Scottish Water is urging people to stay safe, behave responsibly and not take risks around watercourses such as reservoirs, rivers and lochs this summer.
The latest figures from the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) show that, in 2022, a total of 226 people lost their lives to accidental drowning in the UK, including 45 in Scotland.
The call follows some anti-social and dangerous behaviour by groups of young people recently at some of our reservoirs – including Milngavie in East Dunbartonshire, Picketlaw in Eaglesham, East Renfrewshire and Gladhouse in Midlothian – which included vandalism, littering and diving from water towers which are working parts of the reservoirs.
Peter Farrer, Scottish Water’s chief operating officer, said: “While people should enjoy any good weather we have and take pleasure around the country’s beautiful lochs, reservoirs and rivers, it’s absolutely vital they stay safe at all times and behave responsibly.
“As a number of tragic deaths in Scotland in recent years have shown, safety is a serious issue in all bodies of water, including lochs, reservoirs and rivers.
“At reservoirs, while the water may look harmless, there are many hidden dangers. We need to ensure everyone is aware of these hazards. We are reminding parents to keep their children safe and asking adults to act responsibly around reservoirs and other watercourses.”
Deep, cold water is a particular danger at reservoirs, which are working parts of Scottish Water’s infrastructure. Dams, steep banks, spillways (overflows) and underwater pipework can also present real hazards.
Many of the publicly-owned utility’s reservoirs are situated in remote locations, meaning there is a lack of immediate assistance and mobile phone reception can be poor.
In the interests of public safety, Scottish Water does not encourage swimming in its reservoirs.
Its reservoir safety advice is also targeted at pet owners. One of the biggest concerns with dog owners is when their pet dives into water, chasing a ball or stick. The pet more often survives such incidents but owners who have attempted to save them sometimes don’t.
The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) is backing Scottish Water’s advice.
RLSS UK’s annual Drowning Prevention Week runs from June 17 to 24 and encourages people to do their bit to ensure the UK’s accessible waterways, are fun and secure places for everyone to take pleasure in.
Lee Heard, the RLSS UK’s Charity Director, said: “Sadly we see a rise in accidental drownings during the summer months with 46% of accidental drownings in the UK occurring in June, July and August. It is vitally important that everyone has an understanding of water safety, especially as the weather warms up and we see the temperatures rise as we have in recent years.
“In 2022, 60% of accidental drownings occurred at inland water such as rivers, canals, lochs and lakes, reservoirs and quarries.
“It is vital that we share water safety messaging as we may see people wishing to cool off in the variety of waterways, however, just because the air temperature has increased does not mean the water temperature has; the water can remain extremely cold which results in dangers such as cold water shock when people enter the water. We know that with the right water safety knowledge, accidental drownings are avoidable.
“We want to ensure everyone can enjoy their summer break and being in or around water but be safe in the knowledge that they, and their children, have the skills and understanding about water safety, which could potentially save a life.”
Also supporting Scottish Water’s call, Carlene McAvoy, Leisure Safety Manager at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: “Often, open waters in the UK are much colder than anticipated and can lead to cold water shock. This can affect your ability to breathe, overwhelms your ability to swim, and can lead to drowning. Even the strongest swimmers can be impacted by cold water shock, so it’s always important to be mindful of this.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Station Commander James Sullivan, who is Chair of Water Safety Scotland, an association of organisations working to prevent water-related fatalities whose members include Scottish Water, added: “It’s imperative that anyone entering water is fully aware of the risks – some of which cannot be seen.
“We would strongly advise everyone to familiarise themselves with the Water Safety Code before even contemplating entering water. Entering water before being aware of the risks often leads to tragic results.”
A new team of Scottish Water reservoir rangers is helping visitors enjoy some of the country’s most popular locations and promoting safety at reservoirs.
The rangers patrol the paths and shorelines of four major reservoirs – at Milngavie (2) in East Dunbartonshire, Gladhouse in Midlothian and Carron Valley in Stirlingshire – whose paths, woodland and shorelines attract tens of thousands of visitors.
As they prepare to increase their interaction with visitors at the reservoirs this summer, Davy Gray, Scottish Water’s rangers’ team manager, said:
“Regular visitors to our reservoirs will no doubt be aware of our signage alerting them to potential hazards around and below the water and we encourage everyone to read them.
“On top of that, however, we have a small team of friendly rangers who will be chatting to them. We believe that this provides an opportunity to engage in a bit more detail on all aspects of water safety. The rangers will be promoting the best practice guidance that Scottish Water and the key member agencies in Water Safety Scotland have created. This is more specific to their chosen activity; be it paddleboarding, kayaking, angling or swimming.”
The Learn to Swim programme, a unique partnership between Scottish Water and Scottish Swimming, has already helped more than 100,000 youngsters to be safer and more confident in the water and aims to reach a further 100,000 by 2025, helping them to unlock long lasting health benefits.
Across Scotland there are 37 national Learn to Swim Framework providers, working across 160 pools, with currently 76,500 children learning to swim each week.
Learn to Swim is a National Framework – a partnership between Scottish Swimming and Scottish Water committed to creating supportive and quality environments across the country in which children can learn to swim regardless of their age, ability, or skill level. It aims to develop competent swimmers, as well as encouraging youngsters to adopt a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle with sport and fun at its heart.
Scottish Water’s #RespectOurReservoirs video highlights the importance of water safety and how visitors can play their part in helping protect the natural environment, for example by taking their litter home and leaving no trace.