Three beaches have been recommended in Ayrshire for 2006, the most ever for the Firth of Clyde, and Ettrick Bay on the Isle of Bute, which has had many problems, finally passed minimum European standards for the first time, although there is still a way to go until listing in the Guide. Groundbreaking measures by SEPA to improve bathing water quality, such as working with farmers on the Four-Point Plan to reduce diffuse sewage pollution, are slowly yielding dividends.

Failures were down two, from 14 to 12, which although still high by UK standards, is a move in the right direction. After a big jump in bathing water quality two years ago, 50 beaches (43%) have been recommended for the second year running in the 2006 Guide, slightly down from the record high of 53 in 2004. Visit Scotland has recognised these trends, supporting word-class events like the Tiree Wave Classic and initiatives like the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Beach Guide in 2005.

Evidently, whether bathing, surfing or windsurfing, growing numbers of people not only like to be beside the seaside, but also in the sea! Surf shops and schools that are springing up from Coldingham to Campbeltown, Thurso to Stornoway stand as testimony. A subsequent poll even reported that a third of Scots would go into the sea during a visit to the beach. Once upon a time, so it was said, the sea around Scotland was ‘too cold to swim in’.

Aerial surveys commissioned by the Scottish Executive dispelled this myth, proving that an impressive one in ten people visiting our beaches during the summer in 2003 went in the sea. Scotland has already seen a consistent, annual improvement in the quality of coastal waters, mostly due to upgrading of sewerage works, but there is always room for improvement. One successful project was in Nigg Bay where salt marsh and mudflats were re-established providing supporting habitats for many species of birds. SEPA is looking for opportunities to re-create coastal habitats that may compliment sustainable soft engineering.

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