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.

5. How important to people is information about bathing water quality?

5.1 Introduction

This chapter presents the results from the research project in relation to RQ2 i.e. what value do people put on information about BWQ etc. The evidence review highlighted a range of findings relevant to RQ2 that help to position the results presented in this Chapter in the context of the existing literature. Perhaps most notably, within the scope of the evidence reviewed (see standalone volume), a main conclusion was that there is only a small literature dealing explicitly with the nature / type of information influencing peoples’ beach choices (Tudor and Williams, 2006; Phillips and House, 2009; McKenna et al., 2011; Shepherd, 2014). Further, only three of the sources reviewed deal explicitly with signage related aspects (eftec, 2002; eftec et al., 2014 Oliver et al., 2016). Other key findings from the evidence review include:

  • Explicit and implicit information about a beach and its associated BWQ can influence the decision to visit a beach (Morgan, 1999; Vaz et al., 2009; McKenna et al., 2011; Oliver et al., 2016). Explicit information can include rBWD electronic or manual signage, forecasts and warnings about abnormal events (Oliver et al., 2016) alongside beach awards as composite indicators of various aspects of beach quality (McKenna et al., 2011). Implicit information relates to beach user perceptions of the attributes / characteristics / factors of different types of beach (Morgan 1999; Vaz et al., 2009);
  • Evidence shows how different types of beach user favour different types of beach depending on the activity (or activities) to be undertaken (Balance et al., 2000; Coombes and Jones, 2010). Also, the characteristics of individuals and groups (e.g. socio-economic background) can influence the relative importance of different factors governing beach choice ( GESAMP, 2015) including BWQ (Shepherd, 2014). It follows, therefore, that different user groups are likely to have different BWQ (and other) information requirements (Oliver et al., 2016);
  • A study in England revealed how beach users rank and utilise BWQ information sources differently (Shepherd, 2014). Although the Environment Agency ( EA) is the most widely used source, it was ranked fourth in terms of quality criteria (ibid);
  • Various survey based studies have assessed the importance of different factors influencing beach choice, including factors within the following broad categories: (i) facilities; (ii) bathing and swimming safety; (iii) sand and water quality; and (iv) access and parking (Morgan, 1999). Except for one Irish study (McKenna et al., 2011), the sources reviewed show that water quality is consistently one of the top three factors influencing beach choice (Wilson et al., 1995; Morgan,1999; Balance et al., 2000; Hanley et al., 2003; Tudor and Williams, 2006; Phillips and House, 2009; Vaz et al., 2009; eftec et al., 2014; Shepherd, 2014). While definitions and interpretations of BWQ are variable amongst members of the public (Morgan, 1999), the evidence suggests that information on BWQ is likely to be important, given the importance of this factor influencing beach choice; and
  • There is very little evidence on what people understand about the information presented on BWQ signs and signage, including information about changes in classification under the rBWD using statutory signage. There is also critical uncertainty concerning how members of the public interpret and act on BWQ information, especially in terms of the risk of illness associated with different microbial water standards, as per the rBWD (Oliver et al., 2016).

5.2 Quantitative results – onsite and online surveys

5.2.1 Reasons for visiting the beach

Figures 5.1 and 5.2 below present the point of origin for onsite survey respondents’ journies to the beach by site and visitor type respectively.

Figure 5.1: Point of origin for onsite survey respondent journeys by site

Figure 5.1: Point of origin for onsite survey respondent journeys by site

Figure 5.2: Point of origin for onsite survey respondent journeys by visitor type

Figure 5.2: Point of origin for onsite survey respondent journeys by visitor type

The reason for visiting a beach, including the type of activity / activities to be undertaken during the visit, can affect BWQ information requirements. For example, tourists can place high importance on beach cleanliness (Ballance et al., 2000) whereas ‘active recreationalists’ (e.g. surfers) can place more emphasis on physical factors like weather and surf conditions (Hynes et al., 2013). Although somewhat counter intuitive therefore, the former may require more information on BWQ and beach cleanliness factors even though the latter are more likely to undertake immersive activities [17] .

Both surveys sought to understand the motivating factors behind beach choice by asking respondents to pick their top three factors / reasons for visit from a predetermined list (along with a free text ‘other’ option). This data can therefore provide an indication of potential BWQ information requirements.

In the onsite survey, cleanliness of the beach was the second most important factor (18%) behind natural beauty / scenery (21%). Water quality as a specific factor was much less important (2%) although water quality and wider notions of beach cleanliness are sometimes conflated (Wilson et al., 1995; Morgan, 1999). The importance of beach cleanliness suggests that BWQ information and information on wider beach cleanliness (ibid) might be important to the onsite survey population.

In the online survey, walking (16%), getting some fresh air (15%), relaxing (13%) and spending time with friends / family (11%) were the more popular reasons for visiting the beach. Participation in immersive activities were identified much less frequently: kayaking / canoeing (0.34% / n=16); kite surfing (0.26% / n=12); surfing (0.32% / n=15); windsurfing (0.13% / n=6); and swimming (2% / n=115) [18] . This focus on low level / less active recreation (i.e. akin to more touristic, family based user groups) suggests that BWQ information may be important to the online survey population, in line with Balance et al. (2000) and Hynes et al. (2013).

5.2.2 Awareness of rBWD designation and signage

Results from the onsite survey revealed that the majority (60%) of beach visitors were not aware that the site was a designated bathing water. Of the 40% (n=211) that did know, Figure 5.3 presents their awareness of water quality at the site [19] . As shown, 40% of those who were aware that the site was a designated bathing water also claimed that they knew the water quality . Of these, only around 13% were correct. Interestingly, nearly all of the incorrect respondents overestimated the bathing water quality.

Figure 5.3: Respondent awareness of bathing water classification status – onsite survey (drawing on data from onsite survey Questions 17-19)

Figure 5.3: Respondent awareness of bathing water classification status – onsite survey (drawing on data from onsite survey Questions 17-19)

In both surveys, respondents were asked about signage that they had seen on their visits to beaches. In the onsite survey, a multiple choice question listed various types of signage that respondents may have seen and 54% of respondents said that they had seen an rBWD electronic sign on their visit that day. Interestingly, this includes respondents at Gullane which is not part of SEPA’s electronic signage network (i.e. there are no electronic signs at this beach that respondents could have seen). Further, 70% of Gullane respondents said that they had seen an electronic sign, which is a larger proportion than any of the other four case study sites which do have electronic signs [20] . 16% of onsite survey respondents also said that they had seen information about an abnormal situation under the terms of the rBWD [21] . In the online survey, respondents were asked a more specific question on whether they had seen signs about bathing water quality. Only 14% said they had. Interestingly, 72% of online survey respondents said that they hadn’t seen any signs and, crucially, that they didn’t look for and don’t remember seeing any signs. This is in contrast to the 8% that looked for but didn’t see any signs. One possible reason for these findings (including the issues at Gullane) might be the seemingly confusing nature of rBWD signage whereby members of the public report that information is not overly intelligible (Oliver et al., 2016) and can be mixed-up with other on-beach messaging (Shephered, 2014). Also, evidence from the focus groups ( section 5.4.1) and the surveys ( section 5.2.3) suggest limited concern about BWQ, hence why such a large proportion of online survey respondents had not seen or looked for BWQ signage.

In the onsite survey, respondents were asked to specify which information sources they use when deciding which beach to go to from a predetermined list. The majority (80%) of respondents did not use any sources at all. Much smaller proportions used tourist information websites (4%), Trip Advisor (2%), other mobile phone apps (4%) and national / local newspapers or magazines (1%). Importantly, only two respondents used rBWD status signs at the beaches and none used Scottish Government or SEPA webpages. Conversely, 2% of respondents reported that they use electronic signs at beaches with live BWQ forecasting.

5.2.3 Response to advisory sign against bathing

Across both surveys, the majority of respondents revealed that they would not change their behaviour if, on a visit to the beach, they saw an advisory sign against bathing. Table 5.1 below presents the participants’ responses to bathing advisory signs in both surveys. Overall, around 45% (onsite) and 31% (online) stated that they do not go in the water anyway, whilst around 6% and 4% (respectively) said they would still go in the water as planned. Around half of the respondents in both surveys indicated that they would stay at the beach but not enter the water [22] . A further 3% (onsite) and 7% (online) stated that they would travel to an alternative beach, while 1% (onsite) and 4% (online) would leave and not visit another beach. This pattern of responses is fairly consistent across different visitor types.

Similarly, the majority of respondents from both surveys (64%) stated that an advisory sign against bathing would not lead them to change how often they visited the / a beach in the future. For the onsite survey, this proportion is relatively consistent across visitor types: 88% of local residents, 77% of day trippers and 86% of overnighters would not change their future behaviour in terms of frequency of visit to the beach.

Table 5.1: Response to ‘advice against bathing sign’ – both surveys (drawing on data from Question 22 in the onsite survey and Question 26 in the online survey)

Behaviour response options in the survey Percentage of respondents stating an answer (%)
Onsite survey Online survey
I never go in the water anyway 45 31
I would stay at the beach and would go in the water 6 4
I would stay at the beach but not go in the water 45 55
I would leave and go to another beach 3 7
I would leave and not go to any beach 1 4

Base: All respondents stating an answer (onsite n=516; online n=963)

Of those respondents who stated that advisory against bathing would change the frequency of their future visits, over three-quarters stated that they would visit less often (onsite and online). This is in comparison to only 15% (onsite) and 24% (online) who stated that they would not visit at all as a result (see Table 4.2 below).

These results suggest that for a large proportion of visitors (95% in the onsite survey and 71% in the online), it is reasonable to assume that permanent advice against bathing will have a somewhat minimal effect on their recreation opportunities and visit patterns. This inference is also supported by previous large-scale national survey findings for England where ~70% of the sample reported that an advisory sign would not impact the frequency of visits (eftec et al., 2014).

As shown in Table 5.2, a higher proportion of online respondents (29%) than on-site respondents (5%) reported that seeing an advisory sign would change the frequency of their visits in future. This descrepency may be explained by two factors:

  • Onsite respondents are asked to make decisions about the beach they visited on that day. For the majority of on-site visitors (users) they have already made at least that day’s visit to the survey beach with (reported) lack of knowledge about the water quality, and so, it can be assumed that water quality was / is not a key factor in their decision to visit that beach; and
  • The sample of online respondents is comprised of both users and non-users of bathing waters, and they are asked to make decisions based on future hypothetical visits to a site they either frequent most often or have the most association with. For some, decisions might be made based on a beach they rarely (or perhaps never for non-users) visit, while for others they may have a larger set of beaches to consider in their decision making. In choosing between this larger set of beaches, information about bathing water quality could become a more important factor.

Overall the qualitative and quantitative evidence supports that the majority of visitors would not change the frequency of visits in future if they saw an advisory against bathing

Table 5.2: Response to ‘advice against bathing sign’ (frequency of visits) – both surveys (drawing on data from Questions 23 and 24 in the onsite survey and Questions 27 and 28 in the online survey)

Behaviour response options in the survey Percentage of respondents stating an answer (%)
Onsite survey Online survey
Seeing this sign would change frequency of visits 5 29
Of those: I would visit less often 85 74
Of those: I would no longer visit the beach 15 24

Base: All respondents stating an answer (n=309)

5.3 Qualitative results – focus groups

5.3.1 Key messages from the focus groups

Across all focus groups, most participants who went into the water or who used the beach recreationally were not concerned that current BWQ was impacting their health. In Gullane and Portobello, it did not generally stop participants from using the water for swimming or water sports. However, some participants in Portobello who swim regularly in the water stopped swimming on an occasion when the water had a foul smell, and contacted SEPA.

Particularly in the Nairn, Ayr and Troon focus groups, participants were concerned that information about poor BWQ could damage the reputation of and tourist visits to the beach and area.

While most participants didn’t seek BWQ information regularly, they expected that the authorities would work to prevent quality from deteriorating to a ‘poor’ designation. In a sense therefore, participants expect the Scottish Government and other agencies (e.g. SEPA) to ensure that BWQ is not harmful to health. In addition, some participants also actively contacted SEPA about BWQ information and to find out what measures were being taken to address problems.

For the participants who do seek information about BWQ, the information provided by the Scottish Government was considered inaccurate and insufficient and the use of other forms of information, such as social media, is common.

It was conveyed that information about BWQ was very important for beach activities, particularly activities in the water, and participants would like to see more information, both about BWQ and more general (e.g. safety) information.

5.3.2 Public assessment of BWQ information

A unanimous message from all focus groups was that information on BWQ is insufficient. Therefore, although most participants across the focus groups highlighted that they do not actively seek BWQ information, this may be because they judge that the information available is not useful:

"I feel I’ve stopped checking it [noticeboard] because the one time I actually wanted to get some information on it, it was dead or wasn’t up to date or something like that, so I don’t regularly check it anymore" (Gullane focus group participant)

Indeed, feedback from five of six focus groups showed how particpants feel that BWQ signs are obscure and could usefully convey more information. Participants felt that the signs raised unanswered questions about pollution and water quality testing that they would like answered. For example, all focus groups considered BWQ status information to be irrelevant because it is not regularly updated and participants recognise that BWQ is constantly changing. In addition to more detailed information about BWQ, participants in Gullane, Portobello, Troon and Ayr expressed the desire to see more detailed general information (e.g. on safety):

"It could also be used for general information because you can anything…missing kids and stuff, the number of times the lifeboat is called out for kids being lost, if you had an information sign there to say ‘child lost, age such and such, look out for them" (Troon focus group participant)

Furthermore, participants in Troon felt that signage on beaches needed to be in more prominent locations, to make visitors more aware of the information. Lastly, participants in Portobello and Gullane expressed shock and discontent that the sea only gets tested for BWQ during a defined bathing ‘season’:

"This annoys me – that isn’t the bathing season. The bathing season is 1st January to 31st December" (Gullane focus group participant)

5.3.3 Accessing BWQ information

Although there was a general belief expressed by participants that most members of the public don’t actively seek information about BWQ, Nairn participants felt that some people would. It was very much person-specific as to whether participants check BWQ themselves: across all focus groups, most participants don’t check BWQ; however a minority in Gullane and Portobello do look online and have proactively contacted SEPA.

"I contacted SEPA but it’s really hard to get the information…that’s my frustration with it, we can’t get any information" (Portobello swimmers focus group participant)

Participants that use the water for swimming or water sports were more likely to seek information about BWQ, although some such users do not choose to. All focus groups revealed how participants didn’t feel that BWQ was likely to affect their own health, regardless of whether they go into the water or not. There was broad agreement between focus groups that participants relied mainly on personal observations, particularly the presence of natural debris or litter and the clarity of the water, to assess BWQ.

"I think it’s the tideline. The things that are on the beach that have been washed up previously at the top end of the tide is also an indication of how clean the beach is" (Nairn focus group participant)

Participants in Gullane and Portobello who swim regularly in the sea mentioned an occasion when the smell of the water made them concerned about its quality and put some people off going into the water, but this was not mentioned as a factor for participants who don’t come into contact with the water.

5.3.4 Impact of rBWD signage and ‘poor’ BWQ

In half the focus groups (Troon, Ayr, Nairn) it was felt strongly that having good BWQ is integral to the local economy. In Nairn (one of the business orientated focus groups), participants discussed how visitors to the town have asked local businesses why there are poor water quality signs at the local beach. There was a view that visitors checking BWQ status would choose to visit another beach (if / where BWQ was poor) and business would be lost:

"If you’re checking out where you want to go along the coast and you discover that Nairn has got poor water quality today you’ll pass on by…we’ve missed the business, because our water quality has been marked down" (Nairn focus group participant)

Thus information depicting poor BWQ was considered to be highly impactful on local business because of the potential for reputational damage to the local town, a view shared by participants across the focus groups in Troon, Ayr and Nairn. Further, a common theme from all focus groups was that BWQ becomes an issue when designation deteriorates to ‘poor’, at which point local and visitor usage of the beach / bathing water changes. There is therefore an expectation that poor BWQ will / should be addressed by government:

"I think the whole of Ayr would be up in arms if we thought that sign was going to be slapped on Ayr…it again goes back to their identity as a town and it’s hugely important that it’s perceived to be accessible and clean and healthy" (Ayr focus group participant)

"And I don’t really think there is any kind of excuse for it. You knew and you’ve been monitoring it and if it’s just been going bad, bad, bad, or you weren’t happy with the findings or the averages or whatever, then you couldn’t make changes? But it’s whether you're choosing to invest in that, to make the changes. I would be really disappointed…" (Portobello evening focus group participant)

5.3.5 Recognition of rBWD signage

Some participants recognised the rBWD signage and felt that the messages were self-explanatory. In most focus groups, however, participants were unfamiliar with the specifics of the rBWD signage, although they were aware of the location of the rBWD noticeboards on their local beach promenade. In Gullane and Portobello, signs were interpreted by some participants as an indication of swimming safety rather than water quality.

"The sign itself, it doesn’t say why, maybe it should show some sewage in the water in front of the swimmer or something…it just says advice against bathing, as you say it could be sharks or…" (Portobello evening focus group participant)

In four focus groups, conversations about BWQ information sparked discussions about the Blue Flag Award, revealing that participants associated the Blue Flag Award with BWQ, with seemingly more recognition than the rBWD signage.

5.3.6 Sources of BWQ information

Since the formal rBWD information on BWQ status was not considered sufficiently detailed or up-to-date, a sub-set of participants who did seek BWQ information turned to other sources of information. Swimmers and water sports enthusiasts spoke of using social media, word-of-mouth, the local press and community water sports clubs for information. Therefore, participants who actively seek out BWQ information rely instead on social networks and their own judgement to consider the quality of the water:

"And social media now, if you’re in a club you will…we’re in a club and people might update with ‘saw lots of dead things today, you might want to not go in the water’" (Gullane focus group participant)

"If we were going up to the west coast I would get in contact with local swimmers there and say ‘where’s a good place to swim?’ So if there was a sign like that but someone had told me it was okay and there were other swimmers there I’d probably just go in" (Portobello swimmers focus group participant)

One rule of thumb mentioned in the Gullane and Portobello focus groups was to avoid going into the water for between 24 hours and up to three days after a storm event. Therefore, these participants did not choose to look at noticeboards, at least not principally, for information on BWQ. Other participants who did not actively seek information about BWQ mentioned that they did come across relevant information in the local press, on social media and by word of mouth. Generally, this seemed to be reports of problems with beach or water cleanliness; e.g. several participants in Ayr mentioned a report of beach contamination that had circulated among dog walkers.

5.3.7 Desirability of access to live BWQ information

Where the use and perception of BWQ information has varied between and within focus groups, the desire for real-time / live information on BWQ was a strong consistent theme across all sessions. Participants at all focus groups spoke of a need for year round and up-to-date information for use by the public, due to the use of beaches and the water outside of the bathing season.

"I’ve tried to google the website for current updates and it’s really difficult to find and it doesn’t seem terribly up to date as maybe…it’s been updated in the past week and I want to know now, live time, what’s going on" (Gullane focus group participant)

If BWQ information was updated regularly, it was felt that citizens would be more inclined to actively seek out such information. Participants also felt that water quality fluctuates greatly, and this needs to be taken into account. Participants suggested the creation of an app that could provide regular updates about BWQ at local beaches, or integrating real-time BWQ status updates with local weather data.

"And if the trends continue and people are going for more and more outdoor pursuits…then they’re going to look at the water quality in the sea…there’s no doubt about it, the more instantaneous that information is the more people are going to have a little app that comes up" (Nairn focus group participant)

Participants in Gullane and Portobello went so far as to express that they would not trust the information about BWQ if it was not live or updated more frequently. On the other hand, participants did not see the source of the information as a problem (i.e. whether the information came from SEPA, the local authority or another organisation).

5.4 Discussion and synthesis

The results described above highlight several interesting findings in relation to the importance that people attach to information about bathing quality. These are summarised in the sub-sections below.

5.4.1 Limited concern about BWQ

Results from both the onsite and online surveys and the focus groups suggest that respondents / participants have limited concerns about BWQ (certainly in terms of health impacts). In both surveys, the majority of respondents revealed that they would not change their behaviour if they saw an advisory sign against bathing noting, however, that this is (in part) because a sizeable proportion of respondents stated that they do not go in the water anyway (in both surveys).

In the focus groups, most participants (including those that go into the water or use the beach recreationally) do not have concerns about BWQ impacting their health. However, the results here are more nuanced as participants tended to expect that the relevant authorities (e.g. Scottish Government, SEPA) will be taking action to ensure that BWQ is not harmful to health (i.e. that BWQ status does not detriorate to ‘poor’). In contrast, participants at half of the focus groups (Troon, Ayr, Nairn) had marked concerns that ‘poor’ BWQ would lead to reputational damage impacting the local economy.

The existing literature (as considered in the evidence review) contains only sparse evidence concerning the general impact of BWQ information / rBWD signage and the specific impact of ‘poor’ BWQ / rBWD designation on beach user choices and preferences (Oliver et al., 2016). However, there is a reasonable literature on the motivating factors behind these choices and water quality has consistently been a highly ranked factor influencing beach choice, from studies in the mid 1990s through to the present day (e.g. Wilson et al.,1995; Morgan, 1999; Ballance et al., 2000; Phillips and House, 2009; Vaz et al., 2009; Shepherd, 2014). This would appear to be at odds with the findings from this current study (i.e. where survey and focus group results suggest limited concerns about BWQ) although previous large-scale national surveys for England (eftec et al., 2014) had similar findings.

5.4.2 Conflicted appetite for BWQ information among focus group participants

Results from the six focus group sessions highlighted some interesting inconsistencies in terms of participants’ appetite for and use of BWQ information. In particular: (1) most participants do not check statutory BWQ information; (2) particpants tended to rely on their own observations and judgement to assess BWQ (e.g. presence of debris and litter, water clarity); and (3) participants who went into the water or use the beach recreationally do not seem to have concerns that poor BWQ may be affecting their health. Point (2) might be particularly concerning for regulatory and public health stakeholders given that visual indicators of cleanliness do not in anyway align to the rBWD indicators and monitoring regime (i.e. faecal bacteria measurements).

In spite of this, a unanimous message from all focus groups was that information on BWQ is insufficient. This is, in part, due to concerns that BWQ information is less relevant / accurate as the testing regime is seen to be insufficiently frequent to capture the dynamic nature of BWQ. Across the focus groups there was a consistent demand for additional / better BWQ information, including real-time / live information, potentially in app / online format and accompanied by other relevant information (e.g. beach safety). So, whilst supericially the desire for additional BWQ information might seem strange given that existing information is little used, this is perhaps because the reliability / usability of information provided under the current system is considered to be inadequate.

The results here are somewhat aligned with existing literature on challenges and opportunities for BWQ signage. In particular, the assertion that there are critical areas of uncertainty concerning how members of the public will interpret and act on different BWQ information (Oliver et al., 2016), reflecting the participants’ inconsistent use of / appetite for BWQ information. Further, in contrast to eftec (2002), the focus group results seem to suggest an appetite for a more complex system of BWQ information, including e.g. much more granular / real-time predictions to account for the dynamic nature of BWQ (although the specific type of messaging preferred was not discussed). The preference for BWQ information in app / online form reinforced Shepherd’s (2014) finding that citizens would prefer more interactive BWQ information, with a preference for social media based provision.

5.4.3 BWQ information requirements among different user groups

The motivations for visiting a beach (e.g. preferences concerning facilities, the activity / activities to be undertaken) can affect beach information requirements, including for BWQ. There is some evidence from existing literature to suggest that ‘active recreationalists’ who undertake immersive activities (e.g. surfers) place a greater emphasis on information on physical factors like weather and surf conditions (Hynes et al., 2013). In contrast, those involved in ‘less active’ recreation who are less likely to undertake immersive activities (e.g. tourists, families) are more focussed on issues concerning beach cleanliness, access to facilities etc (Ballance et al., 2000). This is somewhat counterintuitive as one might expect those people involved in immersive activities to be more concerned with BWQ issues.

Results from both the online and onsite surveys suggest that the majority of beach visit motivating factors expressed by respondents are relevant to ‘less active’ recreational uses (e.g. walking, getting some fresh air, spending time with friends and family). In line with the literature therefore, the inferrence is that the information needs of these people are likely to be focussed on issues concerning access to facilities provision, beach cleanliness and potentially BWQ (Ballance et al., 2000). However, as an interesting departure from evidence in the existing literature (Ravenscroft and Church, 2011; Hynes et al., 2013), participants in the Portobello wild swimmers’ focus group did seem to value BWQ information, having checked information online as well as proactively contacting SEPA about BWQ issues. Ravenscroft and Church (2011) suggest that ‘active recreationalists’ constantly undertake their own assessments of risks (including in relation to poor BWQ). This type of approach was partially evidenced in the focus group data whereby participants explained how they use their own observations and judgements to assess BWQ.

Interestingly, the proactive approach to sourcing BWQ information from relevant authorities (e.g. SEPA) and ability to ‘self-assess’ BWQ risks expressed by some focus group participants is at odds with previous survey based research by Hanley et al. (2003). In this study, a survey with beach users along the Ayrshire coast found that 60% of respondents did not feel confident about their knowledge of BWQ issues or their ability to assess risks and make judgements on BWQ (ibid).


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