As the summer holidays begin, many people will be looking forward to a trip to Portobello beach to bask in the Scottish sunshine. I grew up in Portobello, and in the summer the sun always shone and every day was a beach day which lasted forever. Or so it seemed.
Now that I have children of my own, I take advantage of any hot (or slightly warm) weather to bring the same magic to a new generation. There are some clouds hovering on that blue horizon, though. The most recent rating of Edinburgh’s seaside, by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) was not all that it could be.
While Portobello Central, the portion of the beach that runs from the Figgate Burn to Joppa, was rated “Sufficient”, Portobello West was rated “Poor”. No one likes to think of swimming in poor quality water, so I set out to dig into what is happening in Porty a little more.
SEPA takes samples 18 times a year, from June 1 to September 15. Using guidance from the World Health Organisation, it tests for E.coli and Intestinal Enterococci. These are not the kind of names that feature in anyone’s list of top beach memories.
These samples are then used to decide the ratings that our beach and water get over a four year period.
Portobello Central is where most beach users come and enjoy themselves, and the positive news is that this stretch of the beach is actually very close to a “Good” rating.
The main weakness is the beach to the west of the Figgate Burn. After talking to SEPA, it looks like the main issues there are with Scottish Water infrastructure and dog fouling.
Fortunately, there may be improvements on the way. Scottish Water is currently looking into serious upgrades to facilities, with the recommended option likely to be chosen this month. This will involve significant work to tackle overflow and surface water after heavy rain, both of which are major causes of pollution in the Forth. Astonishingly, Portobello can get run-off from as far away as the Pentland Hills after heavy rain – it really can lead to a deluge of dirt into our usually much cleaner waters.
People in Portobello are also determined to tackle dog fouling. Portobello is going to see a roll-out of the “Our Edinburgh” campaign during the summer, with a focus on dog fouling. Residents can report any dog fouling hotspots to edinburgh.gov.uk/dogfouling and every dog owner can take personal responsibility for leaving a clean beach.
I love Portobello and our beach here as much now as I did as a child. As a city, we are lucky to have such a beautiful and easy-to-access seaside so close to hand. I believe we can transform the beach into something even better – made accessible by beach wheelchairs, and more pleasant to visit through the provision of adequate bins, recycling and public toilets.
So many of us use the beach for fun, exercise, sport and relaxation, and a clean and welcoming beach benefits us all. Just as it was for our parents and grandparents, a trip to the seaside is free, which is so important at a time when a family day out can otherwise be so expensive.
So I am confident Portobello can build on its reputation as Edinburgh’s seaside, and become an even better place to spend our time. And, of course, the sun will always shine, just as it did when I was wee. Right?
Mary Campbell is Green councillor for Portobello-Craigmillar