£1 million bill to reverse decline

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OVER £1 million is needed to save Linlithgow Loch but no one is prepared to splash the cash.

A new report on the loch has revealed a seasonal rise in toxic blue-green algae and alien plant species that threaten what is one of Linlithgow’s main tourist attractions.

The Linlithgow Loch Catchment Management Plan was drawn up by a group, including Scottish Natural Heritage, West Lothian Council and Historic Scotland, to tackle the threat and stop water quality deterioration.

The report reveals that the loch has suffered pollution for many years, causing an increased public health risk due to blue-green algae, loss of important species and habitat deterioration for fish, plants and waterfowl. Pollution sources were identified as agricultural practices, fertiliser, sewer overflows and surface water outfalls.

Research found that between 1995 and 2009, there were decreasing numbers of mallard, great crested grebe and little grebe, and it is thought that the poor water quality contributed to this. The loch also suffers from the invasion of destructive plants such as Nuttall’s pondweed and small patches of Japanese knotweed.

Historic Scotland manages Linlithgow Loch, investing thousands of pounds into the historic site every year, but they refuse to take sole responsibility for the water quality.

Martin Gray, Historic Scotland ranger, said: “We are committed to playing our part in improving Linlithgow Loch’s water quality and providing a sustainable solution for this valuable community, recreational and tourism asset.

“Along with our partners in the catchment management group, we are assessing all options that would allow us to work towards a long term solution for the loch’s environment.”

The loch management plan proposes 13 recommendations for tackling the issues over the next five years, including funding a full amphibian and mammal survey, improving monitoring on algal bloom cases and new sewerage and drainage to prevent pollutants entering the loch.

If all the recommendations were implemented, the cost of transforming the loch would exceed £1 million.

The Linlithgow Loch Catchment Management Group (LLCMG) which devised the report is exploring the idea of setting up a charitable trust that would work to meet the substantial cost.

West Lothian Council is part of the LLCMG and a spokesman said: “The group recognises it is not possible for any organisation to bring about the necessary improvements alone and it will take work from a variety 
of stakeholder organisations to deliver these improvements.”

One of the groups mentioned in the report is the newly-formed Linlithgow Community Development Trust. CDT secretary Tom Kerr said: “The loch is not one of the projects identified by the CDT to work on so far but there is absolutely no reason why the group cannot put it to the CDT as a potential project.”

He added that the lead player on Linlithgow Loch would have to be owners Historic Scotland and called on Linlithgow MSP and culture minister Fiona Hyslop to take on the cause, adding: “Maybe the loch is a bigger priority than re-roofing the Palace. It would be a disaster if there was nothing living in Linlithgow Loch.”

Linlithgow councillor Tom Conn who is part of the 
LLCMG is also determined that the talking is turned into action for the sake of the town.

He added: “The issues have been identified but no action plan has been agreed.

‘‘This is not about managing the problem but managing the solution.

‘‘We need to put a solution in place and I’m looking to have a meeting with the stakeholders as we need to do something.

‘‘Those responsible need to step up.”