Bathing waters designation

How is a bathing water identified?

The Bathing Water (Scotland) Regulations 2008 state that “Scottish Ministers must 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 that are 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 do we 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 on the list of bathing waters to be designated, including new bathing waters, prior to each bathing season. When considering designation, Ministers will take a number of factors into account. Key considerations are the number of people bathing, 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, but any organisation or individual can apply. All applications must 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 must 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.


Step 1 - To be considered by the Bathing Water Panel the application form and supporting material must be returned by the 30 September. If the submission 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 recommendation to Scottish Ministers (by the 15 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.

The decision will be:

  • to designate
  • not to designate

Further enquiries

For enquiries to SEPA on any aspects on bathing waters please contact us.