What is bathing water quality?

Why is water quality important?

‘Bathing water quality’ is a measure of how clean the water is at designated beaches, depending on the amount of bacteria in the water, that in turn indicate pollution levels that could make you unwell. These bacteria come from human or animal waste, which can enter the water in a number of different ways.

During the summer bathing season, SEPA publishes daily water quality forecasts online, as well as on electronic signage at designated beaches. This is based on regular testing of water samples throughout the bathing season. You can find out more about the sampling process in the video below:

Where water quality is found to be affected, the Scottish Government and SEPA work with regulated operators and other stakeholders to identify contamination sources and carry out necessary improvement works.

However, the success of these measures also relies on people doing their part.

While many different factors can influence bathing water quality, 'My Beach, Your Beach' aims to support bathing water quality improvements by addressing some of the 'community' sources of bathing water contamination - from what people do on or near the beach, to certain habits in businesses and at home.


What you can do at the beach:

Dog poo

Dog poo has been found to contribute to bathing water contamination in some cases, compromising bathing water quality.

In addition, dog poo left on the beach -or anywhere else- is simply unpleasant and can ruin the experience for others. Seven in ten people in Scotland find it to be the type of 'litter' that bothers them the most.

So, if you’re taking your dog onto the beach, make sure to bag and then bin its poo.

Gulls and litter

Bird poo has also been found to contribute to bathing water contamination.

This can be avoided by removing the human food sources that attract them, be it feeding them directly or leaving litter, which can actually be harmful to them and other wildlife.

A taste for human food can make gulls aggressive and cause a nuisance for beach-goers.

So, don't feed the gulls at the beach and also make sure to put all litter in the bin, or otherwise take it home.


In addition to helping protect bathing water quality where we swim, paddle and play, these are good habits anyway: showing consideration for the local communities that care about the beach, for other beach-goers looking to enjoy the sand and sea and, of course, for our shared environment.

When visiting the beach: Leave no trace - or better still, leave the site cleaner than you found it!

Visit the My Beach Your Beach homepage and discover more about this year's campaign beaches and all the wonderful things that make them worth protecting.

What you can do indoors:

Beyond habits at the beach, a large proportion of bathing water contamination and marine litter comes from further inland. There are many ways that this can happen, but there are simple habits at work or at home that can make a big difference.

When waste waster pipes get blocked, they cause floods and leak sewage water and debris into our waterways, coastal waters and beaches. This is a big problem that can often have simple solutions through our habits indoors.

blockages are cleared from drains and sewers each year by Scottish Water.
of these blockages are caused by people flushing the wrong items down the toilet, or pouring fats down the sink.
of all beach litter in the UK are items that have been flushed down the loo instead of going in the bin.

Dispose of fats, oils and greases in the bin, never down the drain.

Fats, oils and greases left over from cooking and frying congeal in pipes and can clog them up. When combined with other debris (see below) they turn into massive plugs called 'fatbergs' that must be cleared manually.

Fats, oils and greases should be diposed of in the bin. Small quantities can go in the compost bin, and larger quanitities should go to landfill, ideally in a sealed container.

Only flush the 3Ps - pee, poo and paper. Everything else can go in the bin.

Our sewage system is not intended or built to handle disposable items. More solid items like cotton buds, wet wipes, tampons and other sanitary products do not break down and cause blockages. They can then be carried to our beaches when they block pipes and cause flooding and sewage overflows.

There is no reason to flush these 'unflushables' down the toilet. Simply put them in the bin.

Bin the Wipes

In line with our message to only flush the 3Ps – pee, poo and paper, Keep Scotland Beautiful is proud to support Scottish Water’s Nature Calls campaign to bin all wipes and to ban wipes containing plastic. 

While wipes are a common convenience item, used in many households, they often contain plastic that can cause issues when they are disposed of inappropriately by flushing down the toilet.  Scottish Water deal with around 36,000 blockages each year and around 80% of these blockages feature wipes.  These blockages can then cause pollution of our beaches.

Keep Scotland Beautiful Chief Executive, Barry Fisher, said: “I’m delighted to see Scottish Water highlighting this important issue, encouraging everyone to be more conscious of the environmental impact of plastic wipes. We want doing the right thing for our environment to be easy and possible for everyone – including manufacturers finding affordable alternatives to plastic free wipes. This will make sure that industry contributes to the future without wipes that clog up our waterways and oceans, harming wildlife and permanently changing our environment.

Scotland is facing a climate and litter emergency, so action to find affordable solutions to plastic free wipes is needed to protect the future of our country.  This campaign will help industry and individuals to understand that their actions can and do make a difference." 

For more information on the campaign, see Nature Calls.


Keep the water cycle running

The short video below explains a bit more about the impact of 'unflushables' on the water cycle and our beaches. Scottish Water have some great learning reousrces around these topics. Head over to out activities & resources page to find more.

Activities and resources

Visit our activities and resources page to campaign, learn and take action

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