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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.


The benefits of bathing waters

This part of the literature review corresponds to SRQ1.1: What are the range / types of benefits (economic, health, social and cultural) of bathing waters at local and national levels? (see Table 2.1). It aims to identify and cluster the benefits derived from bathing waters for visitors, local communities and the national economy. As categorisations tend to vary across disciplines, and the documents reviewed, the typology provided in the research question was used as the basis for clustering the benefits identified in the literature.

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" [8] . Such improvements include benefits for physical and mental health, well-being and other social and cultural benefits for local communities and visitors alike.

There is no single framework across literature used for the classification of benefits emerging from bathing waters. Common categorisations in natural and social science literature include the ecosystems based approach ( MEA, 2005; Ghermandi et al., 2010) or the more recent ecosystem services framework ( UK NEA, 2011), while in economic literature total economic value is the main framework (Johnston et al., 2017; Oliver et al., 2016; Hynes et al., 2013). Total economic value is the sum of use and non-use values. Use values refer to the benefits emerging from the activities undertaken in the bathing water site. These would include, for example, benefits from angling or commercial recreational sports as well as informal recreation like going for a stroll or paddling. Non-use values refer to the social, aesthetic, spiritual, religious and well-being benefits derived from bathing waters related to reasons other than individuals' own use – knowledge that others use the bathing waters (altruism), they will be available for future generations (bequest value) and simply that good quality bathing waters exist (existence value). In empirical work, it is often more practical to think about users' values (which include both use and non-use values) and non-users' values (only non-use value). This is because it is easier (and more useful) to identify these two separate populations than it is to disaggregate the total economic value. For example, the on-site survey that will be undertaken for this project will estimate the total economic (use + non-use) value of users of bathing waters. The online survey is likely to capture both users' and non-users' values.

The range of activities linked to the recreational value of beaches is quite extensive and includes, but is not limited to, the following activities:

  • Angling;
  • Surfing / kayaking / paddling;
  • Boating / sailing;
  • Swimming / snorkelling / diving;
  • Sunbathing / relaxing;
  • Walking or sitting on the beach;
  • Dog walking;
  • Bird, whale and other wildlife watching / rock pooling;
  • Getting fresh air, relaxing, and
  • Playing / beach sports.

Depending on the particular bathing site characteristics, the climatic conditions and the user group, some activities may be more widespread that others (Coombes and Jones, 2010). Different user groups can therefore derive different benefits from the same bathing site or otherwise the same bathing site can offer a range of different benefits to different users. Understanding what gives rise to these benefits is key to understanding beach visitors' preferences and the factors influencing decision making about beaches (Phillips and House, 2009). This is something we revisit in Part 5 of this review below.

For the purposes of this study and focussing on the benefits of bathing waters in particular, the range of benefits identified in the literature review were clustered under the following categories: Economic, Health and Well-being, Social and Cultural.

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. Gillespie et al. (2016 p.2) note that the economic benefits generated through these activities represent "a component of the value inherent in the local environment". These benefits are particularly important for local and regional economies that are frequently dependent on such seasonal income. Spending, as a result of increased available income of those employed in the sector, further spreads these benefits to the local and regional economies.

Economic benefits to the national economy are equally significant. According to a recent survey in Scotland (Visit Scotland, 2016), domestic visits alone to seaside locations in Scotland were estimated to generate an average of 1.5 million trips and £323 million in expenditure per annum. Similarly, the latest Great Britain Day Visits Survey ( GBDVS, 2015) identified a total of 4 million tourism day visits to the beaches in Scotland, corresponding to an estimated £82 million in expenditure.

Studies undertaken in Ireland and Wales, show that in 2007 marine leisure generated €453.3 million in gross value added ( GVA) to the Irish economy and employed 5,800 individuals (Morrissey et al., 2010), while Welsh annual spending on seaside holidays in 2003 amounts to £0.7 billion (Wales Tourist Board, 2001). In England, eftec et al. (2014) also used GVA to estimate the economic impact of visits more than 70 'at risk' bathing waters. This approach and some of the challenges in aggregating impact from a local to national level are discussed in Part 4.

The challenge for this research is to estimate how a change in BWQ (as defined by the Bathing Water Directive) would affect individuals' decisions to visit a beach. A decline in visitor numbers is assumed to result in a proportional decline in spending and hence local economic benefits.

Benefits emerging from leisure activities in bathing water sites go beyond economic benefits and are further discussed in the next sections.

It is worth noting there is considerable research in the valuation of green and blue spaces, which has demonstated significant economic benefits emerging from natural sites. Fewer studies exist that quantify the benefits of improvements in the condition of such sites. However, those that do exist also point to long-term benefits in the range of billions. By way of example, Austin et al. (2007), estimated the economic benefits of ecological improvements in America's Great Lakes to be between $30 and $50 billion in short term benefits to the regional economy and over $50 billion in long-term benefits to the national economy. Also, in a valuation of the recreational and non-use value of the Scottish lochs, Glenk et al. (2011) found a mean value of £1,500 per hectare of loch improved in terms of its ecological status [9] . This study estimated that if 72% of Scottish lochs reached 'good' ecological status they would produce a benefit of £5.7m per year.

Health and wellbeing benefits

The physical and psychological benefits derived by visiting or being close to coastal environments, have been recognised in improvements in people's mood and cognitive attention [10] , self-reported health (White et al., 2013a), reduced stress [11] and restored emotional and cognitive resources (Wyles et al., 2017; Wyles et al., 2014; White et al., 2013b), quality of life [12] , affect – feeling positive emotions (Brajsa et al., 2010), ,as well as, improvements in physical health manifested in reduced blood pressure [13] (Hipp and Ogunseitan, 2011; Wyles et al., 2016; GESAMP, 2015). Walking, which has been identified as "the most cost-effective means of improving physical health" [14] , was the second most popular activity (22% of respondents) undertaken by visitors to UK beaches following dog walking (57% of respondents) (Coombes and Jones, 2010).

Blue spaces and coastal environments have also been known to have a beneficial impact on well-being (Fleming et al., 2014) and to support psychological restoration. The attention restoration theory ( ART) (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989) recognises four restorative qualities of coastal environments:

  • A sense of being away: Psychological distance from everyday stressors and distractions;
  • Fascination: The ability to effortlessly redirect attention and capture one's surrounding environment;
  • Extent: The ability to appreciate the connectedness to and richness of the environment; and
  • Compatibility: The ability to associate and fulfil a person's needs and desires with what the environment offers.

These restorative qualities have been extensively referred to in subsequent studies (Bodin and Hartig, 2003; Hug et al., 2009; White et al., 2010;) and have been more recently used as a framework to describe and measure the restorative effect that bathing water sites have on making visitors feel revitalized, calm, and refreshed (Hipp and Ogunseitan, 2011; Wyles et al., 2014; 2016; 2017). Empirical evidence from a study with beach visitors in California, has shown that participants perceive the bathing water sites to be psychologically restorative (Hipp and Ogunseitan, 2011). The researchers used a variation of the four restorative qualities identified in ART to ask participants to rate the various elements. Results showed a mean score on the Perceived Restorativeness Scale ( PRS) of 4.8 out of 6.0.

In other studies these 'restorative qualities' are identified in the therapeutic, inspirational and spiritual benefits of being close to blue spaces and are found to emerge from the overall aesthetic experience of enjoyment of the beach and views, relaxation and spiritual enrichment. These benefits can be enhanced by the beauty of seascapes which adds to the aesthetic experience and scenic values derived (Phillips and House, 2009; Tudor and Williams, 2006) and which, as discussed in Part 5, is also one of the factors that influences decisions around the choice of beach.

Other benefits associated with visiting the beach include the sense of familiarity, described as "feeling at home", and feeling content (Wyles et al., 2016).

Besides the direct benefits to human health, bathing waters provide a living space for numerous plant and vertebrate populations (birds, fish and marine mammal species). Hence, in a healthy bathing site, visitors can further benefit from contact with wildlife. In a survey by Hynes et al. (2013), improvements in benthic health, explained as the chance of seeing fish, birds and mammals, were positively valued and linked with an increase in beach visitors' utility derived from the site visit (statistically significant results). Wildlife and the conservational value of coastal environments were also mentioned as one of the "attractions" to bathing water sites for locals and visitors on Welsh bathing sites (Tudor and Williams, 2006).

The challenge for this research is to identify the impact of BWQ (as defined by the Bathing Water Directive) on these benefits, and show how a change in the BWQ would change these benefits. It may affect some significantly, and it may not affect others.

Social and cultural benefits

The social and cultural benefits of bathing water sites relate to the historical heritage, culture, learning and social cohesion opportunities they provide for local communities and the wider society.

While people frequently attribute value to the mere existence of habitats and landscapes as links to their heritage and identity (Heritage Lottery Fund, 2016; Kyle et al., 2004), further cultural benefits can arise from bathing sites with rich maritime heritage and historical importance (Tudor and Williams 2006). These may well be designated sites (Ballinger et al., 2005) which also add to the attraction of visitors and the economic benefits discussed earlier (ibid). High quality bathing waters and popular destinations can further contribute to a sense of ownership and pride of place for local residents and communities (Barnes, 2008).

A key issue to be aware of, however, is that local identity is linked to perceptions of beach quality. In social science literature the 'social identity' theory posits that people are likely to consider beaches they are attached to as better quality (or less polluted) which is a result of denial of a potential threat to their place identity (Bonaiuto et al.,1996). In recent literature (see review by Wyles et al. 2016) there are conflicting opinions as to the direction of that impact with some arguing that attachment to a particular site suggests a greater ability to overlook deterioration in that environment (or be negatively impacted by it), while others suggest it implies greater sensitivity in response to such a deterioration. Wyles et al. (ibid) in surveying participants on the impacts of litter on marine environments found that a person's bond with nature did not affect people's ratings of environments in a deteriorated state ( i.e. littered) with locals and visitors rating those sites similarly negatively. However, there was a difference in participant's ratings for clean environments when they were emotionally attached to a site. Surveys of beach visitors have shown (Bonaiuto et al.,1996) that direct experience of a beach shapes perceptions of quality rather than knowledge of the official rating (in this case Blue flag award).

At a local level, bathing sites can contribute to community cohesion by offering places for the local community to meet, interact (Reed and Buckmaster, 2015) and engage in activities, which may include local festivals and competitions, such as, sand sculpturing . For families, the beach offers an opportunity to strengthen family bonds by engaging in recreational activities and experiencing fun and stress relief (Ashbullby et al., 2013).

Further, the beach offers an ideal environment for children and adults alike to learn more about coastal environments and develop an appreciation of what these environments have to offer. Activities such as rock pooling, the fourth most common activity in a survey of visitors' use of the beaches in England and Wales (King et al., 2015), give rise to educational benefits (Wyles et al., 2017).

Regardless of the specific activity undertaken during a visit, bathing sites have an effect on individuals' welfare. This is linked not only to the recreational activities but is derived from building and strengthening social and familial structures and combating social exclusion (Morrissey and Moran, 2011; Ashbullby et al., 2013).

The challenge for this research is to identify these social and cultural benefits as part of motivations for visiting bathing waters, and as factors influencing the economic and wellbeing values. It is also part of the challenge to have a deeper understanding of these benefits though focus groups.

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