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Toxic algae found at Loch Watten

By David G Scott

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The Highland Council is warning the public of the presence of toxic blue-green algae at Loch Watten following an examination of sample water on Monday (August 12).

Toxic algal blooms have been discovered in Loch Watten. Picture: DGS
Toxic algal blooms have been discovered in Loch Watten. Picture: DGS

As a precautionary measure, environmental health have posted notices next to the water body, warning that contact with the algal scum or material should be avoided. Adjoining landowners and fishing interests have been advised of the situation as have NHS Highland and SEPA.

Wick and east Caithness councillor Willie Mackay, who lives at the head of the loch, said: "This is a fairly common occurrence in lochs and it happened a few years back at Loch Watten. It can last for a few weeks or even months before it disappears."

Mr Mackay stressed that the main worry was around dogs swimming in the loch. "People often exercise their dogs around the loch but it's not advisable for them to be swimming around in the water at the moment with this algae."

Posters erected in the Loch Watten area warn the public that:

• Swallowing the water or algal scum can cause stomach upsets or more serious health effects.

• Contact with the water or algal scum can cause skin problems.

• It is a sensible precaution for you, your children and your animals to avoid contact with the scum and water close to it.

Blue-green algae exist in fresh waters throughout the UK and become noticeable when their concentrations increase to form blooms and when they form scums – looking like blue-green paint – or when they collect on the shore line. Some blue-green algae may give rise to adverse medical effects – but not always.

Effects on people coming into contact with toxic scums include skin rashes, eye irritations, vomiting and diarrhoea, fever and pains in muscles and joints. Toxic algae have caused deaths of livestock and dogs, waterbirds and fish. The treatment of water supplies removes blue-green algae and additional treatment may be applied to destroy or remove toxins should they arise. The actions currently taken at Loch Watten are described by the council as "precautionary".

A British Veterinary Association spokesperson said: “We know that some dogs enjoy nothing better than a paddle in a cool lake while on a walk during summer months, but my advice to pet owners would be to keep your dog on a lead during walks near water confirmed to have toxic algal blooms. While not all blue green algae are poisonous, it is impossible to tell the difference visually, so it is better to be safe than sorry.

“There is currently no known antidote for the toxins, so prompt veterinary treatment is essential to tackle their effects and ensure a good chance of recovery. If you suspect your dog has been exposed to blue green algae, rush it to your local vet without delay."

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