Pollution Shame on the Chariots of Fire Beach; Sewage and Storms Blamed for Dirty Water

Article excerpt

Byline: Maureen Culley

THE long stretch of white sand was made famous in the classic British movie Chariots of Fire.

The opening scenes of the 1981 film show stars such as Nigel Havers pounding the windswept beach in the true story of UK athletes preparing for the 1924 Olympics.

But today, West Sands in St Andrews, Fife, has a less glamorous role in the Good Beach Guide 2009 - having been given a thumbsdown for failing a test on water quality.

However Gruinard Bay in Wester Ross is recommended in the same guide for having the 'highest water quality'.

Gruinard Island, which sits in the bay, was off-limits for 50 years after being contaminated with anthrax during experiments carried out during the Second World War.

The publication, compiled by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), tested 109 Scots beaches and recommended 41 for their excellent water quality, a drop on last year's 44. Heavy rainfall washing polluted water into the sea was blamed for the 7 per cent fall.

The UK saw a 16.5 per cent drop in the number of beaches recommended, from 444 to 370 out of 777 tested - the biggest year-on-year in the guide's 22-year history.

Last year, West Sands were given only a basic pass in the guide, meaning they had just met the mandatory EC standard for water quality, while Gruinard failed.

It was on Gruinard Island, just off the mainland, half-way between Ullapool and Gairloch, that anthrax - one of the best known agents of biological warfare - was released in 1942 on a flock of sheep to determine the outcome.

They started dying three days after the test was sanctioned amid fears the Germans might attack the UK with biological or chemical weapons.

Scotland's bathing water quality peaked in 2004 when the MCS recommended 56 - almost half of the country's beaches.

The MCS blames the subsequent steady decline largely on stormrelated pollution driven by poor weather.

Bathing water tests conducted from June to September 2008 coincided with one of the wettest summers on record north of the Border.

And although the number of beaches which failed the minimum legal standard fell slightly from 18 to 17, the MCS blames the continued drop in water quality on a combination of floodwater mixed with sewage gushing from combined sewer overflows, and polluted storm water running off farmland and streets into rivers and the sea. …