Revealed: SEPA rank Firth of Forth’s best and worst beaches

Portobello Beach.
Portobello Beach.
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Thousands are set to flock to beaches around the Capital with temperatures predicted to soar over the holiday weekend.

And several of the region’s beaches have been recognised yet again as being among the best in Scotland. Among the pearls winning praise are Dunbar, Gullane and Seacliff. But a report by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has revealed that while 75 of the country’s 86 designated bathing waters meet strict environmental standards three of Edinburgh’s treasured sandy spots could be unsafe for swimmers at certain times.

Bathing waters at Portobello West and Musselburgh’s Fisherrow Sands scraped a “poor” rating with Portobello’s central beach designated as just “sufficient” - for the second year running.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “It is of course a disgrace that in 2018 Edinburgh’s key beaches aren’t safe for swimming or paddling on numerous days during the summer.

“A decade ago poor bathing water was almost all about sewage discharges but now the situation is more complex - there is certainly some contribution from the Seafield sewage works. Investigations have also shown that dog mess on the beach and even seagulls are making a contribution. There are initiatives underway but it is a slow process to get these beaches to comply.”

Dr Dixon added that avoiding the water when it is poor quality is advised as people, and dogs, are at risk of tummy bugs and ear infections if they swim during periods of poor quality.

“Obviously people writing to the council and SEPA would help make sure these three beaches are a priority,” finished Dr Dixon.

Heavy rainfall washing human waste and treated sewage effluent into the sea from the Figgate Burn, which flows into the sea between Portobello west and Portobello central, has been blamed for the substandard quality of the water in the area.

Portobello-Craigmillar Greens Cllr Mary Campbell said little to no improvement from the previous year’s readings was a cause for concern.

“Over the weekend I’m sure the beaches at Portobello will be as popular as they have always been for decades.

“The latest figures from SEPA show that the water quality still has a long way to go, however, with no improvement in quality since this time last year.

“The council needs to work with SEPA and the lead authority, Scottish Water, to put this right.

“Other bathing waters in the Forth are highly-rated and there is no reason why the same can’t be true at Portobello.”

SEPA Environment quality manager Calum McPhail explained that the poor classification does not mean that water quality in the area is always of a substandard quality but warned paddlers to check beach signs before plunging in.

“Whilst Portobello (West) and Fisherrow Sands are currently rated as ‘poor’ it is important to remember that a ‘poor’ classification does not necessarily mean that water quality is continually poor.

“These are still fantastic beaches to visit and working with partners we’re continuing to focus on bathing waters rated as ‘poor’, with tailored improvement plans prepared by SEPA. These projects will result in major improvements to bathing water quality in the future.”

Sepa has recommend that swimming in Portobello West – the stretch of beach between the Seafield sewage works and Tumbles play centre – and Fisherrow Sands - to the west of the harbour - is avoided for up to two days after heavy rainfall because of the risk of illness.

Scottish Water say they are also working to improve the water quality. A spokeswoman said: “We are going to be carrying out extensive survey work this summer to look at various options to improve the bathing water at Portobello West and Fisherrow.”

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