THE First Minister has insisted Scotland’s water quality is better than in England – pointing to official statistics which he said showed the disparity between the two countries.

He was challenged on sewage dumped into Scottish waters by the Holyrood LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, who said only 4% of Scotland’s sewage discharge points were monitored – compared with 91% in England.

Cole-Hamilton also highlighted official figures which he said showed sewage was released into the River Clyde 127 times last year – enough to fill 100 million bath tubs.

But Humza Yousaf hit back saying that the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) classified 66% of the country’s lochs, rivers and other water bodies as being in “good ecological condition” versus just 16% in England, adding that Scotland was on course to raising its figure to 81% in the next four years.

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Yousaf said: “Our approach to assessing sewage discharge is more effective than that in England. Scottish Water has completed a more extensive environmental study programme to monitor the impacts of its facilities on water quality.

“Data from monitoring is also being used to determine any actions needed to improve Scotland’s water environment and Scottish Water has already invested £686 million since 2010 in improvements and has committed a further half a billion pounds during 2021 to 2027.

“This has contributed to Sepa’s most recent classification showing that 66% of Scotland’s water bodies are in good ecological condition, that compares to just 16% in England. This is in line with aims to achieve 81% by 2027.”

Cole-Hamilton insisted Scotland had to "catch up" with England in monitoring sewage discharge – which is caused during storms and periods of heavy rainfall which triggers an emergency release which dumps their contents into rivers or the sea.  

He said: “The problem for the First Minister is that the money he’s identified for those extra monitors, 70% of all dumping is point pipes in Scotland will still go unobserved, whereas in England, every single pipe is due to be monitored by the end of this year. When on Earth will we catch up?

“Look at what we have discovered in the last few weeks. Human waste dumped around Scotland’s best-loved beaches, wetlands of international importance and special protection areas from Shetland to the Clyde.

“And the First Minister should take particular interest in the most-used sewage pipe dumping outlet in Scotland. That recorded 127 releases last year. That’s enough to run 100m baths and he will know that site well because it is on the bank of the Clyde in his own Glasgow Pollok constituency, perhaps that’s why he moved to Broughty Ferry.

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“So can I ask the First Minister, will he commit today to the introduction of legally-binding targets to tackle sewage dumping in Scotland?

Yousaf replied: ““When it comes to the serious issue that Alex Cole-Hamilton does raise, we know that combined sewer overflows are a serious issue, he is right of course to raise them in his question to me but they’re also integral. They’re integral to ensuring that sewers don’t, during periods of heavy rainfall, back up and then end up flooding homes, they end up flooding businesses they end up flooding streets right across our country.”

The FM went on to claim Scotland’s monitoring was “more comprehensive” and added: “Our water quality in Scotland is very, very good. It shows Sepa’s most recent classification showing that 66% of Scotland’s water bodies are in good ecological condition, compared to 16% in England and we are aiming to improve that to 81% by 2027.”