Steps taken to increase public awareness of blue-green algae

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Steps to reduce the number of cases of blue-green algae poisoning in Argyll  have been welcomed by dog owners but campaigners say there is still more to be done.

A recent meeting involving Argyll and Bute Council and interested partners identified  various ways of reducing the risk posed by cyanobacteria blooms, or blue-green algae (BGA), the outcome of which was to focus on increasing public awareness through educational literature and targeted media, online and social media campaigning.

However, two couples who lost their beloved pets this year due to the invisible killer spores do not believe the new campaign goes far enough.

Bill Aitkenhead, who’s Boston terrier Lulu died after drinking a small amount of water from Loch Awe in June, described the report from the meeting as ‘local authority waffle’.

He added: ‘None of the actions, commendable as they are, really go to the core of awareness to the public, people like us, holiday makers/visitors to an area, who rely on information provided by hotels, guest houses, camp sites as well as local and national tourist boards.’

Bill and his wife Frederika, along with Gavin Livingston and Adele  Robertson, who lost their labrador Bonnie, also in June, after the young dog  swam in Loch Eck, are campaigning for increased permanent signs around the lochs.

‘We would never have thought it wise or necessary to visit a website and look for the environmental notice which is there,’ added Mr Aitkenhead, who had never heard of BGA before his pet dog died after ingesting it.

‘And of course why would hotels etc and tourist boards wish to diminish their marketing appeal by attaching warnings or advice generally about the risk?’

In a correspondence to the two couples, Argyll and Bute Council’s environmental health manager Jo Rains stated that those present at the meeting had, ‘considered various options including of course your call for permanent signage’.

Despite committing to a number of actions, the document continued to explain that the local authority felt that due to the ‘huge area’ and there being no repeated pattern of the appearance of blooms, increasing signs would not be an option.

‘The most effective way in which to reduce risk is to equip people with understanding of what to look for and how to react to blooms,’ they explained.

‘People’s understanding would go with them wherever they are and so cover much wider areas than signage could guarantee to do.

‘We do appreciate though of course the role signage has to play and considered this fully.

‘All partners identified the best approach as being to use signage when blooms are suspected.’

The campaign will run primarily over Easter, again in June and again in September of each year.

All partner organisations will promote their own campaign to help the message reach as far and wide as possible, and partners will meet annually to review risk assessment data, ensure up-to-date contact information is available and to plan the media campaigns.