Scotland's bathing water quality is on the up. In recent years it has improved across the 87 bathing waters that were monitored,  with 38 (44%) now rated as 'excellent' for 2023.

But not all sites have improved, some are still classified as merely 'sufficient, and sampling data shows spikes in the two human-sewage-related bacteria, E. coli and intestinal enterococci, that are measured. This is the case even in some sites that are rated good. 

What constitutes a safe level of bacteria is much debated, but according to the 2006 EU Bathing Water Directive, the concentration of E. coli in bathing water exceeding 500 cfu/100ml poses a high risk for bathers’ health. Over 200 cfu/100ml of enterococci is also considered unsafe.

Lower Largo – rated ‘poor’

Worst sample - 10,000 cfu/100ml of E coli and 8,900 enterococci

HeraldScotland: A view of the waterfront at Lower Largo. 

The pretty little village of Lower Largo is famed for being the birthplace of 17th-century sailor Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. It’s also home to a naturist beach, though few would have wanted to swim, naked or otherwise, when in October last year, sewage-related debris, including condoms, was found on the beach for nearly a week. Scottish Water later issued an apology for not having responded rapidly to local calls for help.  

But the incident was not an isolated one. Samples of E. coli on three different dates (in May, June and September) all revealed levels close to 10,000 – around 40 times the safe limit. Not the best start for Lower Largo, which had only just gained bathing water status after years of being so badly polluted it failed basic European standards. 

READ MORE: Scotland shockingly behind England in monitoring sewage releases


Kinghorn Harbour - rated 'poor'

Worst sample - 3700cfu/100ml of Ecoli

Kinghorn harbour beach has been struggling with sewage issues for years and in 2021 was named in a report by Save on Energy, the dirtiest beach in the UK - with an overall rating of "0.1 out of 100 based upon Government readings of E. coli and Intestinal Enterococci in coastal waters". 

However,  harbour upgrades in the harbour by Scottish Water meant by the end of 2021, the site had its lowest recorded water pollution.  

Kinghorn is improving, but still last year the beach saw, on August 10, a sample reading of 3700 for E. Coli and 1700 for intestinal enterococci.  Should you fancy a dip, you’d be better off going round the headland to Kinghorn, Pettycur, where the waters are classified as ‘excellent’

Eyemouth - rated ‘sufficient’ 

Worst sample - 10,000 cfu/100ml of E coli

HeraldScotland: Eyemouth beach. Photo: Google Maps

In July last year, a warning was issued not to go swimming at Eyemouth Beach after a sewage pipe spill. Wastewater reportedly had sprayed high in the air from a leak site under the town’s Toll Bridge. This was a one-off event, in which the beach was closed for three days, but SEPA samples from over the season reveal that on dates in August, levels of sewage-related bacteria were dangerously high, with E. coli levels reaching 10,000 on August 16 and intestinal enterococci sampling at 2800 on August 29. It's not always like this, however, and many other samples showed relatively low pollution.  

READ MORE: Revealed: All the sewage overflow sites in the Forth area mapped

Dunbar Belhaven, rated ‘good’ 

Worst sample - 2400 cfu/100ml of E coli


Earlier this year, social media was buzzing with fears of a sewage leak at this popular surfers' beach – but in fact, it turned out that what people saw in the water was an algal bloom. On the whole, last year, saw samples at Belhaven beach within safe levels However, following the storms of mid-August, samples of E. coli were at an unsafe level of 2400.  


Yellowcraig - rated ‘sufficient'

Worst sample - 1800 cfu/100ml of E coli 

HeraldScotland: Yellowcraig beach was busy last summer. Image courtesy of East Lothian Council

The beautiful beach, backed by forest and looking out on the island of Fidra, may seem like an idyll, but on August 9 last year, concentrations of intestinal enterococci were at levels of 1800. Nearby Broad Sands, despite its classification as ‘good’ hit an even higher peak sample of 3600. According to the SEPA bathing water profiles for both these areas “agricultural run-off from wet weather driven short term pollution is considered the principal risk at this bathing water”.  

6. North Berwick West, rated ‘good’  and North Berwick Milsey Bay, rated ‘sufficient’ 

Worst sample - 2300 cfu/100ml of E coli


Though North Berwick Milsey Bay only rated as ‘sufficient’ last year, it was its neighbouring ‘good’ beach that had a shock high sample following the storms in mid-August last year, with one sample reaching 2300 for E coli.  

 Luss Bay - rated  ‘sufficient’ 

Worst sample - 880 cfu/100ml of E coli

HeraldScotland: Tourists on Luss beach on the banks of Loch Lomond. Ben Lomond is in the background.....Photograph By Colin Mearns. 4 June 2003..STOCK PHOTOGRAPH..

For many years there has been concern over the quality of the water at popular Luss Bay on the shore of Loch Lomond. There were reports in 2020, that a sample taken at Luss Bay after heavy rains was “six times higher than sewage safety limits”.  In 2021, Luss Bay saw a cluster of readings where levels of E. coli and intestinal enterococci were of concern. But, last year, there was only one date on which the samples were at levels that would cause worrry – and that was at the peak of August’s heatwave, which saw a sample of 880 e coli.  

 Maidens -  rated ‘sufficient

Worst sample - 1900 cfu/100ml of  enterococci 

HeraldScotland: Louise Doyle? - Maidens beach

Near Maybole in Ayrshire, this bay, situated between Maidens Harbour and Barwhin Point, is popular with holidaymakers, especially those from nearby holiday parks. SEPA's profile for the site states,  "The principal risks and source of wet weather driven short term pollution at this bathing water arise from urban drainage, agricultural run-off and storm sewage discharges from the sewerage system." 

READ MORE: Sewage anger. The campaigners driven to test waters for themselves

Leven - rated ‘sufficient’ 

Worst sample - 2700 cfu/100ml of E coli 

There’s plenty of fun to be had at Leven, where the beach is backed by a promenade, caravan park, crazy golf and arcades. But what’s less fun is the bacteria you might encounter if you happen to go in the water at the wrong time. While the vast majority of samples from Leven suggest little cause for concern, one sample taken in May last year, showed a whopping 2700 E coli, over five times safe limits.

Portobello West - rated 'sufficient'

Worst sample - 690 cfu/100ml of E coli 

HeraldScotland: A windy but warm Portobello beach saturday...Pic Gordon Terris Herald & Times..24/7/21.

Edinburgh's bustling town beach, backed by its busy promenade, may not have had the most shocking of sample results last year. Nevertheless, it repeatedly gains only a 'sufficient' classification (and was previously poor) compared to the adjacent Portobello Central testing site. The best policy therefore is to swim towards the central/ right-end of the beach, though go too far and you're right next to the Joppa sewage overflow. Avoid the mouth of the Figgate Burn, which in a Surfer's Against Sewage report published last year, it was the worst site tested by SAS reps in the whole of the UK. And, if you're a local, and want to clean things ups, it's worth joining the newly-formed Porty Water Collective.