrow Sands ended the 2019 bathing water season with a ‘poor’ water quality classification, the fifth year in a row. As such it was no longer a designated bathing water and the Bathing Water (Scotland) Regulations required that advice against bathing applied.

From 2020, works have been carried out by Scottish Water on the local network and assets, to improve performance, with regular liaison with SEPA on progress.

Notes to editors

Further information on bathing waters is available. This includes:

  • the annual designations for 2023
  • information on designation and how to apply
  • predicted water quality at beaches with electronic signs
  • beach profiles for each bathing water
  • sample results during the season

Bathing water designation process

Scottish Ministers decide on the list of bathing waters to be designated, including new bathing waters, prior to each bathing season. When considering designation, Ministers will take a number of factors into account. Key considerations are the number of people bathing, past trends, infrastructure provided to support bathing, the promotion of bathing and beach management as well as other facilities and local/public views.

Local authorities usually apply for designation, but any organisation or individual can apply. More information, including designation application forms is available.

Diffuse pollution

  • Often driven by rainfall, diffuse pollution arises from the loss of substances such as phosphorus, faecal pathogens, nitrates and pesticides, often bound to soil particles, from the land into the local water environment. Individually, these losses may be of little risk to water quality, but when combined across a whole catchment, they can have a serious impact on ecology and bathing waters.
  • Diffuse pollution priority catchments have been identified by SEPA as catchments failing to meet environmental standards. Each catchment has a dedicated coordinator who is responsible for liaising with local land managers, organising visits and ensuring measures are implemented where non-compliances are identified as detailed within the Rural diffuse pollution plan for Scotland. This approach was agreed in partnership with the Diffuse Pollution Management Advisory Group (DPMAG).
  • More information about priority catchments can be found at Priority catchments.

Urban waters routemap

  • The national plan to improve urban waters, was required by SEPA and Scottish Water published this in 2021. The plan set out the efforts required to tackle the most significant environmental impacts as soon as possible.
  • The route map details the actions required by Scottish Water, as a public body and a responsible authority for River Basin Management Planning. SEPA is clear in our regulatory role in ensuring Scottish Water delivers against its Urban Waters Route Map and River Basin Management Plan objectives.