Sewage hits dozens of beaches in England and Wales after heavy rains

Sewage hits dozens of beaches in England and Wales after heavy rains

Hundreds of people were bathing in this river near Bath this past weekend.

Hundreds of people were bathing in this river near Bath this past weekend.

Pollution alerts are in place for dozens of beaches in England and Wales after untreated sewage was dumped into the sea around the coast.

Official figures show that there have been a series of discharges since Monday, which Southern Water says are to protect homes and businesses.

The pollution follows a period of heavy rains in southern England, after a period of extremely dry weather.

Safer Seas and Rivers Service notices are based on data from water companies.

The service is operated by the charity Surfers Against Sewage.

Many of the contaminated beaches are popular resorts and include:

  • Bognor Regis, West Sussex

  • Newquay, Cornwall

  • East Looe, Cornwall

  • Heacham, Norfolk

  • Rest and Sandy Bay (Porthcawl), Bridgend

  • Morecambe North, Lancashire

  • Cowes, Isle of Wight

  • Robin Hoods Bay, North Yorkshire

  • City of Sidmouth, Devon

  • Shoreham Beach, West Sussex

  • Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Most are along the south coast of England.

state of bathing water

Nearby Bath is a popular swimming spot along the River Avon called Warleigh Weir, which runs through an area owned by landowner Johnny Palmer.

Untreated sewage was released upstream. Mr. Palmer has been working for years to make the water clean enough to earn bathing water status.

“I think it’s a shame. You have kids swimming. And you know, you can’t tell your kids not to drink water. So you literally have kids drinking sewage, which is the sort of thing you might expect in parts of town.” Africa or India, but, you know, Western Europe,” he said.

“Rivers are a central part of our landscape, our ecology and our natural environment. They are a resource that everyone can and should use – and use.”

Hundreds of people were bathing in this river near Bath this past weekend.

Hundreds of people were bathing in this river near Bath this past weekend.

Southern Water is one of the water companies responsible for these regions, along with Wessex Water and South West Water.

In a statement, Southern Water said: “There were thunderstorms accompanied by heavy rain the night before yesterday and [Tuesday]. Storm releases were made to protect homes, schools and businesses from flooding. The release is 95-97% rainwater and therefore should not be described as raw sewage.

“We know customers don’t like the industry having to rely on these [discharges] to protect them, and we are pioneering a new approach.”

Last year, Southern Water was fined a record £90m after admitting to deliberately dumping large amounts of sewage into the sea along the south coast.

According to EU legislation, these types of sewage discharges are legal only in “exceptional” circumstances. They occur mainly after heavy rains, when there is a risk of overflowing the pipes that transport rainwater, together with sewage.

However, in 2020 and 2021, there were almost 400,000 of these events.

protecting health

In a statement, the Environment Agency said sewage pollution could be “devastating to human health, local biodiversity and our environment”. He said he would “not hesitate to act to eliminate the damage that sewage discharges do to the environment.”

It had previously called for top executives at England’s water companies to be arrested when serious pollution incidents occur.

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Our rivers and beaches are once again being treated like open sewers. Years of underinvestment are now in sight.”

The government said it intends to produce a plan by September this year to reduce storm surges. This was made a legal requirement by the Environment Act 2021.

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