Value of bathing waters and influence of bathing water quality: literature review

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.

Approach to the review

The aim of this review was to identify and explore UK and European academic and grey literature to capture existing relevant evidence on: the socio-economic value of bathing water quality ( BWQ); attitudes, knowledge and perceptions about BWQ; and approaches to valuing BWQ, along with examples of values generated.

Defining the scope

In order to focus the desk study, a set of key research questions were developed based on the research objectives [1] set out by the Scottish Government in the project specification. Sub-questions were also developed that were later used to facilitate the analysis of the literature review findings. The research questions and sub-questions, as agreed with key members of the Steering Group at the inception meeting, are presented in Table 2.1, mapped against the project objectives.

Table 2.1: Research objectives, questions and sub-questions

Research objective

Research question

Sub-research question

RO1: Assess the benefits of bathing waters and the value of bathing water quality at a local and national scale.

RQ1: What are the range of benefits (economic, health, social and cultural) of bathing waters at the local and national levels and how can these be measured?

SRQ1.1: What are the range/types of benefits (economic, health, social and cultural) of bathing waters at local and national levels?

SRQ1.2: How are (or can) the range of benefits of bathing waters being (be) measured?

RO2: To assess the impact of the bathing water quality classification signs / symbols.

RQ2: What value do people put on information about bathing water quality (signs and signage), how do they understand that information (particularly information about changes in classification) and how does it influence beach visit decisions?

SRQ2.1: What importance do people put on information (signs and signage) about bathing water quality as a factor influencing beach visit decisions?

SRQ2.2: What do people understand about the information presented on bathing water quality signs and signage (particularly information about changes in classification)?

RO3: Understand and assess the benefits (or costs) of an improvement (or deterioration) in bathing water quality classification.

RQ3: How can the benefits (or costs) of an improvement (or deterioration) in bathing water quality classification be assessed, taking account of effects on the national as well as local economies and both short- and long-term effects?

SRQ3.1: How are (or can) the costs and benefits of an improvement or deterioration in bathing water quality classification being (be) assessed?

SRQ3.2: How can effects on national and local economies and short and long-term effects be accounted for in assessments?

RO4: Make recommendations for policy and practice. Provide recommendations on the management and assessment of designated bathing water sites and the overall value of bathing water quality in Scotland.

RQ4: What learning can be derived from the evidence about the management and assessment of designated bathing water sites and the overall value of bathing water quality in Scotland?

SRQ4.1: What learning or recommendations can be derived from the evidence about the management and assessment of designated bathing water sites in Scotland?

SRQ4.2: What can be derived from the available evidence about the overall value (potential or otherwise) of bathing water quality in Scotland?

Developing the search strategy

The project team has extensive knowledge on many of the aspects identified as relevant in the research questions (Table 2.1). Our approach to the literature review aimed to take advantage of the existing knowledge and complement it with emerging literature and recent research undertaken in this area. A dual-track approach was therefore adopted combining the following elements:

  • Expert input: Team members have contributed to literature and / or have undertaken studies that are directly relevant to social impact assessment and economic valuation in the area of marine environments. Our combined knowledge across social research, psychology, economic valuation, and environmental expertise provided the basis for this high-level study, avoiding the need to revisit standard texts.
  • Database searches: We undertook structured searches across a range of electronic databases, namely Scopus, Web of Science, ECONBIZ, ECONSTOR, EconPapers and Google Scholar, to ensure that both peer reviewed and grey literature was captured. The focus was on identifying:
    • New perspectives on the assessment of the economic and social value of bathing waters;
    • Current approaches to the valuation of BWQ; and
    • Identifying the less tangible benefits provided by bathing waters ( e.g. direct and indirect outcomes for wellbeing, place attachment / connection to the site, etc.) and current approaches to their assessment and valuation.

A detailed search strategy was developed for the purposes of filtering, collating and prioritising the results of these searches. Box 2.1 presents the search string [2] developed for this purpose and Table 2.2 below lists the exclusion and inclusion criteria applied to narrow down the search.

Box 2.1: Search string and additional limitations

(Bathing water* OR recreational water*) AND (quality OR valu* OR evaluat* OR assess* OR classif* OR designat* OR Directive OR monetary OR *econom* OR travel cost OR stated preference OR revealed preference OR beach* OR social OR community OR attitud* OR perception OR touris* OR recreation OR cost OR benefit OR health* OR disease OR infect*) AND NOT (simulat* OR forecast*)

In developing the search string and filtering the results the inclusion and exclusion criteria specified in Table 2.2 have been considered.

Table 2.2: Exclusion / inclusion criteria for the literature review search

Exclusion / inclusion criteria


Exclude studies reported in languages other than English.

  • Use databases in English.
  • Filter results by language.

Include studies published after 2010.

  • CEP and eftec have good knowledge of key socio-economic valuation literature, so any relevant literature prior to 2010 has already been identified and included as part of the expert input.
  • Grey literature dates quite quickly: the past six years is adequate.

Exclude studies that are not in Northern Europe.

  • Filter results by country.
  • Prioritise UK studies.

Identifying and collating relevant literature

Using the dual-track approach described above, a total of 97 documents were identified by the team as potentially relevant. Key information about the documents identified (title, author(s), date of publication and source) was entered in an Excel spreadsheet. The collated documents were reviewed and prioritised to key and secondary documents according to their relevance to the research questions and the robustness of the evidence presented. The prioritisation was an expert-led approach whereby key experts on the project team ( e.g. Prof. Nick Hanley, Dr Kayleigh Wyles) suggested the sources that would be most beneficial to review on the basis of e.g. relevance, robustness of methodology etc. By this approach, some key studies pre-2010 and from locations other than Northern Europe were included in the review as priority sources.

Table 2.3 summarises the results of the literature search in numbers, specifying the source of the information. Upon a closer review of the documents' abstracts, or full text where necessary, a list of 29 publications was agreed across the team to be taken forward for a full review [3] .

Table 2.3: Number of documents identified and reviewed

Source of potentially relevant documents identified Source of final list of documents reviewed
Expert input / team knowledge Database searches [4] Expert input / team knowledge Database searches
Number of documents 58 40 22 7
97 29

Review, analysis and synthesis of literature

The following steps provided a structured approach to the review, analysis and synthesis of the prioritised evidence, drawing out key findings that will inform both the fieldwork and the recommendations from the project as a whole. Each document has been reviewed in depth by a team member from a relevant discipline, in order to identify, tag and record evidence of relevance to the project research questions and sub-questions.

Step 1: The selected publications were added to Mendeley [5] , an online reference management programme, which facilitated the review and allowed the team to share results internally.

Step 2: The documents were 'tagged' [6] to indicate their relevance to the headline research question(s) using the following codes:

  • RQ1_Benefits;
  • RQ2_Signage;
  • RQ3_Assessment; and
  • RQ4_Learning.

Step 3: Text excerpts were annotated and linked to specific research sub-questions using the comments function in Mendeley.

Step 4: For the collation and analysis of the findings a literature review database was populated in Excel where key information, approaches and findings emerging from each document were recorded against the common set of sub-questions presented in Table 2.1 above. Entries for sub-research questions also included brief commentary, where necessary, clarifying how the source relates to / can help answer the sub-research question. A summary table (see Appendix 2) has been produced listing all the documents reviewed, indicating their relevance to their research questions and including information on whether or not they have been peer reviewed as an indicator of their reliability and robustness.

Step 5: The findings of the desk study were written up and are presented in this literature review report. The headings of this report largely correspond to the research sub-questions, which were used as the basis of structuring the findings [7] .


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