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Linlithgow Loch

Linlithgow Loch is one of the jewels in West Lothian's crown. Owned by Historic Scotland it provides opportunities for walking, fishing, and water sports. It supports a wide variety of wildlife.

Restrictions on the use of the loch are currently in place. See Cyanobacteria, below, for more information.

Linlithgow Loch Summit

To bring together the various parties involved in Linlithgow Loch, a Loch Summit was organised by Historic Environment Scotland (HES). It took place at the Burgh Halls, Linlithgow on 24th November 2015 and was independently chaired. 

It involved representatives from Scottish Government and national bodies such as Historic Environment Scotland, SEPA, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Wildlife Trust, Transport Scotland, NFUS and Scottish Water. Local elected members form the council attended, along with officials from various services. Local organisations also attending included: Linlithgow & Linlithgow Bridge Community Council, Linlithgow Civic Trust, Transition Linlithgow, Linlithgow Natural Grid, Linlithgow Angling Club, Forth Area Federation of Anglers, Linlithgow Kayak Racing Club and West Lothian Sailing Club.

The morning session involved sharing an understanding of the key issues with experts, senior representatives from key agencies and community groups. Topics covered by three speakers from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) included water quality problems, recent management activities and their successes / failures, similar case studies in Scotland (e.g.; Loch Leven) and the barriers to effective catchment management. 

The afternoon session sought to agree what joint strategic action can be taken from discussions with high-level management representatives from the national agencies. Focus was on what needed to be done to develop and resource a long-term programme of work, and who would be best placed to take forward actions. 

The main issues identified were:

  • HES acknowledged they are responsible for the loch as it is part of the scheduled area;
  • HES recognised the communities' ambitions for the Loch are important and that the national agencies must all work with the local community to deliver a joined-up, long-term solution; 
  • taken in isolation, purely as a body of water, Linlithgow Loch is not significant enough to trigger the funding that is required from individual agencies; 
  • many organisations, and of course the local community, have a stake but no one organisation is in the lead;
  • CEH thought the public health risks from algal bloom were significant; 
  • there are two solutions to reduce the algal bloom levels: treatment or stopping the sources of the pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus); and 
  • this is a long-term issue that might take 10 years to see improvement. 

The main points to move the issues forward were summarised as:

  1. establish a clear vision on outcomes;
  2. obtain sound data to articulate the complexity, scale and source of the problem: (a Source Apportionment Survey should be the first step); 
  3. identify a lead body to take ownership at appropriate CEO level with strong stakeholder support;
  4. appoint a project manager embedded in the community with ownership and commitment or some other third-party involvement to work with management to co-ordinate the project; 
  5. develop, identify or adapt a forum / delivery framework; and
  6. continue support for community involvement.

From the discussion in the afternoon among the various agencies at the Summit:    

  • HES agreed to be the lead body for the project via its Director of Conservation with strong stakeholder support from key agencies and other partners;
  • All agencies present (SEPA / SNH / Scottish Water / Transport Scotland / Scottish Government / WLC) pledged their support and co-operation at CEO and senior management level to HES and to also involve community organisations; 
  • HES undertook to lead on finding a way to carry out the Source Apportionment Survey as a first major step to fully understand the pollution issues;
  • HES would develop a new governance structure and delivery route with: 
    • a new "Strategic Management Group" to be established to allow organisations to make decisions at the appropriate level. While the existing Loch Catchment Group is to be restructured; 
    • specific task groups are to be set up under this Strategic Management Group to deal with specific issues of: Source Apportionment Survey; funding; community and education projects;
  • pdf icon Linlithgow Loch Summit: List of Attendees [130kb]
  • pdf icon Linlithgow Loch Summit: Summary [269kb]

Wildlife

As the larger of only two remaining natural lowland lochs in the Lothians, Linlithgow Loch is a nationally important site for nature conservation. During the heyday of Linlithgow Palace, the loch was a vital source of food for royalty and their guests. 

For information on the wildlife associated with the loch, pdf icon download the leaflet [277kb].

Water Condition

The nutrient rich water and range of aquatic and marginal plants mean it is now classified as 'eutrophic'. The more recent increase in nutrient levels in the loch is caused by surrounding land uses. As a shallow loch in a small catchment, it is at risk of excessive nutrient enrichment from both agricultural and urban sources and responds quickly to temperature changes. This situation will worsen with climate change. Over time this could mean more algal blooms occur leading to further loss of plant species, as well as poor visual appearance.

Under the European Union Water Framework Directive, SEPA - Scottish Environment Protection Agency is responsible for classifying the condition of water bodies and where necessary bringing them up to good ecological status. However, Linlithgow Loch is too small to be included in SEPA's first round of classifications. In 2008, Scottish Natural Heritage and SEPA jointly agreed interim targets to address ecological and public health issues associated with blue-green algae. Ecological monitoring was established based on targets set in the Loch Leven project and is to be reviewed in 2015. In 2010, SRUC and CEH initiated a project to investigate the causes of increased algae biomass by identifying sources of phosphorus and nitrogen in the loch and to propose suitable remedial actions. The resulting Catchment Management Plan and associated documents are:

Cyanobacteria (also known as Blue-Green Algae)

Linlithgow Loch, owned by Historic Scotland,  has a history of summer and early autumn cyanobacteria algal blooms.

A routine inspection and sampling programme is in place to monitor the condition of the water. Suspected blooms should be reported to Environmental Health, which will arrange sampling if necessary. Sample analysis is carried out by SEPA. When necessary, warning signs are put up and routine users of the loch are notified on current water quality condition.

Recent samples (29 October 2018) show the loch remains affected by blue-green algae cells. Whilst concentrations have reduced elsewhere in the loch, the Town Bay sample showed more than 100,000 cells per ml. This means:

  • Warning signage is in place;
  • The water should not be entered or consumed;
  • No immersion sports should take place;
  • Contact with the water should be minimised and must followed by thorough hand and body washing; and
  • Contact with any visible surface scums must be avoided completely

Fishing can continue unaffected unless fish display unusual behaviour. ​​​​

For general information on Cyanobacteria please see Cyanobacteria (Blue-Green Algae).

Only Rain down the Drain

Many road and household rainwater drains over a wide area feed into Linlithgow Loch. Its important nothing goes down these drains which shouldn't. See  for more information.