Sewage dumped on prize-winning beaches more than 400 times last year

Sewage on the beach at Ganavan Sands near Oban in Argyll. Pictures by Bill Heaney

By Bill Heaney

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has today challenged the First Minister to clean up Scotland’s beaches as he revealed new analysis showing that sewage was dumped onto Scotland’s prize-winning beaches at least 411 times last year.

The worst incident at a Scottish Beach Awards prize-winning beach was in the vicinity of Peterhead Lido, where sewage was discharged for a staggering 483 hours last year, totalling 337 separate sewage dumps onto the beach. There were also spills at St Andrews, Nairn and Fraserburgh and along the Clyde shore from Dumbarton to Helensburgh to Arrochar.

And there is clear evidence of sewage dumping at one of the West of Scotland’s most famous holiday town beaches, Ganavan Sands at Oban in Argyll.

There is reason to believe that this substantially underestimates the number of sewage dumping incidents as while there are 3,614 overflows in Scotland’s 31,000-mile sewer network, but only 144 (4%) are currently monitored. This in contrast to England, which has 14,470 overflows of which 12,700 are monitored (89%).

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament chamber, Mr Cole-Hamilton, pictured left,  said: “Enough to fill 19,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  That’s how much sewage we know was dumped into our rivers last year by Scotland’s government-owned water company.

“I say know, because only 1 in 20 discharge pipes are actually monitored.

“New Liberal Democrat research that we are publishing today reveals over 400 sewage dumps in the vicinity of some of Scotland’s best beaches last year.

“From Peterhead to St Andrews, these award-winning beaches should be protected and pristine. They draw tourists, families and wild swimmers.

“Like so many things on the First Minister’s desk right now, this absolutely stinks.

“So can I ask the First Minister: Will he now instruct the monitoring of all sewage discharges in Scotland? What will he do to help Scottish Water get a handle on this? Otherwise, how many swimming pools of poo is he content to see put on our best-loved beaches?

New analysis of data from Scottish Water by the Scottish Liberal Democrats has revealed that Scottish ministers allowed sewage to be discharged onto beaches awarded prizes at Scotland’s Best Beach Awards 411 times last year, lasting an astonishing 973 hours.

The beach at Arrochar at the top of Loch Long when politicians including Jackie Baillie MSP and the then environment minister Roseanna Cunningham met the community council.

A list of beaches which won awards at Scotland’s Beach Awards 2022 and the number of sewage dumping incidents can be found here.

Figures published by Scottish Water also reveal that in 2022:

  • 14,008 discharges into Scotland’s rivers and waterways were logged, up from 10,799 incidents in 2021.
  • The volume of sewage overflows recorded was 47.1 million cubic meters, up from 34.9 million cubic metres in 2021. That’s the equivalent of 18,845 Olympic swimming pools.
  • In more than half of cases (7,217) either no record of the volume discharged was provided or it was not required to be provided.

Scottish Liberal Democrats are demanding an end to sewage discharges on these beaches as well as enhanced monitoring across Scottish waterways and the speeding up of efforts to upgrade Scotland’s Victorian sewage systems.

Council calls for ban on single use disposable vapes

Meanwhile, Argyll and Bute Council is calling on the Scottish Government to place a ban on single use disposable vapes.

At least 1.3 million disposable vapes end up in landfill each week in the UK, posing a significant danger to the environment, as well as a health risk to those who use them.

The council’s Policy Lead for Climate Change and Environment Services, Councillor Ross Moreland, said: “According to Action on Smoking and Health, vaping among the 11-17 year old age group doubled over the last year, likely due to the growth in cheap, disposable single use vapes. Not only does this pose serious health issues in the future, the environmental impact is massive.

“The large majority of these vapes are not being recycled as they should be and are instead being disposed of in household waste.

A single disposable vape can take up to 1,000 years to degrade. This means, for just a week’s worth of thrown-away vapes it will take 1.3 billion years for them to decompose.

 On top of that, disposable vapes can leak toxic chemicals, such as lithium.

The environmental impact of single-use vapes is really worrying and this is something that needs to be urgently addressed.”

The decision arose from a motion at today’s meeting of Argyll and Bute Council. Councillor Moreland proposed the motion and Councillor Math Campbell-Sturgess seconded it.

To recycle single use vapes safely, visit your local recycling centre. To find your nearest centre, visit Household rubbish and recycling (

  • The Democrat has previously exposed the fact that Scotland’s lochs, including Loch Lomond, have been polluted by sewage and that the main culprits for this are the owners of motor homes who dispose of human waste next to lay-bys and overnight parking places.  Top picture: Children playing on the beach at popular Oban holiday spot, Ganavan Sands.

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