Last year, sewage discharged across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales more than 399,864 times, that’s over 1,000 times a day.

This is likely a huge underestimation

This year’s report delves into water quality across all four of the UK’s nations. Read on to explore the impact of pollution in your area.

The current state of

water quality in the uk stinks

The current state of water quality in the uk stinks

2022 figures from UK environmental regulators revealed untreated sewage was discharged into UK rivers and coastlines at the very least 399,864 times, that’s 1,091 times a day. And as this report will show, that’s most likely a huge underestimation of the scale of the UK sewage scandal.

Over the last year, 1,924 sickness reports were reported to Surfers Against Sewage, causing an estimated five years worth of sick days due to sewage pollution – and this is just those reported to SAS.

Water quality & sewage pollution are local issues

“It’s about the waves we surf and the rivers and beaches where we swim. It’s the places we love and go to for solace and excitement. Tragically, most of these places have suffered from systemic and chronic pollution.”

Nation focus:


Citizen science data shows that 60% of the inland bathing sites we monitored didn’t meet minimum safety requirements for water users in England.

For the year ending March 2023, water companies in England paid out nearly £11 million to CEO’s. Despite forgoing their bonus, two CEOs walked away with more than last year. They also paid out £1.4 billion in dividends (even more than in 2022).

England’s river health revealed

Inland waters throughout the UK are dying. Only 14% of rivers in England meet good ecological status, and none meet good chemical status.

The sewage scoundrels are still at large

£16.5 million was handed over to water company CEOs for a “good job well done” in 2021 despite failing environmentally and letting down their customers.

Human impact story: Steve Crawford

Steve is an SAS Rep living in Scarborough. He owns and runs a surf school on South Bay beach, but was forced to shut this summer due to poor water quality.

Nation focus:

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Water admits they don’t currently have the ability to accurately record or measure when discharges occur and therefore don’t keep records.

Meanwhile Lough Neagh suffers the biggest blue-green algae crisis it’s seen, due to an influx of pollution. Where we do have data, the picture being painted is bleak.

Activists in Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland holding up a sign that says "Extinction means forever"
Little data, big on pollution

Northern Ireland has a total of 2,398 operational sewage overflows, however, data for the operation of this infrastructure is sparse. Up until November 2023 there was no transparency about the location of these sewage overflows in Northern Ireland.

Spotlight: The death of Lough Neagh

The lake is dying and is taking victims as it goes. Lough Neagh has been connected with multiple deaths of dogs over the last year, and dead swans and other birds are increasingly becoming a common scene. Swimming at Lough Neagh has been banned all summer.

Human impact story: Mary O’Hagan

Mary is a swim coach and runs the Ballyronan Blue Tits group. Mary has been cold water swimming for 4 years which has helped with both her physical and mental health.

Nation focus:


Over the last five years in Scotland, untreated sewage has been released 58,304 times.

This is from just the 4% of sewage overflows that are monitored, suggesting that the discharges from the total 3,641 are likely to be in the hundreds of thousands.

SAS team members in Scotland wearing gas masks holding up a sign that says "tell the truth"
Scotland’s hidden sewage

Scottish Water operates over 3,600 sewage overflows in Scotland, but last year only 103 of these were required to be monitored. What information is available is only published annually, rather than in real-time.

Spotlight: The Porty Water Collective

Charlie has been representing Surfers Against Sewage in his home city of Edinburgh for four years, he helped lead last year’s Paddle Out Protest in Scotland and has been campaigning against plastic pollution through beach cleans on Portobello Beach.

Human impact story: Phoebe Strachan

Four-time women’s open division Scottish surfing champion Phoebe Strachan shares with us the impact water quality has on her health and her training.

Map highlighting Wales

Nation focus:


Both Hafren Dyfrdwy and Dwr Cymru breached their permits in 2022 and they discharged for a total of 613,618 hours. That’s equivalent to 25,567 continuous days of sewage discharge.

Dwr Cymru is using emergency overflows (for use in catastrophic events) to release sewage. We have unearthed evidence of 24 potentially illegal discharges into Poppit Sands over the last two years.

The true scale of sewage discharge in Wales

Both of Wales’ water companies’ monitoring levels are pretty top-tier, the amount of sewage coming out of sewage overflows in Wales is not.

Spotlight: Is Welsh Water above the law?

Over the last year, Welsh Water dumped raw sewage into the River Teifi an average of 5.2 times a day. This river directly affects one of Wales’ best surf spots at Gwbert. Some local surfers there have simply accepted they will get sick every time it’s firing.

Human impact story: Robbie Bowman

Robbie Bowman was hospitalised for a week after enjoying a swim with just a small scrape on his leg.

“…By the time I got to Cardiff I could barely walk from the van to our house. About 2 hours later, my son came downstairs and found me lying on the floor, waving my arms about, not making any sense. I don’t remember any of that.”

The End Sewage

Pollution Manifesto

With a UK general election expected next year, and with sewage pollution dominating headlines, 2024 provides an unprecedented opportunity for people power to turn the tide on sewage pollution at a local and national level.

This report will provide you with the knowledge, stats and stories you can use to get the actions you need from your next local politicians or water company to ensure they clean up the sewage pollution wherever you live.

From now, right up until the election, politicians’ number one priority will be trying to secure your vote.

Collectively this gives us a huge amount of power to set the agenda and demand that your local candidates must commit to End Sewage Pollution if they want your vote. Remember, you don’t have to be a water quality expert to express your right to safe, clean water.

We at SAS HQ, working in collaboration with other environmental charities, community groups and sports governing bodies, have created the End Sewage Pollution Manifesto. Created by water lovers united by an ambition to deliver thriving water environments, the manifesto sets out the progressive policies that parties should adopt to deliver healthy and safe rivers and seas.

Our five key policy asks are for governments to:

Enforce the law

We have the regulations and laws we need to End Sewage Pollution. Now we must enforce them.

Prioritise high risk pollution events

Take immediate targeted action to tackle the highest risk pollution events.

Reveal the truth

Deliver UK wide transparency about sewage pollution.

Stop pollution for profit

Water companies’ first responsibility must be to the environment, not their shareholders and executives.

empower a nature led approach

Harness the power of nature to end sewage pollution.

The real impact

of Sewage pollution

Rivers and seas are the arteries and lifeblood of the planet, transporting the water and nutrients needed to sustain thriving ecosystems – including human life.

And yet we’ve allowed our lifeline of existence to be exploited. Our precious blue spaces are being contaminated with sewage, agricultural and chemical pollutants, and in turn, humans are getting sick too.

Between October 2022 and September 2023, a total of 1,924 water users reported getting ill after entering the water. That’s nearly triple the number of reports we received in 2021-22. The numbers are nauseatingly high. And yet these are just the sickness reports submitted to us.

We’re only getting a glimpse into the true scale of sewage sickness across the UK…

The UK unites against

Sewage pollution

Across the four nations of the United Kingdom, we see a disappointing and diverse range of sewage issues.

In Northern Ireland, there is a complete lack of monitoring, years behind the curve. Even Northern Ireland Water don’t know how much raw sewage they’re dumping onto the beaches and rivers of the nation. From the sliver of data they have supplied this year, we can see beaches with pollution risk forecasts happening on average twice a week through the bathing season.

Similarly, Scottish Water are dragging their heels with monitoring, only reporting on 4% of their sewage overflows. Over the last five years, untreated sewage has been released from 161 sewage overflows in Scotland a staggering 58,304 times. We can only imagine what’s coming out of the other 96%.

Take action on water quality

Sign up to our mailing list to get the latest info on how to campaign for better water quality ahead of the upcoming general election to help #EndSewagePollution.

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