Environment body slams 15 golf courses over water usage

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 9, 2015 11:14

Scottish golf courses have been exposed for taking more water than they are allowed to by a major government agency that has the power to take legal action against them.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has condemned the performance of three golf courses across the country as ‘poor’ because they have broken the rules by taking more water than permitted. A further 12 golf courses were also slammed for failing to say how much water they used. Farmers, distilleries and other businesses have also come under fire.

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Image by NOAA’s National Ocean Service


Sepa regulates the removal of water from streams, rivers, lochs and the ground to prevent watercourses from drying up, protect wildlife, limit pollution and ensure the natural resource is fairly shared. It warns it will take legal enforcement action against businesses that persistently fail to comply.

Scotland’s Sunday Herald reports that the 2013 assessments rated 39 sites as poor, including 22 farms, eight whisky plants and three golf courses, which were all guilty of breaching their licences by using more water than permitted in 2013.

“It is very disappointing to see household names among those that can’t be bothered to report and those that haven’t got a grip of this problem,” said the environmental group’s director, Dr Richard Dixon.

“There is no excuse at all for the iconic whisky and golf industries not to be living up to the high environmental standards that they trade on worldwide. Scotland risks trouble with European laws if we do not get this right.”

Dixon pointed out that demand for water had to be carefully managed to make sure there is enough for wildlife. “Companies taking too much water are putting fish, water birds, plants and insects at risk, as well as frustrating other legitimate water users,” he said.

He was backed up by Dr Sarah Hendry, a law lecturer from Dundee University’s Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science. “Water abstraction is managed to protect river flows and loch levels, which in turn protects aquatic flora and fauna, and the ecosystem services fresh­water resources provide,” she said.

“Businesses are expected to comply with all their environmental regulations, including reporting requirements, and failing to do so would give them an unfair­advantage over competitors, as well as depriving both regulators and the public of information that should be in the public domain.”

The Scottish Golf Union said it had made member clubs aware of the requirements to register water abstractions. “We encourage all clubs to ensure they comply with permitted levels and regularly submit their data as requested,” said a union spokesman. “We are confident that the golf sector as a whole is not having an adverse effect on Scottish ground waters.”

John Thomson, captain of Moray Golf Club one of the three named by Sepa, stressed that the club had never exceeded its annual limit but accepted that too much water had been taken in March 2013. “In our defence we didn’t actually use the water, we just stored it,” he said. “We have put in place the measures whereby any future breach simply won’t happen.”

The Golf Environment Organisation, which encourages courses to act sustainably, said Carnoustie Golf Links, another of the three named, had “cleared up [its] issue” with Sepa.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 9, 2015 11:14
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