No quick fix for pollution problem at Linlithgow Loch

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Historic Environment Scotland is committed to resolving the pollution issue at Linlithgow Loch.

However, the man leading the resurrected Linlithgow Loch Strategic Management Group, HES director of operations Craig Mearns, admitted it would not be a quick fix.

At a meeting in the town’s Burgh Halls on Monday night, he said it would take a “multi-agency” approach to tackle the water quality at the beauty spot.

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The loch was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1984. However, since then, pollution has significantly reduced the quality of the water. There are too many nutrients in the freshwater loch, with phosphorus, chloride and nitrogen levels all being too high.

Blue green algae has been spotted in the loch. (Pic: Neil Barnes)Blue green algae has been spotted in the loch. (Pic: Neil Barnes)
Blue green algae has been spotted in the loch. (Pic: Neil Barnes)

Cyanobacterial blooms have caused significant damage to the loch's recreational and conservational value and pose a threat to its continued SSSI status.

MSP Lorna Slater hosted the meeting on Monday, which was also attended by MSP Fiona Hyslop, the town’s local councillors and many residents who live close to the loch.

Having held the first meeting of the management group a few weeks ago, Craig Mearns was also on hand to share their plan of action.

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He said: “We need to revisit the catchment management plan [drawn up in 2012] to follow up how much of that work has been done and what’s left to do.

HES operations director Craig Mearns is driving the project.HES operations director Craig Mearns is driving the project.
HES operations director Craig Mearns is driving the project.

“We also need to look to Loch Leven to see what can be learned from that and do further research and sampling to work out where the run off is coming from.

“We’ve written to the other stakeholders and hope to get everyone round the table at our next meeting at the end of April; the challenge we are facing at Linlithgow Loch needs a multi-agency approach.

“The conclusion we reached at the meeting is that we need the right people from certain bodies around the table to get under the skin of what’s causing the problems.

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SEPA, Scottish Water, the local authority, land owners and the agricultural community – we need to work together to identify specific actions and how much it’s going to cost to fix.

Residents and politicians attended the Burgh Halls meeting on Monday night to find out more about the action plan.Residents and politicians attended the Burgh Halls meeting on Monday night to find out more about the action plan.
Residents and politicians attended the Burgh Halls meeting on Monday night to find out more about the action plan.

“Momentum has stalled on this; Historic Environment Scotland is committed to doing something and we’re determined to make progress. We’re here tonight to show that we mean business but we can’t do it alone.”

Scottish Water is being asked to provide information on combined sewage overflow into the loch, while further work is carried out to discover any leaks from residential septic tanks.

Edinburgh Road resident Alan Brown said he and many fellow home owners in the area would dearly love to get rid of their septic tanks.

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However, he added: “We’ve got no choice in the matter as there’s no mains pipe in the street.

Meeting hosted by MSP Lorna Slater.Meeting hosted by MSP Lorna Slater.
Meeting hosted by MSP Lorna Slater.

“If Scottish Water want to dig up the street and put a pipe in we’d be quite happy – it’s an easy win.”

Fellow resident David Manning raised concerns about other waterways .

He said: “It's not just the loch that is affected; it’s the River Avon too.

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“In the last 50 years, we’ve put in an endless amount of work to test the water. If this problem is not resolved, it will be a big problem in the river too.”

Residents also raised concerns about discharge flowing into the Bell’s Burn and other outlets.

Local councillor Tom Conn said: “Scottish Water said they would install a pipe in Edinburgh Road but it hasn’t happened because new homes have not yet been built.

“Too many people have a part to play in this; however, if we do it piecemeal it's not going to happen.

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“We need to capture all the data about all the inlets and outlets to the loch but there’s a deeper issue that needs to be addressed – the metals in the sediment which have been in the loch for many years from the town’s historic industries.”

Former council youth worker George Thomson ran outdoor activities at the loch from 1972 before becoming sports and outdoor education manager when the Low Port Centre opened in 1986; he retired in 2011.

George said: “This discussion has been going on for as long as I worked at the loch.

“In all the years I worked there, I never had anyone suffering from ill health from immersion in the loch.

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“I understand the danger for dogs but, as for humans, I never had any school children becoming sick or having a reaction because they were on or in the water.

“SEPA tested the water on a monthly basis but we never had to cancel watersports because it never ever told us that it was unsafe to be in or on the loch.”

Roger Livermore from Burgh Beautiful asked the management group to consider if tree planting would assist with pollution.

However, he added: “Given it takes time for trees to establish, if trees can play a role it would be good to get on with that in the coming year – it’s something that could be done quickly.”

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Lorna and Craig pledged to take all of the input on board for consideration by the management group.

Craig also committed to keeping the community up to speed on action plans discussed and agreed by the group...watch this space!