There are 84 designated bathing waters in Scotland as classified according to European Union legislation called The Bathing Water Directive. Many of these waters are adjacent to award winning beaches.
The Bathing Water Directive is concerned with the quality of bathing waters, including the sea, inland lochs and rivers. The Directive states that a bathing water is one where a large number of people (more than 150 in a day) are expected to bathe and permanent advice against bathing has not been issued. There is a bathing water strategy in Scotland and more details can be found on the Scottish Government website.
SEPA monitors Scotland’s designated bathing waters throughout the bathing water season from 1 June to 15 September and the results are made available at the beaches and online. More information can be found at the dedicated website for Bathing Waters.
However water quality can fluctuate at some beaches, typically after rainfall, and SEPA also operates a daily water quality prediction system and signage at selected sites, providing information on predicted water quality for that day. Electronic signage can be found at 29 sites across Scotland which give real-time predictions which can be viewed here.
Any organisation or individual can put forward a bathing water to be considered for designation. The applicant must provide good information about the number of beach users, both in and around the water, throughout the bathing season. This is usually in the form of photographic evidence of people in the water or a survey of user numbers. In addition, evidence that the relevant authorities or land owners are actively seeking to promote bathing at the site will be taken into consideration. More information about bathing water designation can be found here.
SEPA also chairs a panel, including a Keep Scotland Beautiful representative, which decides on applications for new bathing waters – you can find out more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The standard for water quality has changed to drive up environmental standards. Under new EU Legislation water quality is defined as:
Excellent – the water is highest quality, clean and safe
Good – generally good water quality
Sufficient – meets minimum standards
Poor – you are advised not to swim following periods of heavy rain/storms. The beach will stay open and an action plan should be in place to improve the water quality.
All designated beaches are to meet the "sufficient" classification by 2020 by law. We are working with SEPA, to assist them drive up environmental standards through discussion and facilitation.
To understand the new Bathing Water Directive please see SEPA's website.