Kirkcudbright’s Dhoon Bay On Brink Of Losing Safe Swimming Status

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is collaborating with partners to improve water quality at Dhoon Bay near Kirkcudbright as the 2022 bathing water season begins.
  • Targeted SEPA improvement actions are in place to improve bathing water quality at Dhoon Bay as the Scottish bathing water season begins. 
  • 2022 is a key year for Dhoon Bay as another poor classification would result in the loss of its designated bathing water status. 
  • The Scottish Government has provided  funding to help tackle the problem. 
  • Focus is on improving the treatment of private sewage and reducing run-off from agricultural land.  
  • Visitors to Dhoon Bay urged to dispose of caravan and campervan toilet waste appropriately. 
  • Beach users encouraged to know key steps to protect the water environment and ensure they stay safe near the water. 

Scotland has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but also experiences some of the wettest weather in Europe. Heavy rain can have an impact on water quality at bathing waters due to contaminants being washed into rivers from sewage treatment systems, slurry spreading activities and livestock grazing. 

Having been classified as ‘Poor’ for four seasons in a row, 2022 is a key year for Dhoon Bay as another poor classification would result in the loss of its designated bathing water status. While the beach would remain open and people could still go into the water, advice against bathing would be displayed.  

A plan is in place to improve water quality which needs the local community, visitors and businesses to work in partnership to address the issues. 

Rob Morris, SEPA Senior Manager Environmental Performance, said: 

Continually ranked as one of the most beautiful countries in the world by Rough Guide, Scotland’s natural environment is world-renowned and provides a high motivation for people to visitFigures from Visit Scotland show that in 2019 38% of international visitors visited a Scottish beach, during their visit – and domestic tourism resulted in 2.31 million overnight trips to seaside and coastal locations and generated £448m of expenditure for the Scottish economy. 
“We want to ensure that locals and visitors alike experience great water quality, which is why we’re working with the Scottish Government, Dumfries and Galloway Council, NFUS, Scottish Water, South of Scotland Enterprise, Community Council, local residents and farmers on the solutions to the water quality issues at Dhoon Bay. Our aim is to see an improvement to at least “Sufficient” during the 2022 season.” 

Private sewage pressure on Dhoon Bay 

A key pressure on water quality at Dhoon Bay is from human sewage. With no Scottish Water assets in the area, private sewage systems are the principal focus for improvements.  

The local Community Councils have been working with residents to ensure that septic tanks are emptied prior to the bathing season. Scottish Water has assisted by offering a pre-season septic tank emptying service which will help to improve how the private sewage treatment systems operate over the summer. 

A Scottish Government study in 2019/20 explored the options to collect and treat sewage and providing additional treatment was deemed the most viable. The Scottish Government has provided funding to help tackle the problem and SEPA and Scottish Water are taking this work forward. 

Support is also being offered to a local caravan park owner. 

These actions are aimed at improving water quality in what will be a critical year for this location.   

Going on the go 

The increase in campervan and motorhome tourism in recent years, which means more toilet waste to be disposed of. 

Dumfries and Galloway Council is urging visitors to ensure that their waste is disposed of appropriately. Chemical toilets should never be poured down drains or public toilets. The chemicals and bacteria can contaminate the environment as it can result in blockages, spills and can impact septic tanks and sewage treatment works.  

A disposal point is available at Kirkcudbright Swimming Pool, around three miles drive from Dhoon Bay. 

Ensuring farmers protect our bathing waters 

The agency has been working with local farmers and the NFUS since 2010 to improve water quality and protect the bathing water through face-to-face visits, workshops and information sessions – resulting in many farmers adopting new practices and spending significant sums of money on additional slurry storage facilities, fencing off entire stretches of watercourses to exclude livestock, and installing alternative means of livestock watering to reach compliance. In some instances, farmers have gone even further than is legally required, by planting riparian zones which move their farming activities further away from the water’s edge.  

SEPA officers will continue to work with the NFUS and local farmers to promote best practice during the 2022 bathing season.   

Previous successes

Previous SEPA water quality improvement projects have demonstrated bold and timely action from partnership working with organisation including Scottish Government, Scottish Water, the NFUS and local authorities.15 bathing waters that had a poor classification in 2015 have improved to a sufficient or better classification in time for the 2022 Bathing Season.   

Help improve our beaches and coastlines    

Communities and visitors to Scotland’s beaches can help protect our water environment, even when they’re not there.     

It’s important that people understand the impact what they flush away can have on the environment – and their local bathing water. Every year Scottish Water teams deal with around 36,000 blockages, costing customers about £7 million annually, and around 80% of those are caused by people flushing the wrong items down the toilet, or pouring fats, oil and grease down the sink. These blockages in the sewer system can result in spills of pollution into the environment.   

Whether you are at home, at work or on holiday, Scottish Water provides advice on how to protect the network, and Scotland’s water environment, at scottishwater.co.uk/naturecalls    

Protecting our bathing waters while at the beach is also vital. Waste from animals or litter is not just unsightly, it can have a negative impact on the environment. So, visitors are encouraged to take litter home, clean up after their dogs and avoid feeding the gulls, ensuring a good beach experience for everyone who visits. Find out more at keepscotlandbeautiful.org/mybeachyourbeach   

Stay safe at the beach 

For advice on how to keep safe in and around water visit the RNLI and Water Safety Scotland webpages. 

During the season, SEPA posts results online from its sampling of all 87 designated bathing waters. At 29 locations there are bathing water signs with updated water quality predictions by 10am, so you can check before you travel.  

At most locations, bathing is not advised during, or one to two days after, heavy rainfall due to the risk to bathers’ health from short term water pollution. Site specific information on risks can be found in SEPA’s individual bathing water profiles.