More than half of Scotland’s popular beaches ‘blighted’ with unsafe levels of raw sewage this year

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One tourist hotspot was found to have sewage levels at least 50 times the safe limit

More than half of Scotland’s popular beaches have been blighted with unsafe levels of raw sewage this year.

Fifty out of 89 of the country’s bathing waters breached safety limits for faecal bacteria at least once when they were tested since May.

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One tourist hotspot was found to have sewage levels at least 50 times the safe limit, according to figures compiled by website The Ferret.

Dangerous limits were also recorded in swimming spots rated as ‘excellent’ by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).

The highest levels were found at Lower Largo beach in Fife, where sewage levels were at least 50 times the safe limit on three occasions.

Freshwater bathing spots at Luss Bay, on the banks of Loch Lomond, and Dores beach, near Loch Ness, also recorded very high levels of dangerous bacteria.

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Over half of Scotland’s popular beaches ‘blighted’ with raw sewage. (Photo: Getty Images) Over half of Scotland’s popular beaches ‘blighted’ with raw sewage. (Photo: Getty Images)
Over half of Scotland’s popular beaches ‘blighted’ with raw sewage. (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Campaigners told The Ferret that it is “disgusting” how the “majority of Scotland’s most precious blue spaces are being blighted” by sewage pollution.

They called for better monitoring and reduction targets to stop sewage being released into bathing waters “for good”.

Sepa said it was working with partners to “raise or maintain the state of bathing waters throughout the country”, and advised people not to swim for one to two days after rain.

Scottish Water told The Ferrett that water quality is “generally good” in Scotland and that it is “enhancing its assets” near bathing waters where necessary, investigating how to decrease sewage pollution at Lower Largo.

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Sepa sampled 89 Scottish bathing waters between five and 18 occasions from the start of May to 15 September.

The bathing waters all have ‘designated’ status, which means they have more than 150 daily visitors.

Sepa checked the waters for concentrations of E.Coli and intestinal enterococci (IE), two bacteria found in faeces.

Of the 17 samples of water taken at Lower Largo, seven showed levels of both E.Coli and IE which exceeded safe levels.

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Concentrations of E.Coli at Lower Largo were found to be at least 20 times higher than the European limit on four occasions – on 6 June, 6 July, 16 August and 31 August.

Lower Largo was only designated as a bathing water in 2022, the same time as it had some of the highest levels of sewage pollution in the country.

Luss Bay – a popular location for water sports enthusiasts on the west shore of Loch Lomond – returned two samples where water breached limits.

While on 21 June, Dores beach – considered one of the best viewpoints down Loch Ness – recorded levels of E.Coli and IE which were nearly five and seven times the safe level, respectively.

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In total, 24 samples taken at bathing waters considered ‘excellent’ by Sepa found levels of faecal bacteria exceeding safe levels.

Among the ‘excellent’ bathing waters which breached the limits was Coldingham Bay in the Borders – a haven for surfers which was named one of the UK’s 50 best beaches this year.

On 1 June, concentrations of IE at Coldingham were nearly twice the limit, while on 11 September, levels of E.Coli were nearly four times the safe level.

Of 35 beaches rated as ‘good’ by Sepa – the next level down from ‘excellent’ – 19 had at least one test where safe limits for faecal bacteria were exceeded.

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Scottish Greens MSP, Mark Ruskell, said the findings “raise the urgent need for easily available and accessible public information so that local people can make informed choices.”

Listed are the beaches in Scotland that recorded high levels of sewage pollution, according to The Ferrett.

  • Lower Largo beach in Fife 
  • Luss Bay on the banks of Loch Lomond
  • Dores beach on the north-east shore of Loch Ness
  • Seamill beach in Ayrshire
  • The west beach at Portobello
  • Ettrick Bay on the Isle of Bute
  • Dunbar’s Belhaven beach
  • Eyemouth in the Borders
  • Wardie Bay beside Granton Harbour in Edinburgh
  • Fisherrow Sands in Musselburgh
  • Coldingham Bay in the Borders

Listed are the beaches that recorded lower levels of sewage pollution.

  • Achmelvich
  • Dornoch
  • Kingsbarns
  • Roome Bay in Crail
  • Philorth near Fraserburgh
  • Elie Harbour 
  • Pencil Beach in Largs
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