AT nearly four miles long, Loch Leven is the largest natural body of water in the UK, and, at this time of year, home to thousands of pink-footed geese.

In the warmer months at this National Nature Reserve, you can often spot ringed plovers, lapwings, goldeneyes, mallards and a fair amount of Dryrobes too.

The quality of the water has long attracted wild swimmers, with everyone from triathletes-in-training to the more casual paddlers heading to Kinross for a dip.

Now the Scottish Greens are calling for the loch to become Scotland’s first protected wild swimming hotspot.

They want the historic site - associated with Mary Queen of Scots - to be given designated bathing water status by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

The call comes after fears about the quality of the water and concerns over pollution.

There has been a growing number of incidents of toxic algal blooms, caused by phosphorous coming from agricultural run-off and also from two waste water treatment plants which handle the sewage from Milnathort and Kinross.

Because of the shared systems, in periods of heavy rain, Scottish Water is forced to divert untreated sewage directly into the loch.

The Herald: Loch Leven bloom

Earlier this month, Perth and Kinross councillors unanimously backed calls for tighter controls on the amounts of phosphorus deposited into the loch.

At its worst blue-green algae can kill wild animals, livestock and domestic pets and cause problems for humans.

Mark Ruskell, the MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife says giving the loch designated bathing status could transform it into a “hotspot for wild swimming, paddle sports and mental and physical well-being activities.”

He said: “Loch Leven is one of Scotland’s natural treasures and a truly wonderful example of environmental restoration work, after it was brought back to health after issues with pollution back in the early 1990s.

“Its importance and popularity really came into its own during the global pandemic as people flocked to its shores to enjoy its open spaces, spend time in the water and among the trees and hills that flank it.

“Ever since its popularity has grown, but all too often we are seeing the warning signs going up warning of this horrible and potentially fatal bloom, and all the indicators are its being allowed to get worse."

“Instead of people being able to make the most of the waters as a wild swimming hotspot or being able to use paddle boards and canoes respectfully, mindful of its role as a bird and nature reserve, we all too often see the warning sites going up to stay out.

"The deadline for applying to SEPA for bathing water status is March, and we need to show exactly how well loved and used Loch Leven is.

"I'd love to hear from everyone who swims at and uses Loch Leven to let me know exactly which parts of the shoreline we should look to have as designated spots.

“By cleaning up the waters, by ensuring even greater monitoring and remedial work, then it would transform the health of the loch allowing locals and visitors alike to benefit from this amazing body of water within easy reach of their homes.

“It cannot be right that we stand by and do nothing when all the evidence is clear that our mental and physical health benefits from being engaged with nature.

“There are also potential good economic knock on effects for some local businesses, nature charities and the wider area as whole, in the same way we see places like the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond benefit.

“Loch Leven, with all its history of Mary Queen of Scots, the winter curling Bonspiels and its key role in protecting our nature and biodiversity, deserves to be afforded all the protection available to us, and I hope people will work with me in achieving this.”

A NatureScot spokesperson said:“Loch Leven is a fantastic wildlife site and is one of Scotland’s most visited National Nature Reserves. Together with partners including Perth and Kinross Council, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, SEPA and many local stakeholders we’ve been working as a catchment management group to improve the water quality at Loch Leven for nearly 30 years.

"This has resulted in an increase in water clarity; abundance and diversity of plant and invertebrate life; and breeding bird numbers.

“Recent research from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology shows the increase in algal blooms is closely linked to increasing loch water temperatures resulting from climate change which causes a release of phosphorous already stored in nutrient rich sediments in the loch. 

"If these algal blooms are becoming more prevalent, this could lead to reduced water clarity and oxygen levels and have consequences for wildlife.

“NatureScot and our partners in the catchment management group are taking expert advice from SEPA, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Scottish Water on whether there is now additional phosphorus entering the loch levels from sewage discharges and what actions are open to us to prevent this and ensure the water quality of the loch and associated nature is protected.”

There are seven islands in the loch, including, most notably, St Serf's Inch where Mary, Queen of Scots, was held in Lochleven castle before her escape in 1658.

During her time she suffered a miscarriage. Her twins are buried nearby. Days later she was forced to abdicate her throne and make way for her son, James VI.

She made two escape attempts. The first involved making the boat crossing disguised as the castle's washerwoman. Unfortunately, her hands were more queen-like than cleaner-like, fuelling the suspicions of the boatman.

Her second attempt, on May 2 1568, saw her successfully cross the loch. 

Lochleven Castle closed during lockdown and has not reopened since, while Historic Environment Scotland "undertake essential high-level masonry inspections."