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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.


Recommendations for bathing water / beach management in Scotland

This part of the literature review responds to SRQ4.1: what learning or recommendations can be derived from the evidence about the management and assessment of designated bathing water sites in Scotland? (see Table 2.1).

The literature suggests that characteristics of the beach, types of recreational activities and socio-economic characteristics of the visitors are important factors in determining individuals choices to (i) whether to visit any beach, (ii) if so what type of a beach and (iii) how to react to changes in BWQ. Therefore the empirical research needs to collect information on these.

For health benefits (in terms of avoided health impacts), surveys need to collect information on past health incidence that can be linked (even if self-reported) to BWQ and risk factors such as whether individuals undertake immersive activities.

For the importance of signs about BWQ – preferences seem to be for simpler signs. The detail of such preferences can be discussed in a focus group. For the economic valuation survey, the topic is of importance if seeing a sign makes a visitor change their mind about visiting that site again. This will need to be tested.

In terms of the social and cultural benefits, qualitative approaches could be more appropriate as there will be more time, for example in a focus group than in an on-site survey, to delve deeper into issues.

It is important to note that this review and wider study adopts an anthropocentric approach in the identification of bathing water benefits. However, there may be unintended negative impacts on the environment emerging as a result of an increase in visitor numbers which could be the result of, an improvement in BWQ.

Using information on beach value(s) to inform management

Reliable estimates of the value of bathing waters and the range of benefits provided are important for planning facilities, determining access and transport capacity, estimating the potential for new business development and for pollution / litter control and management (Ballance et al., 2000). The logic behind this approach is clear; understanding the value of a given bathing water site can help to inform the nature and scope of the necessary facilities. However, as Morgan (1999) and Vaz et al. (2009) point out, some more rural / remote sites can be highly valued precisely because they have few amenities and facilities (see Part 5) so the type of values used to inform management need to be considered carefully ( e.g. monetary alone vs, wider socio-cultural values). Hynes et al. (2013) illustrate the importance of value informing management at the local level (similarly to Ballance et al., 2000) and a more aggregate national level. National level assessments of costs and benefits of bathing water management are important for identifying cost-effective ways of implementing the revised BWD ( i.e. if the costs outweigh the benefits then bathing water designation may not be viable). This type of cost-benefit oriented approach is also suggested by McKenna et al. (2011). In a related point, Nordstrom and Mitteager (2001), cited in Tudor and Williams (2006), suggest that maintenance of beach quality ( i.e. a cost) should be seen as an investment in the local economy.

As well as value, information on the type / range of recreational user groups that make use of a particular beach / bathing water can be useful informing management of the beach (Morgan, 1999; Phillips and House, 2009; McKenna et al., 2011; Hynes et al., 2013). This is driven by practical concerns over safety; e.g. targeting BWQ improvement investment at sites of high use in terms of immersion and on-water recreational activities (Hynes et al., 2013). However, it is also driven by concerns over the need to consider carefully the needs and values of specific user-groups and the attributes and facilities they look for in a site (ibid); e.g. the points raised by Morgan (1999) and Vaz et al. (2009) concerning the preferences and values of people who frequent more remote / rural beaches. With a more general approach, Phillips and House (2009) suggest that beach management strategies should be based on local characteristics and the associated tourism offer / markets, including an understanding of the motivating factors behind beach visits (see Part 5).

The role of beach awards and the rBWD as management devices

Whilst McKenna et al. (2011) suggest that the value of beach awards is questionable (including on the basis of testimony from beach management authorities in Scotland), they suggest that the award procedure can provide a useful template for management and the status that comes with having an award can provide leverage when competing for funding / resources. Further, evidence from France suggests that BWQ is the only real 'pull factor' determining beach choice, the inference being that the rBWD can be used as a key driver of management aimed towards BWQ improvements (ibid).

The role of signage and information provision

Signage and information provision can play a key role in the day-to-day management of bathing water sites in terms of peoples' interaction with water and associated risks (Oliver et al., 2016). Shepherd (2014) drew a number of conclusions concerning the effective use of signage in this regard: (1) beach signs and information on BWQ should be more interactive, especially in terms of helping to engage children; (2) increasing the space on beach signs allocated to BWQ issues could increase awareness; and (3) there is a need for better use of social media to communicate information on BWQ issues.

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