Concern over signage at Eyemouth beach

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JUST a few weeks after it was revealed that Eyemouth was one of four beaches across Scotland which failed to meet European bathing water standards, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency have admitted that electronic signage in the town, used to inform would-be swimers of water quality, had been out of action for considerable periods of the summer season.

The bathing water was tested regularly from May 24 until the end of August and unfortunately failed on two occasions - July 20 and August 17.

Eyemouth was one of 12 additional beaches in Scotland where new electronic information signs were installed by SEPA during Scotland’s 2011 bathing water season, however, the water regulator admitted that the signage wasn’t as reliable as they’d hoped due to a problem with signals.

Calum McPhail, SEPA’s Environmental Quality Manager, commented: “We did have some teething problems at Eyemouth, having switched to using mobile phone coverage to post the live display information.

“It is very disappointing that the sign was not functioning perfectly, but we do now have a better system in place to manage the network. We added a lot of new signs this year, effectively doubling the number, and a change that size can cause problems. However, we now have the closed season to iron out any technical issues.

“I’m confident that the signs will be fully functioning for the start of the 2012 season which will begin, as usual, on June 1 next year. We now operate a network of electronic beach information signs and media which, after roads and rail, is one of the largest integrated message systems in the country.”

The black mark against Eyemouth’s bathing water and others at Lossiemouth East, Sandyhills and Irvine, has been widely publicised in the last few weeks, with one paper carrying a headline ‘Sewage level dangerous on 18 Scottish beaches’ next to a photo of Eyemouth beach.

And it is this adverse press that has led one resident, Professor Fenton Robb, to argue the case for Eyemouth being temporarily stripped of its designated bathing beach status, before its failings have a determinental effect on the local economy.

He told The Berwickshire News: “The main reason for concern about reports of dangerous pollution of the bathing water should not be about any real or imagined danger to the infrequent bather, but should be about the effects of alarming reports on the reputation of a town renowned world-wide for the quality of its fish products and of the caterers, hoteliers and others purveying accommodation and food to visitors.

“Let us be absolutely and categorically clear: the quality of the water at the beach has absolutely no connection with the quality of Eyemouth fish and fish products. Unfortunately, the ‘halo’ of reports of dangerous pollution could well eclipse that fact and Eyemouth could get a ‘bad name’ that could affect its industry and commerce very adversely.”

Mr Robb is worried that with regulations set to be more stringent next year, Eyemouth would get left behind even further. He suggested that the beach be temporarily removed from the 80-strong list of Scottish bathing beaches until time is taken to ensure it is properly developed and up to scratch.

He added that there would be “cost savings” to Scottish Borders Council if this were to happen.

He continued: “Were the beach to remain designated for bathing and, as seems more than likely, it does not earn a ‘good’ classification consistently, it could well attract financial penalties for failing to comply to the EEC regulations.

“The argument against designation as a bathing beach is so strong that it is surprising that designation was ever contemplated. The first and cardinal requirement for designation of a beach as a ‘bathing beach’ is that the competent authority expects a large number of people to bathe.

“As old photographs show, Eyemouth was once a favoured resort, attracting large numbers of bathers, but no longer. Bathers at Eyemouth are few and far between.”

However, Professor Robb’s views aren’t shared by Georgia Conolly, Marine Ranger at St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve.

She commented: “There are people who come to holiday in Eyemouth, go sea angling, wildlife watching from the glass bottom boat and enjoy a walk along the coastal footpath.

“It is therefore more important than ever that Eyemouth beach, its port and all its users strive to achieve the highest standards in water quality for the survival of the tourist industry which is of high economic importance to the area, just as much as other more traditional forms of industry.

“The Reserve is in favour of any scheme which seeks to promote a healthy marine environment and removing Eyemouth from this scheme just because of “cost savings to the Council [and] the removal of any threat of sanctions for non-compliance” is just ludicrous - the costs will be more in the long run when Eyemouth loses out to other seaside resorts .”