Value of bathing waters and influence of bathing water quality: final research report

Research aimed to provide socio-economic understanding of the value of Scottish bathing waters and the influence of bathing water quality (BWQ) to bathers, beach users and to the national and local economies.


1 SEPA produces annual BWQ classifications (excellent, good, sufficient and poor) which describe the general water quality condition of bathing locations based on four years monitoring data. These classifications are calculated at the end of each bathing season for display at beaches on the following season.

2 A map of bathing water classifications for the 2017/18 bathing water season was not available at the time of writing.

3 If any location were to have five consecutive ‘poor’ classifications, then a ‘permanent’ advice against bathing notice or sign would have to be displayed at these locations for the whole bathing season.

4 Value in the broadest sense including monetary and non-monetary values.

5 van den Berg, Koole, & van der Wulp (2003) and Karmanov & Hamel 2008): in Hipp and Ogunseitan (2011).

6 Ogunseitan (2005), de Vries, Verheij, Groenewegen, & Spreeuwenberg (2003): in Hipp and Ogunseitan (2011).

7 Chang, Hammitt, Chen, Machnik, & Su (2008): in Hipp and Ogunseitan (2011).

8 Velarde, Fry, & Tveit (2007): in Hipp and Ogunseitan (2011)

9 The Cambridge Model is a computer-based economic impact model developed by PA Cambridge Economic Consultants Ltd, Geoff Broom Associates and the Regional Tourist Boards. It uses a standard methodology capable of application throughout the UK. It therefore offers the potential for direct comparisons with similar destinations throughout the country. The approach was the subject of independent validation (R.Vaughan, Bournemouth University) in December 1994. The Model was judged robust and the margins of error acceptable and in line with other modelling techniques.

10 The typology of bathing water sites was developed collaboratively with the Steering Group. Allocation of all Scottish bathing water sites to one of the categories was undertaken by the SEPA representative on the Steering Group. The typology and categorisation is arbitrary to a degree, though it does take cognisance of published data on settlement size, rurality etc (e.g. the Scottish Government urban-rural classification series: A more robustapproach might consider data on settlement size (population) e.g. as a means of distinguishing more clearly between the ‘coastal town’ and ‘coastal village’ categories.

11 rBWD status as per 2015/16 bathing season


13 SEWeb benefits from the environment pages:

14 This includes the activities / motivations: ‘to relax’; ‘get some fresh air’; and ‘sunbathing’

15 This includes the activities / motivations: ‘spending time with friends / family’; and ‘play with children’


17 It has been suggested that recreationalists involved in immersion and on water non-immersion activities make continuous assessments of water quality, which may be a mitigating factor (Ravenscroft and Church, 2011).

18 In the online survey, data concerning ‘reasons for visiting the beach’ was drawn from Q9: What are the top three factors that you consider when deciding to visit the beach? The fact that respondents were required to identify three factors explains why absolute values for the number of respondents identifying that factor (n) are higher than would be expected for the same percentage value (%) for the sample population alone (i.e. some 4,704 factors were identified in Q9).

19 Respondents who did not know that the site was a designated bathing water were not asked further questions about their knowledge of water quality at the beach.

20 By contrast, 62% of respondents at Ayr (South Beach), 37% at Nairn (Central), 53% at Portobello (West) and 52% at Troon (South Beach) said they had seen an rBWD electronic sign on their visit to the beach that day.

21 An abnormal situation is defined by the rBWD as "an event or combination of events impacting on bathing water quality at the location concerned and not expected to occur on average more than once every four years". The abnormal situation (and associated decline in BWQ) could be as a result of various pressures or incidents, the crucial factor though is that they are unrepresentative of the BWQ at a given site.

22 Note that, due to the survey being conducted during the summer months, the sample is likely to have more interest in swimming than can be found in visitors at other times of year.

23 Based on a weighted average of annual visits across the sample.

24 Note that the analysis described here focuses on the recreational value associated with bathing waters (so called direct human ‘use value’). It does not consider the potential wider benefits of improvements in coastal water quality to wildlife and habitats. In addition, the focus on recreation value does not capture the potential ‘non-use’ value that may also arise in relation to improved water quality. This relates to the preference that individuals may hold for improved environmental quality even though they do not directly or indirectly use a site. Non-use values stem from altruistic (benefits to others) and bequest (benefits to future generations) motivations. Non-use benefits are explored in the online survey detailed in this report, they are represented by the WTP of the general public for improvements in bathing water quality in Scotland.

25 Examining the active visits made by adults to natural environments the study estimated the annual value of these visits as approximately £2.18 billion. Other research has estimated the Quality of Adjusted Life Years ( QALYs) associated with physical activity in nature together with making a monetary estimate of the social value of these QALYs made (White et al., 2016). More recent work on valuing natural capital (eftec et al., 2017) show that the health-related value that greenspaces support through physical activity of visitors is significant and suggests it would be worthwhile investigating this further for beaches and bathing waters.


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