Bathing waters designation

How is a bathing water identified?

The Bathing Water (Scotland) Regulations 2008 require Scottish Ministers to designate an area of surface water (coastal or inland) as a bathing water if they “expect a large number of people to bathe there, having regard to past trends and infrastructure or facilities provided, or other measures taken, to promote bathing” at that site. Ministers must also determine the period during which a large number of bathers are expected as the “bathing season”. In Scotland, the bathing season is typically determined as running from 1 June - 15 September.

Why designate bathing waters?

Bathing Waters designation aims to protect human health at locations where large numbers of people bathe during the bathing season. Water quality at designated bathing water sites in Scotland is monitored by SEPA during the bathing season. At a number of sites daily water quality forecasts are issued. Annually each site is classified as excellent, good, sufficient or poor based on measurements usually taken over a four-year period. This information allows people to make informed choices about where and when to bathe.

Criteria for designating a bathing water in Scotland

Scottish Ministers decide each year on the list of bathing waters to be designated, including new bathing waters, prior to each bathing season. The criteria for designation are that (i) a large number of people is expected to bathe there and (ii) no permanent advice against bathing there has been introduced.

Generally around 150 people per day using the water for bathing regularly throughout the season would likely be considered a ‘large’ number of bathers; however Scottish Ministers have discretion as to what would be a large number and could in some circumstances designate a bathing water where fewer than 150 bathers are expected. per day.

In determining whether a large number of bathers is expected to bathe at an area of surface water, Ministers will take a number of factors into account, including, past trends, infrastructure provided to support bathing, the promotion of bathing and beach management as well as other facilities and local/public views.

Apply for designation

Local authorities usually apply for designation of bathing waters, but any organisation or individual can suggest to Scottish Ministers that a bathing water should be designated. All applications should have the full support of the local authority and applications for privately owned sites must be supported by the landowners. Support includes carrying out relevant functions such as beach management, installing and maintaining signage, and regular cleaning.

If you are considering applying you should inform the bathing water team at an early stage.

Evidence needed for designation

Your application should include:

  • user surveys
  • information about beach management, infrastructure/facilities provided, promotion of bathing and any past usage trends at the site
  • letter of support from LA
  • letter of support from landowner(s) (if applicable)
  • evidence of a local consultation

Download an application form here

Once the application and supporting evidence has been received SEPA will convene a Bathing Water Panel to consider whether the criteria for designation are met.

Scottish Ministers have to ensure that the public, the appropriate local authorities, the relevant health board, SEPA, and any other public body with an interest in any proposed bathing water are consulted. The Bathing Waters Panel convened by SEPA consists of representatives of these relevant groups and therefore this allows the consultation about any application for designation of a bathing water to take place. The Panel will consider any applications as well as review or revision of the list of bathing waters and the length of the bathing season relative to a designated bathing water. The Panel then provides a report to Scottish Ministers.


Step 1 - To be considered by the Bathing Water Panel the application form and supporting material must be returned by 30 September. If the application is not fully complete, it will be returned.

Step 2 - If the application is complete, SEPA will convene a Bathing Water Panel meeting for the last week in October. The Panel will review all supporting evidence, including submissions from other responsible authorities.

Step 3 - The Bathing Water Panel, having considered all the information provided, will provide a report to Scottish Ministers (by15 November) who will decide whether to designate the location as a bathing water.

Step 4 - The applicant will be informed, by Ministers, of the decision early in the following year as to whether or not a location is to be designated, including reasons for that decision.

There is no right of appeal against any decision by Scottish Ministers in relation to any decision regarding designation of bathing waters in any year. However, bathing waters are reviewed on an annual basis so proposed surface water locations can be considered again in future.