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SEPA's predictions suggest mixed picture on Highland bathing water quality for 2024 season

By Federica Stefani

Dunnet beach waters were classified as excellent. Picture: DGS
Dunnet beach waters were classified as excellent. Picture: DGS

The quality of bathing waters in the Highlands for 2024 will see areas ranked from sufficient to excellent, according to forecasts issued by Scotland's environment agency.

With SEPA issuing the bathing waters classifications for 2024 today, the picture for the region is mixed, with Dores bathing waters – which was found in breach of pollution limits this summer – ranked as "sufficient", to locations classed as "excellent" in Achmelvich, Dornoch and Loch Morlich.

The agency has classified Scotland’s bathing waters for the 2024 bathing season – which runs from June 1 to September 15 – with 98 per cent of waters meeting environmental standards.

The classifications are calculated at the end of the bathing water season using data from the four previous years and apply to each bathing water for the duration of the following season.

Waters at Dores met the environmental standards – after concerns over water quality this summer.
Waters at Dores met the environmental standards – after concerns over water quality this summer.

Ruth Stidson, SEPA’s principal scientist for bathing waters, said: “Scotland started this bathing water season with more bathing waters than ever and a record-breaking number rated excellent. I’m delighted to say we’ll start next year just as strongly.

“Our bathing waters have the best water quality since 2015, when tighter standards first came into force. We now have an additional five designated bathing waters where we monitor water quality to protect human health. Over this time those with the highest excellent classification has increased from 17 to 38, and the number with a poor classification has fallen from 17 to two.

“Being outdoors can provide many physical and mental health benefits. Our beaches offer opportunities for physical activities and social interaction and earlier this year I saw personally how much having a designated bathing water meant to the local community at Wardie Bay.

“SEPA’s monitoring data has provided crucial evidence to drive millions in investment and we’ve worked with businesses, farmers and land managers across the country to help them understand how they can make changes to protect water quality. All these successes show that, while it can take time to see big improvements, they are possible – and SEPA will keep monitoring, reporting, enforcing, encouraging and challenging for the future of our water environment.”

According to SEPA, the long-term positive trend for Scottish bathing water quality has been demonstrated in sampling and analysis carried out by Scotland’s environment regulator over the summer.

Net Zero secretary Mairi McAllan said: “Scotland now has the highest number of designated Bathing Water sites ever, with the vast majority classified as good or excellent. This demonstrates the benefits of our continued investment in protecting and improving bathing waters across the country. However we are not complacent and will continue to work closely with SEPA and Scottish Water to monitor and improve water quality, to make sure that as many people as possible are able to enjoy them.”

The two bathing waters with a Poor classification at Kinghorn and Lower Largo, both have ongoing improvement plans in place.

Pressures on bathing waters can include overflows from the drainage network and misconnections from homes and businesses.

Agricultural run-off and bacteria from dog fouling and gulls can also be factors. Some sites have a legacy of complex inter-linked issues that need individual assessments and unique solutions.

Classification of bathing waters in the Highlands:

  • Achmelvich: Excellent
  • Dores: Sufficient
  • Dornoch: Excellent
  • Dunnet: Excellent
  • Gairloch Beach: Excellent
  • Loch Morlich: Excellent
  • Nairn (Central): Good
  • Nairn (East): Good
  • Rosemarkie: Good
  • Thurso: Good

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