Water pollution experts from across the world visited Kinghorn Loch in Fife, Scotland last month to learn more about decades of pollution clean-up work. The loch is thought to be the only documented example in the world of full chemical and ecological recovery following red mud pollution.

The visit was hosted by the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the University of Edinburgh and the Craigencalt Rural Community Trust. Experts from across the world including Thailand and Poland were joined by scientists, environmental regulators and water resource managers.

By the 1980s, Kinghorn Loch had run red as a result of pollution from the mud waste produced by a bauxite processing plant. This pollution led to total loss of many native species in the loch. However, diversion of the pollution and the installation of a waste management and treatment facility have resulted in dramatic ecological improvements: the loch now supports a diverse range of fish, insects and birds.

Of particular interest to the visiting group were the links between Kinghorn Loch and similar projects in Thailand, where local communities have mobilised to protect and improve water quality for the good of future generations.

Ron Edwards, chair of the Kinghorn Loch Users Group, said, “The successes at Kinghorn Loch are an excellent example of engagement between industrial, regulatory, research, and community groups. We have had tremendous co-operation with Alcan and SEPA in fighting the legacy of pollution and, after 30 years of improvements, the loch is in excellent condition. The benefits of this work to canoeists, sailors, fishermen and nature studies, especially birds, are obvious for all to see." 

The group learned that these improvements have taken decades to achieve at Kinghorn Loch and that legacy issues including problem algal blooms and changes in catchment management continue to threaten the ecology of the loch. Craigencalt Rural Community Trust, through the Kinghorn Loch Users Group continues to actively manage algal blooms at the loch using barley straw rafts. Also of interest was a current three-year research project investigating the return of iconic freshwater species to the loch funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Dr Bryan SPears of CEH, lead scientist of the research project, said, “In the 1980s, Kinghorn Loch was effectively dead. The recovery of plants and animals at the site, including the impressive fish population, has been remarkable. It is vital that we understand and document ‘life after pollution’ in freshwater lakes.

"The Kinghorn Loch story is a greatly undervalued scientific resource and the lessons learned from our study will help to inform the management of sites suffering from similar pollution across the world.”

Additional information

Kinghorn Loch - recovery from red sludge pollution

CEH's Scottish loch restoration pages