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Bathing waters designation

How is a bathing water designated?

The Bathing Waters (Scotland) Regulations 2008 require Scottish Ministers to designate an area of surface water (coastal or inland) as a bathing water if they “expect a large number of people to bathe there, having regard to past trends and infrastructure or facilities provided, or other measures taken, to promote bathing” at that site. Each year, Ministers must also determine the period during which a large number of bathers are expected as the “bathing season”.

Why designate bathing waters?

Bathing waters designation aims to protect human health at locations where large numbers of people bathe during the bathing season. Water quality at designated bathing water sites in Scotland is monitored by SEPA during the bathing season. At a number of sites daily water quality forecasts are issued. Annually each site is classified as excellent, good, sufficient or poor based on measurements usually taken over a four-year period. This information allows people to make informed choices about where and when to bathe.

Criteria for designating a bathing water in Scotland

Scottish Ministers decide each year on the list of bathing waters to be designated, including new bathing waters, prior to each bathing season. The criteria for designation are that (i) a large number of people is expected to bathe there and (ii) no permanent advice against bathing there has been introduced.

Generally around 150 people per day using the water for bathing regularly throughout the season would likely be considered a ‘large’ number of bathers; however Scottish Ministers have discretion as to what would be a large number and could in some circumstances designate a bathing water where fewer than 150 bathers are expected per day.

In determining whether a large number of bathers is expected to bathe at an area of surface water, Ministers are also required to take a number of factors into account, including past trends, infrastructure provided to support bathing, the promotion of bathing and beach management as well as other facilities and local/public views following public consultation.

Process for designation

Local authorities often propose the designation of bathing waters, but any organisation or individual can suggest to Scottish Ministers that a bathing water should be designated. If you are considering proposing that a bathing water should be designated, you may wish to contact the bathing water team at an early stage. There is no statutory process for making a proposal to Scottish Ministers for designation of a bathing water.

However, in order to ensure public participation in the process of bathing water designations, Scottish Ministers make available a proposal form which any person or body wanting to propose a bathing water may wish to complete. The proposal form sets out details of the information which could be provided about the bathing water. It is helpful to Scottish Ministers if they have comprehensive information provided to them in order to consider whether a bathing water should be designated.

Information to support designation of a bathing water

In considering proposals for bathing waters, Scottish Ministers will take into account:

  • user surveys
  • information about beach management, infrastructure/facilities provided, promotion of bathing and any past usage trends at the site

Local authorities have specific duties under the Bathing Waters (Scotland) Regulations 2008. For example, in relation to publicly-accessible signage, beach management, and the provision of appropriate infrastructure. Scottish Ministers will also take into account:

  • support from the relevant local authority
  • support from landowner(s) (if applicable for privately owned sites)
  • evidence of a local consultation

Any information about local authority or landlord support may also provide information which is relevant in relation to beach management, infrastructure/facilities provided, promotion of bathing and any past usage trends at the site.

The proposal form sets out more detail about the information which can be provided to support the proposed designation of a bathing water.

Bathing Water Panel

Once the information about a proposed bathing water has been received, the annual Bathing Water Panel will consider the information.

Scottish Ministers have to ensure that the public, the appropriate local authorities, the relevant health board, SEPA, and any other public body with an interest in any proposed bathing water are consulted. The Bathing Water Panel convened annually by SEPA consists of representatives of these relevant groups and therefore this allows the formal consultation about any proposed designation of a bathing water to take place. The Panel will consider any proposals as well as review the list of bathing waters and the length of the bathing season for the coming year. The Panel then provides a report to Scottish Ministers.


Step 1 - To be considered by the Bathing Water Panel the proposal (and supporting material if available) must be submitted by 30 September.

Step 2 - SEPA will convene a Bathing Water Panel meeting for the last week in October. The Panel will review all information about a proposed bathing water, including submissions from other responsible authorities.

Step 3 - The Bathing Water Panel, having considered all the information provided, will provide a report to Scottish Ministers (by 15 November) who will decide whether to designate the location as a bathing water.

Step 4 - Any person or body who has proposed the designation of a bathing water will be informed, by the Scottish Ministers, of their decision early in the following year as to whether or not a water is to be designated, including reasons for that decision.

There is no right of review or appeal against any decision by Scottish Ministers in relation to any decision regarding designation of bathing waters in any year. However, bathing waters are reviewed on an annual basis so proposed surface water locations can be considered again for future bathing seasons.