Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Sewage: How to check for pollution at beaches near you

Campaign group creates interactive map to advise locals and tourists where not to bathe

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 31 August 2022 17:57 BST
Related: Untreated sewage being released into Hampshire’s Langstone Harbour

The sudden heavy thunderstorms that erupted this week across the UK following the second major heatwave of the summer has resulted in a surge in sewage discharges along Britain’s beaches, according to clean water campaigners.

Surfers Against Sewage has warned swimmers to avoid bathing off 50 of Britain’s most popular seaside towns, particularly along the south coast, saying the likes of Bognor Regis, Yarmouth, Southend-on-Sea, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Newquay are currently rife with pollution.

The group has produced an interactive map to support its findings and enable locals and tourists to check whether their favourite bays and beauty spots have been affected.

You can find it here.

The map shows pollution risk warnings in place in dozens of locations around the country, from Cornwall and Devon to Sussex, Essex, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland and Cumbria.

The Environment Agency (EA) allows water companies to release sewage into Britain’s seas, rivers and streams in the aftermath of extreme weather events, such as Tuesday’s prolonged rainfall, in order to prevent drains from overflowing, to protect properties from flooding and prevent effluent backing up into streets and homes.

Sewage was dumped into rivers and the coasts around 375,000 times last year, according to the EA’s own figures, but the government has said it hopes to reduce discharges into bathing waters by 70 per cent by 2035.

“We publish daily pollution risk forecasts throughout the bathing season via the EA’s Swimfo website to indicate when bathing water quality may be temporarily reduced due to factors such as heavy rainfall, wind or the tide,” an EA spokesperson said.

“The current risk of surface water flooding reinforces the need for robust action from water companies to reduce discharges from storm overflows. We are monitoring the current situation and supporting local authorities where needed.”

You can check out the Swimfo site here.

A viral video apparently filmed at Seaford in east Sussex did much to draw attention to the practice of overflow discharges this week, prompting local councillor Matthew Bird to denounce it as a “new low” and “truly shocking and disheartening” and to conclude that “our water infrastructure is not fit for purpose”.

For its part, Southern Water, one of the companies responsible for some of the worst affected areas, said: “There were thunderstorms accompanied by heavy rain the night before last and yesterday [Tuesday]. Storm releases were made to protect homes, schools and businesses from flooding. The release is 95-97 per cent rainwater and so should not be described as raw sewage.

“We know customers do not like that the industry has to rely on these [discharges] to protect them, and we are pioneering a new approach.”

A spokesperson for Wessex Water said: “While it’s extremely rare for storm overflows to cause a sewage pollution incident, we’re committed to completely eliminating the discharge of any untreated sewage.

“Every month we’re investing £3m to reduce storm overflows, starting with those which discharge most frequently or which have any environmental impact.”

Welsh Water added: “Despite the widespread rain, only two of our combined storm overflows [CSOs] operated at designated bathing waters.

“The spills were compliant with our permit to operate them and, as we always do with these CSOs, we sent notifications to Surfers Against Sewage so that they were aware and could notify their members.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in