Edinburgh's Best Beaches

Submitted by edg on Wed, 1 Jun '11 10.29pm

Bathing season may have arrived late this year, but with hotter weeks expected, now is the time to consider what beaches to head for.

The Marine Conservancy Society (MCS) last week published its Good Beach Guide, reviewing 758 beaches across Britain looking, in particular, at the water quality.

One Edinburgh beach made it into the MCS's Recommended list of beaches - Portobello Central, although this doesn't include the whole length of Portobello's long beach, it is a welcome turnaround from a previous failing grade.

Nine East Lothian beaches, two in the Borders, and three in Fife also made the grade for good water quality.

Sandy beaches at Crammond, Portobello West, and Fisherrow West in Musselburgh earned basic passes.

However, Lower Largo and East Sands in St Andrews in Fife were among the 46 UK beaches that failed to meet even the basic standards set 35 years ago in European law.

In total, fifty Scottish beaches (see best Scottish beaches) were among the 461 UK beaches recommended by the MCS guide.

Definition of clean

Robert Keirle, MCS Pollution Programme Manager, says a particular area of concern is the amount of dilute sewage flowing into coastal waters from Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These are designed to act as emergency outlets for overloaded sewerage systems during periods of heavy rainfall, but can discharge at other times as well.

Listings on the Good Beach Guide map include the number of sewage outlets at each beach.

Keirle says: “There are 22,000 CSOs in the UK, and only around a quarter of these pipes are monitored to see how often they are putting untreated sewage into the sea. MCS wants all of these pipes mapped and monitored, and for the public to be told at the time when, and for how long, the sewage is flowing. Mapping costs relatively little yet it could make the difference between an enjoyable trip to the beach or one that ends up in A&E with ear, nose and throat infections or stomach upsets."

So how does the MCS decide whether water quality is good?

Popular bathing beaches have to have ongoing tests of the water quality as part of EU legislation.

Regular samples are taken of the water and levels of pollution from human sewage and livestock recorded. Beaches are compared against the EU's Mandatory standard and a Guideline standard (which, MCS points out, is 20 times as strict as the Mandatory standard). MCS uses these to make assumptions about water quality, with a slightly more strict interpretation of the samples than the EU. 

"MCS Recommended is our top standard for excellent water quality. To achieve this standard beaches must meet the European Guideline standard, ALL samples must pass the European Mandatory standard (compared to the 95% pass rate required by the European Guideline standard) and local continuous sewage discharges must be properly treated."

MCS has been publishing the Good Beach Guide since 1987. It began as a ‘Golden List’ of beaches in 1960, maintained by Tony and Daphne Wakefield who tragically lost their six-year-old daughter, Caroline, after she contracted polio swimming at a sewage contaminated beach.

Since 1976, there have been European standards for bathing water quality and the water industry has invested heavily in cleaning up raw sewage.

Stricter EU standards for water quality are being introduced in 2015.

Monitoring for the new standards begins next year, and if a beach consistently fails to meet these legal limits between then and 2015, MCS says, "bathers could be faced with a sign advising them not to enter the water when they head to the beach."

MCS Recommended beaches in Scotland

  1. Portobello Beach - Central (James Street), Edinburgh
  2. Thorntonloch, East Lothian
  3. Whitesands Bay, East Lothian
  4. Dunbar - Belhaven, East Lothian
  5. Peffersands, East Lothian
  6. Seacliff, East Lothian
  7. Broadsands, East Lothian
  8. Gullane, East Lothian
  9. Longniddry, East Lothian
  10. Seton Sands, Longniddry, East Lothian
  11. Coldingham Bay, Borders
  12. Pease Bay, Borders
  13. Kinghorn - Pettycur, Fife
  14. Elie (Woodhaven & Ruby Bay), Fife
  15. Tentsmuir Sands, Fife
  16. Carnoustie, Angus
  17. Easthaven, Angus
  18. Arbroath - West Links, Angus
  19. Arbroath - Victoria Park, Angus
  20. Lunan Bay, Angus
  21. Montrose, Angus
  22. St. Cyrus, Aberdeenshire
  23. Balmedie Country Park, Aberdeenshire
  24. Collieston, Aberdeenshire
  25. Peterhead Lido, Aberdeenshire
  26. Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire
  27. Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire
  28. Cullen, Moray
  29. Hopeman, East Moray
  30. Rosemarkie North, Highland
  31. Dornoch (Caravan Park), Highland
  32. Dornoch - burn mouth, Highland
  33. Embo Beach, Highland
  34. Golspie - North, Highland
  35. Dunnet Bay - Murkle Bay/Dunnet, Highland
  36. Findhorn, Highland
  37. Strathy Bay, Highland
  38. Sango Bay, Durness, Highland
  39. Achmelvich Bay, Highland
  40. The Sands of Breckon, Shetland
  41. St Ninians Isle, Shetland
  42. West Voe Sands, Shetland
  43. Tresta Sands, Shetland
  44. West Sandwick Beach, Shetland
  45. Ganavan, Argyle & Bute
  46. Lunderston Bay, Inverclyde
  47. Largs - Main, North Ayrshire
  48. Dunure, South Ayrshire
  49. Croy, South Ayrshire
  50. Culzean, South Ayrshire


The SAS (www.sas.org.uk) have launched a new initiative to give real time text messages (south west, wales only for the moment) of conditions at your local beach. If a CSO has recently spewed raw sewage onto a beach then an alert comes via text telling you to go elsewhere.

While this is good news (for the south west) in Scotland we still need the water authorities to take a more responsible attitude towards our bathing waters. It cannot be right that Scottish Water and Northumberland water be allowed to stop UV screening of sewage during the winter months because it is uneconomic to their bottom line. Really what's needed is further investment and a better thought out sewage plan that works so we would not have the 'mess up' where half of the east coast's beaches were polluted by the Portobello sewage works breakdown.

Hopefully with the presence of sites like the The Marine Conservancy Society and groups like the SAS the fight for cleaner water will not go unheard.

Lastly, the SAS are carrying out another of their successful UK beach cleanups:


See you at Belhaven beach!


So dog owners get a fine if your dog craps in the park and you dont clean it up, but Scottish Water is allowed to dump sewage on the shoreline without knowing what's in it. It does seem like double standards.

Good tip (no pun intended) re Belhaven! I added the beach cleanup to the events calendar. Might see you there :-)