Beachgoers warned to stay away after sewage released in UK seas

sewage pipe waste water outflow

Pollution warnings are in place across dozens of beaches in England and Wales, after untreated sewage was pumped into the sea following storms in mid-August.

Data released by the environmental campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) shows storm sewage was discharged into the water at beaches in dozens of locations, including Newquay in Cornwall, Sidmouth Town in Devon, Bognor Regis in West Sussex, Southend-on-Sea in Essex, Cowes on the Isle of Wight, and Shoreham Beach, West Sussex.

The most concentrated areas of pollution are across the south coast, including Devon and Cornwall. Beaches on the Isle of Wight are also affected. Four beaches at Southend-on-Sea and Newquay were closed on Wednesday (17 Aug 22) for at least a day.

Surfers Against Sewage pollution map
Surfers Against Sewage pollution map

The pollution warnings are issued by the Safer Seas and Rivers Service, which is run by SAS, and are based on water firms’ data.

Southern Water is one of the firms responsible for the discharges in polluted areas, alongside companies such as South West Water and Wessex Water.

In a media statement, Southern Water says such discharges are needed to protect homes and businesses after heavy rains.

“There were thunderstorms accompanied by heavy rain the night before last,” the statement says. “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.”

Video footage shared on social media appears to show sewage being released into the ocean at Seaford in East Sussex, which is a Marine Protected Area. A stream of grey-brown water mixes with blue water close to the nearby beach, which is popular with swimmers. 

Last year, Southern Water was handed a record £90 million fine after pleading guilty to thousands of illegal discharges of sewage, which polluted rivers and coastal waters in Kent, Hampshire and Sussex.

These kinds of discharges are legal in exceptional circumstances, when there is a risk that the pipes that carry sewage along with storm-water may overflow. However, in 2021, there were almost 400,000 such events.

An SAS spokesperson says other pollution warnings in place may not be linked to the storms, and people visiting the coast are advised to check the interactive map on the SAS website before entering the water.

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One response to “Beachgoers warned to stay away after sewage released in UK seas”

  1. Rachel Wilding says:

    We we so ill after swimming at Bournemouth Beach over last weekend. Sick like we have never been sick before.
    Wasn’t aware of the sewage release until we go back home.

    Still recovering

This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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