top of page

Water quality and beach management

The closest designated bathing beach to Dunoon is the beautiful Lunderston Bay, located between Inverkip and Gourock, 5km southeast of Dunoon across the Clyde estuary. Ettrick Bay on Bute, and beaches all down the coast to Girvan, including Millport, Troon, Saltcoats and Prestwick, all have beaches that have attained bathing water quality status. But what does bathing water quality mean in practice?

Credit: Thomas Nugent 'Sunbathers at Lunderston Bay'

Beaches designated for bathing are monitored by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). There are 85 registered bathing beaches across Scotland, and a handful in Argyll and Bute. Water samples are regularly taken and tested from June to September (peak bathing times). SEPA publishes the test results on its website and through a network of digital signs located in communities.

SEPA tests the sea water for a range of microbes that can cause harm to humans and the environment, including Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci; they also observe cyanobacterial (blue-green algae) blooms, macroalgae (seaweed), marine phytoplankton and other waste. If the test results indicate poor water quality, then action is taken to investigate the problem.

The regeneration of West Bay

West Bay Promenade 1900s

We are currently considering beach stewardship as part of the ‘We are building a beach hut’ project and exploring questions about the long-term implications of placing new structures on the shore. We hope to support the sustainable regeneration of West Bay by thinking through how facilities, such as beach huts and signage, impact on the community experience of place now and into the future.

Although water quality has nothing to do with building a beach hut, empowering local people with information about their local environment could be one way of attracting more people to West Bay and ensuring new local amenities are well used.

Information about bathing water quality, particularly when it is made available on the shore, helps people make an informed choices about using the sea. The data can alert people to changes in the water that could have a direct impact on human health and our sensitive marine environment. This becomes more relevant when you consider the implications of climate change on future water quality.

As a consequence of climate change heavier rainfall is predicted across Scotland. Scottish Water is permitted to release untreated sewage into water ways following heavy rain; this procedure prevents water treatment stations becoming overwhelmed. Although this is a rare occurrence at the moment, it could become more common and the only way we can understand the impact of this pollution is to monitor water quality.

Dr Steph Connelly is a local resident and a civil engineer at Glasgow University. She is also part of our research team and brings a specialist knowledge of sustainable water treatment and sanitation solutions. She points out that;

“the cost of testing water quality prohibits communities from doing this themselves. Bathing water status makes these tests mandatory, with SEPA paying for the labwork and publication of the data”

So, obtaining bathing water quality status for West Bay could be a useful way of protecting the beach during high bathing season.

Positive local action

Beach clean West Bay Sep 2021

Local efforts to improve and care for West Bay are already happening. Both Dunoon Primary School and local volunteers from the Dunoon Area Alliance conduct beach cleans along the bay supported by the Marine Conservation Society and the GRAB trust.

Jason Coles a member of the Dunoon Area Alliance and Skipper for local business Wreckspeditions, helps co-ordinate beach cleans on West Bay and other beaches in the Dunoon Area. Jason comments:

“Beach cleans on West Bay have brought people together to do something positive to protect this sensitive marine environment. Through monitoring the waste being picked up during beach cleans, we are also contributing to national conservation efforts, whilst educating kids and adults alike about the changes we can make to reduce waste and what not to flush down the toilet!”

This vital work supports local efforts to protect the beach and contributes valuable data about the quantity and types of waste being washed up on the shore as volunteers carefully record recovered waste into categories.

Towards better beach management on West Bay

West Bay has always attracted swimmers and people taking part in water-based activities, such as fishing and rowing. The water is an intrinsic part of Dunoon’s cultural history; Colgate's guide to Dunoon published in 1868 identifies the different bathing areas along the shore and people historically visited the area to experience the health-giving properties of the local sea water.

Dunoon Lido, which was located at the Bullwood end of West Bay, was a bathing station opened in 1937 and was extremely popular for a while, although the location of the Lido seemed disconnected from where people actually wanted to swim.

Although there has been a long period of decline in visitor numbers to West Bay, we know that the number of fresh or wild water swimmers has increased significantly over the last few years, giving rise to local groups such as the Crazy Dookers.

This is fantastic to see, and when have spoken to people about the changes in water quality on West Bay, they have noticed distinct improvements over the last few decades. Tighter regulations around sewage treatment and the dumping of waste in the sea mean fewer unpleasant experiences of swimming in visibly polluted waters, which was a common occurrence.

Bathing water status

The route to obtaining bathing water status takes time, money, and local co-ordination. A designated organisation needs to apply to SEPA. The applicant needs to evidence that:

“a ‘large’ number of bathers (150 or so people) will be found at popular, well-used beaches and lakes where bathing is encouraged and facilities for bathers may have been provided…… evidence that the relevant authorities or land owners are actively seeking to promote bathing at the site will be taken into consideration.”

Bathing water status for West Bay would certainly ensure regular water testing, giving people more confidence to use the water.

My Beach Your Beach

Keep Scotland Beautiful also supports better beach management through Scotland’s Beach Awards and “My Beach Your Beach”, a pilot scheme to address community sources of water contamination such as dog poo and litter. Communities can download posters and resources to support a localised campaign here>

Scotland’s Beach awards

Scotland’s Beach Awards are given to ‘blue spaces’ that meet a set of criteria ranging from community and heritage to the quality of the local environment. Local authorities and community groups can apply to Scotland's Beach Awards, and successful applicants gain a position that is akin to Blue Flag status. More information about how to apply can be found here>

Over the longer term

From the many conversations we have had with people about West Bay, as part of this project, it is clear that people care deeply about this stretch of shore. Aside from physical improvements to West Bay that encourage more people to use it for activities, there is also a need to think about the long-term and how a simple beach hut could be part of a series of measures to protect this coastal environment for all.


This article has been produced as part of the We are building a beach hut project.

The project has been developed to support wider community engagmement with the regeneration of West Bay, through exploring the themes of heritage and climate change.

The project is supported by the Culture Heritage and Arts Assembly's Evolve funding, Argyll and Bute Council's CARS project and the Dunoon Area Alliance

'We are building a beach hut' is a co-design project produced by Tacit Tacit and the POP shop collective, Dunoon.

For more information about the project please go here>


bottom of page