Wardie Bay campaigners seek water quality monitoring

Wardie Bay, bathing water, petition
Wardie Bay © Wardie Bay Beachwatch

Wild swimmers and environmental campaigners are leading an appeal, which includes a campaign film, song and petition, for Wardie Beach in Edinburgh to be included in Scotland’s list of designated bathing waters.

In 2019, theWardie Bay Wild Ones and Wardie Bay Beachwatch came together to make an application to SEPA for designated Bathing Water status for north Edinburgh’s much-loved and increasingly popular bathing site, Wardie Beach, situated between Granton and Newhaven Harbours.

Evidence of over 150 beach users across the bathing season, from 1st June to 15th September, was provided. The decision not to designate was made, not by the review panel 1, but by the Scottish Government. Feedback cited issues relating to a lack of appropriate infrastructure and facilities 2.

On 28th August 2020, SEPA offered the group the opportunity to appeal the decision, and the #WardieBay4BathingWater campaign was born. A petition launched on 25th September received over 1000 signatures in four days.

The appeal document was submitted on Friday 30th October. The review panel meets to confirm 2021 Bathing Waters in December, and a decision will be made by the government early next year.

Karen Bates, volunteer organiser of Wardie Bay Beachwatch said, “The community works so hard to look after Wardie Beach, which receives marine litter and sewage related debris on every tide. We don’t believe we should be penalised for a lack of existing infrastructure and protection from these harms. We believe people need water quality monitoring and deserve the same safety protections in Granton that other similar local beaches are afforded. Large numbers of people come to Wardie Bay anyway, because of the semi-wild nature of this place not despite it. We saw a huge rise in the number of bathers in 2020 due to the pandemic. We don’t want the unintended consequence that Wardie Bay loses its special character and precious wildlife because of a perceived need to develop it.”

Wardie Bay

The group’s campaign film, shot by Carlos Hernan in recent weeks, includes interviews with swimmers, swim safety coach Colin Campbell, health and ecotoxicology experts Kate Swaine and Professor Alex Ford, and illustrator Alice Melvin who recently published her ‘Book of Swims’. Alice Caldwell also created a beautiful song for the campaign.

Kate Swaine, local wild swimmer and nutritionist said, “One of my big concerns, when I’m swimming all the time is, what exactly is in the water? We know that when there’s been lots of rainfall, there will be an increase in the number of parasites, viruses, bacteria that can get into the water through sewage, and some of these have the potential to cause sometimes severe symptoms… I would like for Wardie Bay to be monitored as other beaches are in Scotland, so that the swimmers who choose to swim here, the paddleboarders and other people that use the water, have an idea of whether the water quality is rated poor, average, good. That would be really useful for people so that we can just enjoy being in the water and getting all the benefits from it: the mental health benefits, the physical benefits and just knowing that we’re not possibly putting ourselves at any risk.”

A spokesperson for the Wardie Bay Wild Ones said, “It is a frequent occurrence that swimmers will ask one another in the group for advice or thoughts on water quality, either generally, or on a given day. At present the only thing anyone can do is guess. Even people who’ve been in the water that day have no way of actually knowing what the water quality is like, and how safe it is to swim. Having some kind of testing, or even informed estimates of water quality available publicly would make a huge difference to swimmers.”

Karen added, “There is remarkable biodiversity and natural history at Wardie Bay, especially for such a city location. Environmental monitoring isn’t just for the many children and adults that use the water for swimming or playing, vital though that is. It is also an indicator of the environmental harm that untreated sewage does to our coastal ecology.”

Bathing Water Quality

Dr Alex Ford, Professor of marine biology, ecotoxicology and parasitology at the University of Portsmouth, who took his PhD at Napier University said, “The general public have been very good at adjusting their behaviours to how damaging plastic pollution can be. But one of the problems we have with the chemicals coming out through our storm water overflows is that they can’t be seen and they don’t need to be there in very high concentrations to damage wildlife and the many species we use for food. Within that effluent, you’ve got fertilisers, industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals as well as the organic matter from faeces. With that pollution comes disease but also abnormalities in those coastal organisms’ development. There are also suggestions that us humans are suffering as well. During Covid-19, there’s been an extraordinary number of people to have taken up water sports which is absolutely fantastic for health and wellbeing, but that combined with this increase in sewage going into the water; it may have detrimental effects on our health as well.”

A designated bathing water profile would be a holistic investment for both our environment and society. It would result in Wardie Beach visitors receiving water quality monitoring across the bathing season, daily water quality predictions, information on the potential pollution sources and risks to water quality as well as feedback on the measures being taken to improve water quality at the site.

Karen went on to say, “If the issue is under-resourcing of our Environmental Protection Agencies, we must emphasise that we need them now more than ever. Rainfall is going to intensify with climate change and consequently, damage to our oceans due to infrastructure that is increasingly unfit for purpose. Unless we monitor, record and report on environmental issues we can’t do anything to protect ourselves and perhaps more importantly, marine habitats.”

“What we are looking for,” says swimmer Vicky Allan, member of the Wild Ones, and co-author of Taking the Plunge, “is environmental protection, not just for swimmers, but for everything else that lives in these waters and might be affected by pollutants. Many of us swimmers love this bay not just for its access to water, but for its wildlife. This is about protecting both people and wild places.”

For further information, or to set up further interviews, please contact:

Karen Bates, 07803 582 789, email: wardiebaybeachwatch@gmail.com.

Professor Alex Ford can be contacted through the University of Portsmouth press office: pressoffice@port.ac.uk.

The Petition:


  1. The Bathing Water Designation Panel considers applications for new designations as bathing waters, and makes recommendations to Scottish Ministers. New applications are assessed annually by this Panel, chaired by SEPA, and whose membership consists of: SEPA, Scottish Water, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Marine Conservation Society, Society of Chief Officers of Environmental Health, NatureScot, and Visit Scotland.
  2. A letter from the current Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, dated 3rd September 2020, offered the following feedback: “The core aim of the Bathing Waters (Scotland) Regulations 2008 is to protect public health. If a large number of bathers regularly use a bathing water and there is appropriate infrastructure or facilities provided, there is a strong case for designation…In the case of the Wardie Bay, the application the panel did not make a recommendation to designate Wardie Bay as a Bathing Water due to a number of issues highlighted within the application. These issues concerned matters around public safety, land ownership, Edinburgh City Council access, and the lack of facilities available for bathers such as toilets and litter bins.”

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