Scottish loch looks to top nature prize after deep clean

A loch which was blighted by a toxic algae bloom in the 1990s has now made the shortlist for a prestigious European nature prize after years to work to improve the water quality.

Reeds growing in the shallow waters of Loch Leven NNR. PIC: Lorne Gill/SNH.

The water at Loch Leven in Perth and Kinross is now so good that the loch has been nominated for a Natura 2000 award.

The loch, which attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year, is one of four sites nominated across Europe in the socio-economic category given its positive impact on the local community.

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Historically, nutrients from agricultural, domestic and industrial waste degraded the Loch Leven’s water quality.

In 1992, this led to a devastating algal bloom known locally as ‘Scum Saturday’, which resulted in an estimated loss of £1 million to the local economy over the three months that followed.

This was a real catalyst for action. Local people and organisations worked together to implement a plan that upgraded waste water treatment works, controlled industrial pollution and reduced agricultural diffuse pollution.

Dr Linda May of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), who has led the Loch Leven monitoring programme for 25 years, said “enormous improvements” had been made to the water quality in the last 25 years.

Wildlife habitats and its overall attractiveness to visitors had improved as a result, Dr May said.

She added: The loch is now a world-leading example of the benefits to nature and communities of using scientific evidence to inform restoration and management decisions. We should all be very proud of what we have achieved.”

Loch Leven has been recognised for its 13-mile circular Heritage Trail, which attracts visitors that contribute over £2 million to businesses in the local area.

More than 85% of visitors strongly agree that the trail benefits their physical and mental health.

Francesca Osowska, SNH’s Chief Executive, said:“We’re thrilled with this nomination for the Natura 2000 Award, which shows that the work done with all of our partners over many years to improve the water quality, environment, and visitor experience at Loch Leven is top notch. The loch attracts over 200,000 visitors a year to see its wonderful wildlife and to walk or cycle along the circular trail.”

The Natura 2000 Award ceremony will take place on the 17 May, 2018, in Brussels.