For over a year, East Ayrshire Council has been working with partners in Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue and the neighbouring landowners at Loch Doon, Drax and Craigengillan Estate to implement safety measures around the loch.
Drax and the Council also jointly fund the services of Park Ranger, Alan McDowall, who does a fantastic job liaising with visitors and local residents alike while carrying out his patrols and generally making the area as safe and enjoyable as possible.
So far, safety signage and flotation devices have been installed at strategic points around the loch and most recently, work has been completed on an emergency boat launch for the Fire and Rescue Service. This will ensure that the rescue craft can launch on to the loch as quickly as possible whenever it is needed.
The safety improvement works included the installation of a ‘Portsafe’ public access water rescue system, believed to be the first of its kind installed anywhere in Scotland.
The Portsafe system is an extendable pole which can be used from the shore to reach and retrieve anyone getting into difficulty on the loch within reach of the equipment. Since the emergency services need to be contacted for the code to access the equipment, they are also then immediately alerted to the incident.
A community access defibrillator is also going to be installed at the Roundhouse Café which will be funded through generous donations from the local community and the Fire and Rescue Service.
Local Councillor Drew Filson said: “All of these important measures will contribute to ensuring that anyone coming along to enjoy what is a true jewel in the crown of East Ayrshire in terms of its natural beauty, can do so as safely as possible. However, as tragedies on the loch and on water bodies elsewhere recently have shown, everyone needs to treat the water with respect as the loch is deep, very cold at all times of the year and has strong currents which can result in someone quickly getting into difficulty.
“I would like to thank all those who have been involved in making Loch Doon a safer place for everyone to enjoy.”
David Doran, Health and Safety Manager at East Ayrshire Council, said: “While it is great to see so many people visiting the loch, especially with an increase in people holidaying at home, this has also regrettably resulted in a notable increase in incidents of anti-social behaviour, such as littering and fire setting, mainly due to irresponsible barbecues and campfires, which damage the ground and risk causing a broader fire taking hold and spreading.
"We would therefore ask everyone visiting the loch to not only treat the water with respect but also the surrounding land. Please clear up your rubbish and take it with you and if you are cooking or lighting a campfire, please do so safely and responsibly.
"Before lighting any outdoor fires, check for any restrictions or permissions required by the landowner and ensure recreational fires are made in a fire safe pit or container and that they are properly extinguished before you leave, or even better, use a camping stove."
Ian McMeekin is the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s Local Senior Office for East, North and South Ayrshire. He said: “We want people to have an enjoyable time during the warmer months, but safety is our top priority.
“Recently, we have seen several incidents across Scotland that have sadly shown how important it is to stay safe in and around our lochs, reservoirs and rivers.
"Although it might seem warm enough, open water can be very cold and cause cold water shock which can affect anyone of any age, fitness or experience level. It’s also often impossible to know what hazards lie below the surface of the water.
“We have locally trained crews and can call upon specialist resources including rescue boats to respond to emergencies but knowing what to do in the event of an emergency, and having lifesaving equipment to hand, can make a big difference.
"We will continue to work with all of our partners across Ayrshire to support measures to keep people safe and continue to raise awareness of the dangers of water.”
Graeme Dickie, Drax’s Health, Safety and Environment Advisor at the Galloway Hydro Scheme, said: “As well as being a site of outstanding natural beauty, Loch Doon helps generate renewable power for thousands of homes. We want visitors to enjoy the loch safely, and that’s why Drax has contributed funds to install new safety signage and life saving equipment.
“While Loch Doon has not had a major incident this year, other accidents across Scotland have been a tragic reminder of the danger water poses, so it is vital that visitors read and follow the safety signs.”