Loch Leven, Kinross, is the largest eutrophic freshwater lake in lowland Scotland. It was designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) for its wintering waterfowl and regularly supports over 20,000 waterfowl, including whooper swan, pink-footed goose, shoveler, goldeneye, tufted duck, gadwall, teal and pochard.
Around 80% of the catchment is farmed. Historically, nutrient inputs from agricultural, domestic and industrial discharges degraded the lake’s water quality through nutrient enrichment. In 1992, this nutrient enrichment led to a devastating algal bloom known locally as 'Scum Saturday'. This resulted in an estimated loss of £1 million to the local economy over the three months that followed and was a real catalyst for action.
This prompted local people and various different organisations, led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), to do something in order to improve the water quality. They have created and implemented a catchment management plan which has resulted in waste water treatment works being upgraded, industrial pollution being controlled and agricultural diffuse pollution addressed. The project, which ran from 2012-2017, was founded on four interlinked management activities: farmer engagement, sustainable tourism, planning and monitoring.
In 2013, a number of Rural Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) were installed in the northeast catchment as a result of SNH’s farmer engagement project. Silt traps were installed in highly erodible arable fields to reduce the loss of valuable soil and fertilizer. This saved the farmers money not only by preserving top soil and fertilisers but also by reducing the high maintenance costs associated with ditch clearing.
Additionally, in order to reduce the phosphorus and foul drainage in the Loch Leven lake by new developments, a new statutory guidance was put in place, helping developers to design and implement mitigation measures. All developers must demonstrate mitigation measures that are capable of compensation for 125% of the phosphorus likely to be generated by their development and to apply for a licence to discharge. The new guidance was vital in reducing the lengthy timescale for securing phosphorus mitigation under the pre-existing planning protocol, and reducing costs for applicants and the council.
Overall, the project has had a major impact on the quality of the water and algal blooms are now much less common in Loch Leven. The improved water quality has also brought about economic benefits for the local farmers and raised the popularity of Loch Leven as a visitor attraction. This has been further boosted by the creation, under the project, of the 21km long circular Heritage Trail. This wildlife-sensitive trail attracts over 200,000 visitors to the SPA every year, providing enormous economic benefits for local businesses. The social benefits are also visible – 85% of the trail users agree that the trail benefited their physical and mental health. With health issues becoming more prevalent as sedentary life styles increase, the Loch Leven Heritage Trail has unlocked the Natura 2000 site as a natural health service. Harnessing nature's benefits for mental and physical health across the Natura 2000 network could significantly reduce financial pressure on health services.