All Bar One Of Region’s Beaches Meet Scottish Environmental Standards

Scotland’s bathing water quality is the best it has been since 2015 when tighter standards first came into force, with almost all sites now classified as sufficient or better for next season. On top of that 32 out of 85 – (38%) are rated as ‘excellent’, the highest number since the annual classifications were reported from 2015.

  • 99% of Scotland’s designated bathing waters met the required environmental water quality standards for the 2021 bathing water season.
  • 38% of bathing waters achieved ‘excellent’ status – the highest since tighter standards first came into force in 2015.
  • Significant improvement achieved at Ayr (South Beach) which achieved Good status.
  • Improvement measures and plans for Rockcliffe aim to sustain this year’s improved water quality.
  • Farmers and land managers have continued to show good compliance with environmental protection measures.
  • Management plans in place at Dhoon Bay designed to improve water quality in 2022 and beyond.

Having been classified as ‘Poor’ for four years in a row, 2021 was a key season for Ayr (South Beach), as another poor classification would have resulted in the loss of its designated bathing water status. Results from this season show that the planned pollution control measures and improvement projects, combined with a largely dry summer which also helped reduce pollution run-off, resulted in a significant improvement in water quality. With further improvements continuing into future years and continued collaboration and partnership working moving forward on improvement actions, the bathing water will continue to be a valued bathing water location.

Rockcliffe on the Solway coast, which had been classified as Poor since 2017, has also seen a ‘step change’ after SEPA authorised temporary treatment operated by Scottish Water at nearby Kippford for the 2021 season. The success this year is ahead of a permanent solution for sewage treatment which will sustain this improved status for the longer term.

Scotland’s results

2021/22 2020/21 2019/20 2018/19 2017/18 2016/17 2015/16
Excellent 32 (38%) Results carried over from 2019/20 29 (34%) 28 (32%) 25 (29%) 26 (31%) 17 (20%)
Good 35 (41%) 31 (36%) 35 (41%) 34 (40%) 36 (43%) 38 (45%)
Sufficient 17 (20%) 20 (24%) 13 (15%) 16 (19%) 11 (13%) 12 (14%)
Poor 1 (1%) 5 (6%) 10 (12%) 11 (13%) 11 (13%) 17 (20%)
Total Bathing Waters 85 85 86 86 84 84


Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said:

“Improving Scotland’s water environment is a key priority for SEPA, and that includes the bathing waters so many of us enjoy. Across Scotland, we work to protect watercourses through licensing, inspection and regulation of discharges, and pollution incident response. In addition, we provide advice and guidance to the public, industry, developers, and local authorities.

“The successes at Ayr (South Beach) and Rockcliffe demonstrate the bold and timely action that can come from partnership working. We’ll continue to work with our partners to raise or maintain the state of bathing waters throughout Scotland, with particular attention on Dhoon Bay in 2022.”

Minister for Environment and Land Reform Mairi McAllan said:

“Scotland’s bathing waters are so important to our environment and to people’s health and well-being and it is great to see hard work and investment delivering results.

“This is great news for the people of Ayr and the thousands of people who visit its shores every year. Ayr beach is one of Scotland’s most popular visitor areas, with a long tradition of welcoming people from far and wide to enjoy its coastline. By investing in improving Ayr’s bathing waters along with others across Scotland, we have made sure many more people can continue to enjoy them and will potentially bring a boost to the local tourism economy.”

At Dhoon Bay, SEPA is working closely with the local community and the local authority to put in place improved private sewage treatment systems serving domestic homes in time for the 2022 Bathing Season, with funds made available by the Scottish Government. South of Scotland Enterprise is also involved in plans to upgrade treatment at a caravan park in an area that is important for tourism. These actions are aimed at improving water quality in what will be a critical year for this location.

While season results are normally based on a four-year rolling average, when there is a significant improvement that is sustainable in the future, it is appropriate to use a “step-change” to classify using one season’s samples. The improvements at Ayr (South Beach) and Rockcliffe are significant enough that, alongside continued beach management, on-going use of SEPA’s daily prediction signage and discounting systems and upgraded electronic signs for 2022, there is good confidence that similar classifications should be maintained in future years. 

The Scottish Government funded “My Beach Your Beach” campaign which is delivered by Keep Scotland Beautiful has also successfully helped people care for our beaches and bathing waters by raising public awareness to reduce beach pollution from dogs, gulls, and litter. The campaign has focused its activities at Ayr, Troon, Irvine, Saltcoats/Ardrossan, Kinghorn, Portobello and Fisherrow beaches.

Significant Scottish Water investment

  • Ayr (South Beach)

Scottish Water’s investment of around £10 million, including increased storm storage capacity at two wastewater treatment works, has driven clear improvement in water quality at Ayr (South Beach), which now achieves a “Good” classification. Temporary chemical disinfection at Minishant septic tank also proved to be successful and this improvement will be made permanent with Scottish Water installing a new wastewater treatment works for this location.

Additional work in the coming years will include first-time provision for properties which currently discharge to the River Doon, with around £3 million of targeted Scottish Government funding as part of a programme of improvements.

  • Rockcliffe

A significant improvement in water quality was seen at Rockcliffe and the Bathing Water would achieve an “Excellent” classification if the classification was calculated on single year data.

During 2020/21, Scottish Water installed chemical dosing as a temporary measure at the septic tank at Kippford at a cost of around £220,000. Dosing is proposed to continue until a new wastewater treatment works is constructed, along with a new discharge point, by 2024.

Simon Parsons, Strategic Customer Services Planning Director at Scottish Water, said:

“We’re delighted that our £10 million investment in wastewater infrastructure at Belleisle, Mauchline and Drongan has positively contributed towards protecting the bathing water status of Ayr (South).

“A collaborative approach with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, South Ayrshire Council and other key parties was instrumental to expediting this major investment and has ensured its successful delivery.

“In addition to the improved treatment capability that this investment brings, the continued operational diligence of our assets in the area is helping to ensure the best possible water quality is achieved. This is great news for local people, the local tourist industry and the environment.”

Farmers and land managers working together to improve Scotland’s rivers

SEPA has been working alongside NFUS over a number of years to help farmers and rural land managers reduce diffuse pollution affecting both Ayr (South Beach) and Rockcliffe catchments.

Inspections have shown that of 410 across the two areas only a small number in Ayrshire are still completing remedial measures. All others are fully compliant, with many adopting new practices and spending significant sums of money to improve slurry storage, fence off water courses and install alternative water supplies for livestock. Around £50 million has been spent on improvements, through self-funding and grants from Scottish Government, and in many cases farmers have gone even further than is legally required to help protect Scotland’s water environment from farming activities.




Full list of results

Highland and Islands – 8 excellent, 7 good, 1* sufficient, 0 poor
*Lossiemouth East is currently inaccessible due to a collapsed footbridge.
Achmelvich Excellent
Dores Good
Dornoch Excellent
Dunnet Excellent
Ettrick   Bay Good
Findhorn Excellent
Gairloch Beach Excellent
Ganavan Excellent
Loch Morlich Excellent
Lossiemouth (East) * Sufficient
Machrihanish Good
Nairn (Central) Good
Nairn (East) Good
Rosemarkie Good
Sand Beach Excellent
Thurso Good
Lothian, mid Scotland and Fife – 9 excellent, 3 good, 4 sufficient, 0 poor
Aberdour (Silversands) Excellent
Aberdour Harbour (Black Sands) Good
Anstruther (Billow Ness) Excellent
Burntisland Good
Crail (Roome Bay) Excellent
Elie (Harbour) and Earlsferry Excellent
Elie (Ruby Bay) Excellent
Kinghorn (Harbour Beach) Sufficient
Kinghorn (Pettycur) Excellent
Kingsbarns Excellent
Kirkcaldy (Seafield) Good
Leven Sufficient
Portobello (Central) Sufficient
Portobello  (West) Sufficient
St Andrews (East Sands) Excellent
St Andrews (West Sands) Excellent
North East Scotland – 7 excellent, 9 good, 1 sufficient, 0 poor
Aberdeen Good
Arbroath (West Links) Good
Balmedie Excellent
Broughty Ferry Excellent
Carnoustie Good
Collieston Good
Cruden Bay Good
Cullen Bay Good
Fraserburgh (Philorth) Excellent
Fraserburgh (Tiger Hill) Good
Inverboyndie Good
Lunan Bay Excellent
Monifieth Good
Montrose Excellent
Peterhead (Lido) Excellent
Rosehearty Excellent
Stonehaven Sufficient
Solway – 1 excellent, 3 good, 2 sufficient, 1 poor
Brighouse Bay Sufficient
Carrick Sufficient
Dhoon Bay Poor
Mossyard Good
Rockcliffe Excellent
Sandyhills Good
Southerness Good
South East Scotland – 7 excellent, 5 good, 3 sufficient, 0 poor
Broad Sands Good
Coldingham Excellent
Dunbar (Belhaven) Good
Dunbar (East) Good
Yellow Craig Good
Eyemouth Sufficient
Gullane Excellent
Longniddry Good
North Berwick (Milsey Bay) Sufficient
North Berwick (West) Excellent
Pease Bay Excellent
Seacliff Excellent
Seton Sands Sufficient
Thorntonloch Excellent
Whitesands Excellent
West Scotland – 0 excellent, 8 good, 6 sufficient, 0 poor
Ayr (South Beach) Good
Culzean Good
Girvan Sufficient
Heads of Ayr Good
Irvine Sufficient
Largs (Pencil Beach) Sufficient
Lunderston Bay Good
Luss Bay Sufficient
Maidens Sufficient
Millport Bay Good
Prestwick Good
Saltcoats/Ardrossan Good
Seamill Sufficient
Troon (South Beach) Good


The revised Bathing Water Directive

Under the revised Bathing Water Directive:

  • classifications are calculated at the end of the 2021 season for display on all beaches at the start of the 2022 season;
  • water quality classification applies for the whole season;
  • the overall condition of a location is described through bathing water profiles.


Wet weather problems

  • Diffuse pollution is the largest pollution pressure on the water environment in Scotland, but it can be difficult to identify and control. The risk of diffuse pollution is worse during rainfall because nutrients, soil, chemicals and faecal bacteria can be washed from land into the surrounding water environment. Single discharge points might not seem to be an issue, but several combined across a whole river catchment can significantly affect water quality, including in EU designated bathing waters. Land and run-off management practices play a pivotal role in diffuse pollution mitigation.
  • Another source of pollution at beaches can be combined sewer overflows (CSOs). During heavy rainfall CSOs, which discharge diluted but minimally treated sewage to watercourses and coastal waters, are essential to prevent flooding. However, during extended periods of rain, which are not uncommon in Scotland, the combined effect of CSOs in a catchment can have a negative impact on the water quality. To minimise the impact of combined sewer overflows on water quality, SEPA imposes conditions requiring sewage litter and debris removal and on the location and frequency of their operation. SEPA continues to work closely with the Scottish Government, Scottish Water and the Water Industry to ensure that planned capital investment programmes aimed at upgrading sewerage infrastructure throughout the country are prioritised to maximise environmental benefits.