||The distribution and behaviour of nutrients (nitrate, nitrite, ammonia, silicate and phosphate) have been examined over the course of a year in two major Scottish estuaries, the Forth and Tay. Maximum concentrations of nitrate and silicate in both estuaries occur in winter, when mixing is conservative. By contrast maximum phosphate, ammonia and nitrite concentrations (notably in the Forth) are observed in summer, these are related to lower oxygen concentrations both within the water column and sediments. Phosphate, ammonia and nitrite concentrations are high in the Forth relative to the Tay. Phosphate behaviour in plots for both estuaries show some common features including removal at low salinity, mid estuary inputs and simple dilution at high salinity. The results are interpreted on the basis of removal onto particles at low salinity followed by desorption at higher salinity together with an input from sediment porewaters. In the Forth the phosphate flux from sediments during the summer is estimated to be 1.98 +/- 1.25 mmol m-2 day-1. At this time the river input of phosphorus is only 10- 14 % of the mid estuary input. Under low river flow conditions in summer a large turbidity maximum (400-500 mg l-1 suspended solids) develops in the Forth estuary and this results in removal of phosphate. Removal is less dramatic in the Tay estuary as the turbidity is wind generated and therefore rarely exceeds 100 mg 1-1. Water quality in the Forth (as defined by the occurrence of low dissolved oxygen concentrations and the presence of species such as ammonia and nitrite) is inferior to that of the Tay. Relative to contaminated estuaries however concentrations in both estuaries are low. By virtue of its high fresh water discharge the Tay is a more significant source of nitrate to the North Sea during the winter than is the Forth. In the Forth bacterial mineralisation and nitrification of organic nitrogen occurs in the upper estuary, this results in an input of nitrate and consumption of dissolved oxygen. Further downstream broad mid estuarine peaks of nitrite and ammonia are observed indicative of a benthic source. Estimates of this source for ammonia and nitrite are 19-44 and 3.9-8.1 mmol m-2 day-1 respectively. In winter the main source of nitrogen to the Forth is from the river but in summer mid estuarine sources dominate. In the outer Tay a peak in dissolved ammonia is estimated to represent an input of 0.5-1.1 tonnes N day-1, this is attributed to sewer inputs from Dundee.