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.

4. What are the range of benefits of bathing waters at the local and national levels?

4.1 Introduction

This chapter presents the results from the research project in relation to RQ1 i.e. the range of benefits of bathing waters and reasons for visiting given by participants in the research. The evidence review clustered types of benefits into economic, health, social and cultural and these will be drawn out and commented on through this chapter.

The benefits that marine and coastal environments offer to society are well recognised and documented (eftec et al., 2014; GESAMP, 2015; Ghermandi et al., 2010; Brown et al., 2006; MEA, 2005; Watson et al., 2001; GESAMP, 2001). Some of these emerge from products and services that are traded in markets, and can be easily expressed in monetary terms. These include the provision of food and tourism which generate increasingly significant revenues in coastal and marine areas ( UNEP, 2008). Beyond these market benefits, the Scottish Government highlights the benefits that people gain from the environment recognising that "by managing the environment well we can provide many more benefits and greatly improve our quality of life" [13] . Such improvements include benefits for physical and mental health, well-being and other social and cultural benefits for local communities and visitors alike.

The types of activities that people undertake at beaches both directly and indirectly realise the range of benefits identified in the literature. For example a local resident going for a walk on the beach realises physical (getting exercise) and mental (reducing stress) health benefits together with the cultural benefit of reinforcing a sense of belonging. Local economic benefits may follow if the walker then buys a drink or icecream from a local shop. Most activities will have multiple benefits, both intended and unintended.

In establising the range of benefits realised from beach visits the research focussed on asking participants:

  • The purpose of their beach visit (onsite survey);
  • Activities they would mainly carry out at the beach (online survey); and
  • Ways in which beaches were part of their lives (focus groups).

Data to respond to this RQ was collected through Question 10 within the on-site survey and Question 19 in the online survey together with evidence from the focus groups. These questions focused on the reasons people gave for visiting the beach from which we can derive the types of benefits they attribute to their visits.

4.2 Quantitative results – onsite and online surveys

4.2.1 Activities undertaken / motivations for visiting the site

Both the onsite and online surveys gathered information from respondents on activities undertaken at sites, the most important factors in determining which site to visit, as well as the attitudes toward bathing waters in terms of relaxation and restorative properties.

For the onsite survey, the most common purposes of their beach visit mentioned by respondents were ‘walking’ (49% of respondents), ‘relaxing’ [14] (37%), ‘socialising / playing’ [15] (31%) and ‘dog walking’ (29% ). 8% of respondents spent time doing activities in the water, such as ‘swimming’, but due to the survey being conducted during the summer months, this is likely to be a higher proportion than can be found at other times of the year. Other less frequent activities / motivations for visiting the beach include ‘nature and bird watching’, ‘spending time in amusements’ and ‘being on holiday in the area’.

For the online survey, there were similarities with the onsite survey, with ‘walking’ being mentioned by most respondents (71% of respondents) followed by ‘get some fresh air’ (62%), ‘to relax’ (54%) and ‘spending time with friends / family’ (42.5%). ‘Eating out in restaurants’ was also popular (33%) with ‘dog walking’ being mentioned by 26% of respondents. With respect to water activities, 7% said they ‘swam’ and 17% said that they would ‘paddle’.

Figure 4.1 below presents more detail on the top five purposes visitors gave for being at the beach from the onsite survey

Figure 4.1: Top five purposes for visits as % of total purposes for visits – onsite survey (drawing on data from onsite survey Question 10 What is the purpose of your visit (to the beach) today?).

Note: Participants could provide more than one answer and the answers were prompted.
Figure 4.1: Top five purposes for visits as % of total purposes for visits – onsite survey (drawing on data from onsite survey Question 10 What is the purpose of your visit (to the beach) today?).

As expected, purposes for visiting the sites differ slightly across visitor types. For example, and perhaps not surprisingly, ‘walking’ and ‘dog walking’ are the dominant purposes behind local residents’ visits, while ‘relaxing’ and ‘getting fresh air’ are common reasons across all respondents. Figure 4.2 shows the differences across the five case study sites. There is some variation although ‘walking’ is the top purpose for four of the five sites. ‘Getting fresh air’ and ‘relaxing’ were important in Portobello and Nairn, and ‘spending time with friends and family’ was a key purpose in Troon.

Figure 4.2: Top five purpose for visits by study site – onsite survey (drawing on data from onsite survey Question 10 What is the purpose of your visit (to the beach) today).

Figure 4.2: Top five purpose for visits by study site – onsite survey (drawing on data from onsite survey Question 10 What is the purpose of your visit (to the beach) today).

Figure 4.3 below presents the reported activities undertaken by online respondents when visiting bathing waters. As shown, ‘walking’ also remains one of the top activities undertaken together with ‘get some fresh air’, followed by ‘relaxing’ and ‘spending time with friends / family’. ‘Eating out’ (café / restaurant / fish and chips) is the only activity / motivation which differs from the onsite survey findings.

Figure 3.3: Top five activities on visits – online survey (drawing on data from online survey Question 19 What activities do you mainly do when you visit the beach?).

Note: Participants could provide more than one answer and the answers were prompted.
Figure 3.3: Top five activities on visits – online survey (drawing on data from online survey Question 19 What activities do you mainly do when you visit the beach?).

In comparison with the evidence reviewed (see standalone volume and section 2.2), the focus of the reasons respondents gave for their visits can be broadly split into: recreational (walking, dog walking); social (spending time with friends / family, play with the children); and health (get fresh air, relax). These findings confirm the range of activities at the beach.

4.2.2 Economic benefits – results of local economic impact analysis

A further key benefit highlighted by the evidence are local economic benefits. Across the literature reviewed, bathing water sites are identified as an important asset for the local, regional and national economy (Tudor and Williams, 2006; Vaz et al., 2009; Gillespie et al., 2016; Reed and Buckmaster, 2015; Phillips and House, 2009; Morrissey and Moran, 2011; Hynes et al., 2013; Ballance et al., 2000). The economic benefits of tourism are wide-ranging and include direct benefits to economy in the form of revenue emerging from tourist expenditure on travelling, local amenities, leisure activities and recreation in and around the visiting area, as well as, benefits in job creation in the wider economy.

To examine these benefits, a local economic impact analysis was carried out for the five study sites considered in this research (see section 3.4.1 and Annex 2 in the standalone technical annex for details of the method). This used visitor data provided by SEPA in order to estimate the total annual visits to each site. Adjustments have been made using Scottish coastal seasonality data (Great Britain Tourism Survey and Great Britain Day Visits Survey) to account for the potential impacts of the timing of the fieldwork on the annual outputs provided. The results of this estimation are provided in Table 4.4 below. It should be noted however that the underlying visitor data is likely to be a significant underestimate, and therefore the subsequent calculations represent conservative estimates.

Table 4.4: Estimated annual visits by visitor type and study site

Visitor type Study site
Ayr Gullane Nairn Portobello Troon
Overnighters < 5 miles 33,000 2,000 13,000 9,000 4,000
Overnighters > 5 miles 10,000 8,000 17,000 10,000 4,000
Day visitors 169,000 98,000 12,000 60,000 24,000
Residents 294,000 71,000 43,000 94,000 38,000
Total visitors 505,000 180,000 84,000 173,000 70,000

Note: visitor data provided by SEPA.

Table 4.4 presents the estimated visitor spend per year at each site. As expected, on average, visits by overnighters are associated with higher spend, followed by day visitors and local residents.

Table 4.5 presents the local economic benefits estimated for the annual visitor spend in each local area. Across the five sites, beach visitors support nearly £20 million in local business turnover, nearly 300 full time equivalent ( FTE) jobs, and nearly £9 million in gross value added ( GVA).

Table 4.5: Estimated annual visitor spend by visitor type and study site (£m)

Visitor type Study site
Ayr Gullane Nairn Portobello Troon
Overnighters < 5 miles £5.0 £0.4 £2.5 £1.2 £0.3
Overnighters > 5 miles £0.2 £0.1 £0.3 £0.1 £0.0
Day visitors £1.8 £0.4 £0.1 £0.3 £0.2
Residents £1.1 £0.1 £0.1 £0.2 £0.1
Total visitor spend £8.2 £1.0 £3.0 £1.8 £0.6

Table 4.6: Estimated current local economic benefits of beach visits (£m)

Metric Study site  
Ayr Gullane Nairn Portobello Troon Total
Local business turnover supported £11.2 £1.1 £3.7 £2.7 £0.7 £19.4
FTE employment related to visitor spend 155 14 49 36 10 263
Estimated GVA £5.1 £0.5 £1.6 £1.3 £0.3 £8.8

4.2.3 Restorative benefits

The surveys had a specific focus on what has been termed the "restorative" benefit of beaches. Blue spaces and coastal environments have been shown to have a beneficial impact on well-being (Fleming et al., 2014) and to support psychological restoration. These restorative qualities have been more recently used as a framework to describe and measure the restorative effect that bathing water sites have on making visitors feel revitalised, calm, and refreshed (Hipp and Ogunseitan, 2011; Wyles et al., 2014; 2016; 2017). To examine this, both the onsite and online surveys asked respondents how far they agreed / disagreed with statements (on a scale of 1 – 10) surrounding the ability of beaches to help them to relax, restore and recover. For the onsite survey a one item question was asked but, as there was more time in the online survey, four items were asked.

Tables 4.6 and 4.7 below present the results from the onsite and online survey set of questions. For the online survey in particular, the proportion of respondents who agreed or strongly agreed (score of 7 or higher) is presented (as there were multiple related questions asked). As shown, the majority of respondents agree or strongly agree with each of the statements.

Table 4.7: Response to onsite survey Question 21 This is an environment where I am able to rest, recover my ability and focus (% of respondents)

To what extent do you agree with the statement… Number (n) Percentage (%)
1 – not at all 2 0%
2 5 1%
3 8 2%
4 14 3%
5 69 13%
6 48 9%
7 72 14%
8 113 22%
9 74 14%
10 – completely 111 22%
Totals 516 100%

Table 4.8: To what extent respondents agree with the following statements about their visits to the beach (score of 7 or higher) – online survey (% of respondents)

Statement Number (n) Percentage (%)
This is an environment where I am able to rest, recover my ability and focus 732 76%
This is a place which is away from everyday demands and where I am able to relax and think about what interests me 750 78%
This place is fascinating: it is large enough for me to discover and be curious about things 554 58%
This is a place which is very large, with no restrictions to movements; It is a world of its own 508 53%
In this place it is very easy to orient, and move around so that I can do what I like 753 78%

On average, respondents rated the beach they were visiting as highly restorative providing further insight into the benefits of visiting beaches.

4.2.4 The influence of perceived bathing water quality on perceptions of restorativeness

For the both the onsite and online survey data, further analysis using multivariate statistics (regression analysis) found that perceived BWQ was found to be a key predictor of these wellbeing outcomes, with those who perceived a poorer water quality experiencing less health and wellbeing benefits from their visit. This finding remained even when controlling for other factors (such as demographics and visit characteristics) that have been previously found to influence wellbeing benefits of visits to the coast.

Specifically, for the onsite survey perceived water quality explained 3.8% of the variance of the wellbeing measures (R² = .041, adjusted R² = .038, a statistically significant model (p<.001). The co-efficient found that as water quality declined, the wellbeing outcome decreases (Beta =-.201, p<.001).

For the online survey the perceived water quality explains 15.6% of the variance of the wellbeing measures ( R 2 = .157, adjusted R 2 = .156, a statistically significant model, F (1, 776) = 144.66, p < .001). The co-efficient found that as water quality declined, the wellbeing outcome decreases ( Beta = -.381, p < .001).

This highlights that perceived water quality of the sea (i.e. BWQ) impacts enjoyment of the beach, and thus the quality of wellbeing benefits received. Importantly, this finding shows how perceptions of BWQ can influence health and wellbeing benefits of bathing waters, linked to restorativeness. The restorative benefits are further discussed in Chapter 6 in relation to the potential impact a deterioration in BWQ might have on them

4.3 Qualitative results – focus groups

4.3.1 Key messages from the focus groups

The local beach and sea is integral to recreational, social, wellbeing, community and economic benefits that the local communities enjoy. Within this, the quality of the beach and sea is integral to participants’ enjoyment of the beach.

The local beach and sea was seen as part of everyday life and participants’ locality and a strong sense of ownership and identity was felt by participants in relation to their local beach.

4.3.2 Recreational benefits

Overall, ‘walking’, ‘swimming’, and ‘dog-walking’ were the most common recreational uses of the seaside identified in the focus groups. All focus groups discussed the use of the seaside for ‘walking’, with many participants using it for ‘dog-walking’. The beach and the sea are also used for a wide-range of water sports and other hobbies. Although ‘swimming’ was mentioned in all focus groups, other water sports varied between the study sites. Water sports were discussed more in Gullane and Troon that the other focus groups, reflecting the beaches’ suitable conditions. Activities mentioned include ‘sailing’, ‘coastal rowing’, ‘windsurfing’, ‘canoeing’, and ‘paddle-boarding’.

"It’s always been part of the community, whether it’s fishing and people going and watching fisherman come ashore, or whether they’re swimming in the sea…and you’ve now got open water swimming, which has become more and more popular" (Nairn focus group participant)

Activities enjoyed outside of the water include ‘beach volleyball’, ‘rockpooling’, ‘fishing’, and ‘collecting material from beaches’ (e.g. shells). On a more national level, all focus groups agreed their local beaches were visitor attractions or national holiday destinations. Both business focus groups (Nairn and Ayr) spoke about the local holiday parks that are used by tourists. Having poor BWQ was seen in both groups as particularly problematic in continuing to attract tourists to use local holiday accommodation. In some locations, participants spoke about sailing holidays.

Participants in Troon and Ayr spoke about the enjoyment of their beach and the sea in the winter season, and felt they could enjoy the winter months more when it is less busy with tourists. In all focus groups it was revealed that most participants visited the beach at least a few times a week, with some visiting everyday or more than once a day. This underlines how central the use of the beach and the sea is to everyday life:

"I walk on the beach, I swim on the beach. Daily use" (Portobello swimmers focus group participant)

There was some comment in Troon around potentially "anti-social" activity by young people in the summer on the beach. Troon had made national headlines with reports of 6,000 young people coming to the beach for a party [16] . The participants were sanguine about it recognising the value of the beach for everyone yet realising that some of the young people were "going over the top":

"…stressful three months studying for their Highers, they finish their Highers at the end of May and they all get together, arrange on Facebook to come down to a nice beach, because they know it’s nice down here, and occasionally things get out of hand. That’s it, that’s all it is. And some old people in the town don’t like seeing young people having a good time (Troon focus group participant)

4.3.3 Emotional connection & wellbeing

The emotional and wellbeing benefits gained from spending time at the seaside was a strong theme, often discussed at length and eliciting strong reactions in the focus groups. The enormity of the sea was felt to give a sense of perspective on life and an opportunity to connect with nature (some focus groups also spoke about enjoying spotting wildlife).

The seaside was also felt to provide a sense of space and an escape from everyday life. Indeed, seclusion and quietness was chosen as one of the top-three factors for visiting beaches in the focus group at Gullane. At a more national level, participants saw their local beaches as a resource enjoyed by visitors from nearby cities. Thus, space and escaping the pressures of everyday life were considered benefits at both the national and local levels:

"It’s very spiritual, if you’re into health it’s very good, if you go into the water five minutes later you’ve forgotten anything you were worried about before you went in" (Gullane focus group participant)

All focus groups associated the sea with calm and therapy, a distraction from everyday concerns. One participant stressed that they smile whenever they think about the sea, as it evokes warm emotions. The psychological benefits of the sea and the coast were seen as providing a better quality of life in terms of these locations being a less stressful place to live:

"It’s uplifting, and the open air and the fresh air, and just walking along the edge of Fisher’s Wharf, the connection with nature, these are all uplifting things" (Nairn focus group participant)

It was common in the focus groups for participants to relate the wellbeing benefits of their local beach and sea to different senses / sensory expriences, including: the feeling of fresh air (Ayr, Nairn & Portobello); the smell of the sea (Portobello & Troon); the sound of the waves (Troon, Nairn & Ayr); and the feeling of one’s feet in the water or sand (Troon). Others considered that being by the sea contributed to their physical health: one participant spoke about having fewer allergies when living by the sea.

"My mother-in-law used to come down here in the summer…to sit down on the rocks with her feet in the water. So something about the contact with the water that’s important as well. She had walking difficulties and she always felt great sitting for half an hour" (Troon focus group participant)

The perception of water quality, a common theme, tied into this sensory reaction to the sea: the sight of clean water was thought of as being inextricably linked to the sense of enjoyment participants get from the sea. Participants often discussed wider notions of beach cleanliness and the clarity of the water when asked about BWQ (this is discussed explicitly in Chapter 5).

4.3.4 Aesthetic benefits

All focus groups discussed the wide-ranging benefits from the scenery of the seaside. Enjoying sunsets and the view of the sky and stars was linked to emotional wellbeing. The scenery was also said to be a source of inspiration, and used for photography and artistry in many of the focus group locations. In half of all focus groups, participants spoke of seeking a view of the sea every day from their window, as if it is part of their home:

"(Where we live) has not got a lot of space but we like to think we’ve got the whole of the beach and the area beyond as a back garden" (Nairn focus group participant)

This theme of ownership and local identity was a theme running through all of the focus group discussions. Participants in Nairn, Ayr and Troon felt that the backdrop of the Black Isle peninsula and Arran, respectively, made their local beach unique. Similarly, the view of the sky and sunsets was said to be part of both participants’ enjoyment of the beach and sea and the local identity of the town / suburb, in all focus groups bar one. Five focus group discussions spoke about an attachment to watching stormy or changing weather conditions, and watching seasons pass.

4.3.5 Social and community benefits

Participants in the Gullane and Portobello community focus groups spoke about forming social connections with individuals who also participate in the same activities on the beach and the sea (e.g. surfing). It was felt that this elicits a sense of community. Participants also spoke about using the beach as a place to connect to local residents and meeting new people and as a location for community activities. It was evident in all focus groups bar one that the beach is a place with family ties and traditions, as many participants bring visiting family and friends to their local beach.

"My child grew up here and he could always meet his friend and this is the flat they always wanted to meet in, or other people on the sea, they all naturally want to congregate down at the sea. So it’s a kind of magnet in that way" (Portobello swimmers focus group participant)

The educational benefits of beaches / bathing waters were put forward in nearly all focus groups. Participants in Nairn revealed that their local beach is used by nearby schools for teaching, while the local beach and sea is used by children from inner cities or deprived communities to visit the seaside, allowing play, contact with nature, and education (Troon, Portobello):

"I work in Edinburgh in deprived communities and we bring the kids to North Berwick every year and a lot of them have never seen the beach before" (Gullane focus group participant)

Strong community ties to the beach were evident, as all participants in all locations mentioned community-organised beach ‘clean-ups’ of litter and debris. Thus, there is a sense of pride and responsibility in maintaining one’s local beach and sea. Finally, the seaside appears to be an important space to use for events and festivals, with Troon, Ayr and Portobello detailing the festive and annual events that take place at / using their local beach. Participants in Ayr, Troon and Portobello, however, spoke about antisocial behaviour on their local beach by young people in the summer months, with noise, leftover litter and debris. In Ayr, it was felt that organising events on the local beach is a positive distraction for young people, preventing anti-social behaviour from occurring.

4.3.6 Economic benefits

The local beach and sea was seen as a pivotal attraction in Troon and by participants in both of the business focus groups (Nairn and Ayr). There was some disagreement amongst participants as to how directly businesses are impacted by tourist numbers to the local beach and sea, but both business focus groups felt that there are at least positive indirect or secondary effects from visitors to the local beach.

"The tourist’s pound goes very far, it trickles in and not just the caravan parks, the hotels and everything. We obviously have to buy supplies, we have to use the plumber, the joiners, the painters and decorators and we have to buy everything so if business is good for us then it’s good for everybody, there is a big knock on effect" (Ayr focus group participant)

It was felt that the use of restaurants and seaside businesses were associated with visits to the local beach and sea. For example, participants in Nairn reflected that visitors are more interested in restaurants with a sea view. One business in Ayr felt that the unique selling point of their business is inextricably linked to the identity of the west coast of Scotland. It was also commonly felt by participants that there are unexploited benefits of their local beach, and that there are opportunities to further develop the beach and promenade.

"I think there needs to be more creative ideas and ways of being able to utilise the beach and the water space in order to really benefit the towns, and in particular somewhere like Ayr. As we say we look out there and it’s flat and nothing is happening on it but there are also no real enterprises that seem to be encouraged to create activity and a focus" (Ayr focus group participant)

Many participants felt there was a need to balance development and higher numbers of visitors given limited local space and services. Indeed, management of the coastal environment was a theme discussed strongly in four of the six focus groups. Of this and directly impacted by water quality, there was concern about management of waste water in the context of new housing and urban developments in the Gullane and Portobello focus groups. Only in Portobello was there a sense of potential tension between tourism development and other economic activities. In the community focus group one of the participants ran a traditional children's play facility on the beach and felt this was didn't fit in with the image that the local authority wanted to create for visitors; several other members of the group also referred to expensive coffee shops contrasting with the more community cafe in the local leisure centre which was being closed down.

4.4 Discussion and synthesis

4.4.1 Range of benefits enjoyed from the local beach and sea by individuals

Both the surveys and focus groups highlight a range of benefits enjoyed from the local beach and sea, with ‘walking’ and ‘dog-walking’ the most common uses. The importance of one’s local beach and sea for wellbeing was also a key finding from both the surveys and focus groups. Similarly, the onsite survey and focus groups both found that perceived water quality impacts one’s enjoyment of the beach, and thus the wellbeing benefits and there was broad agreement of this finding within and between focus groups. The value of the beach and sea to the local economy was highlighted in the business focus groups with the discussion of direct and indirect benefits. The local economic analysis provides information on possible extent of that local economic value.

A similar broad range of benefits was spoken about in focus groups and revealed in the surveys as in the literature (as identified in this projects’ preceding evidence review). The broad categories of benefits are economic, health and wellbeing, social, and cultural. In particular, the social and cultural benefits of bathing waters as co-shaping local identity and providing personal wellbeing were two strong themes across focus groups that are present in the literature (Kyle et al., 2004; White et al., 2013a; Wyles et al., 2017, Wyles et al., 2014; White et al., 2013b). Where perhaps the focus groups found additional benefits to the evidence review, these were environmental benefits, in terms of the habitat provided for wildlife by (good quality) bathing waters.

Water quality and its wider associated notions of beach ‘cleanliness’ was a top three factor across the community focus groups, as found in several other studies (e.g. Wilson et al., 1995; Morgan, 1999; Ballance et al., 2000; Phillips and House, 2009; Vaz et al., 2009). The range of factors influencing choice of beach reported in Morgan (1999) are: facilities, bathing and swimming safety, sand and water quality, access, and parking. Amenities and accessibility were also chosen in the focus groups as top three factors. Scenery and quietness were also spoken about in the focus groups. Further there was some discussion of the need to balance development with preserving the nature of the place. There was a strong feeling of ownership and identity with beaches in all the groups, translating into a sense of pride in that fact that visitors come from far away to use the beaches (and equally, the sense that poor water quality and reduced tourism reflect badly on the town and its inhabitants).


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