of terms


Bathing Season dates:

15 May to 30 September – England

15 May to 30 September – Wales

1 June to 15 September – Scotland

1 June to 15 September – Northern Ireland

Bathing Water Classifications:

The relevant regulators (either the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Environment Protection Agency or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency) take water samples which test for indicators of faecal matter at every designated bathing water throughout the bathing season. Classifications for each designated bathing water are calculated annually and are based on water quality samples taken over the previous four years. These results are classified as follows:

Excellent – the highest, cleanest class
Good – generally good water quality
Sufficient – the water meets the minimum standard
Poor – the water has not met the minimum standard and bathing is not advised. Work to improve water quality at poor sites are detailed in the sites profile on the regulators site.

Classifications were not provided for designated bathing waters by the Environment Agency in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19 preventing water quality sampling.


Citizen Science:

Citizen science is the involvement of members of the public in scientific research. For example, Surfers Against Sewage use data collected by citizen scientists in our annual Brand Audit Report which analyses plastic pollution collected on beach cleans across the UK by members of the public. Citizen science can be at a global level or at a smaller scale within communities.

Combined sewage overflow (CSO):

Sewage overflows, sometimes referred to as combined sewage overflows (CSO), storm overflows or pumping stations, are part of our sewerage infrastructure owned and maintained by water companies. They are designed to discharge untreated wastewater in periods of exceptional rainfall to stop sewage backing up into people’s homes.

Constructed wetlands:

A constructed wetland is a wetland environment which has been artificially made to treat sewage, greywater, stormwater runoff or industrial wastewater.



DAERA is the department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland. It has responsibility for food, farming, environmental policy and the development of the rural sector.


Defra is the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Although Defra only works directly in England, it works closely with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Designated bathing waters:

Designated bathing waters are locations popular with water users and designated under the Bathing Water Regulations 2013 which outlines waters suitable for bathing other than swimming pools. The water quality regulators are responsible for monitoring designated bathing waters. However, these designated spots are monitored only throughout the bathing season, and primarily focus on coastal locations.


A dividend is a distribution of profits to company shareholders. When a corporation earns a profit or surplus, it is able to pay a portion of the profit as a dividend to shareholders. Privatised water companies pay out dividends to their parent companies and shareholders. In 2022 they paid out £1.4bn to shareholders, all whilst dumping raw sewage into our rivers and seas for 1.75 million hours – or 825 times a day on average.

Dry Spill:

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations only permit sewage overflows to operate in ‘unusually heavy rainfall’. However, the government has admitted sewage overflows “are being used significantly beyond their original purpose” with these overflows being used even when there has not been rainfall.

In the 2022 Water Quality Report we investigated ‘dry spills’ for the first time, defining it as a sewage discharge that occurs when there is no rainfall in the last 2 days.

There is no official definition for a dry spill but it’s largely recognised as a sewage discharge in dry conditions –something water companies shouldn’t be doing. With water companies allowed to self-report and with little clarity on what is classed an ‘extreme rainfall event’ it’s unclear just how many ‘dry spills’ are happening and how much sewage is potentially being illegally discharged.


E. coli and Enterococci:

E. coli and Enterococci are both characteristically found in water that has been contaminated with sewage. Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a species of bacteria, and Enterococci are a genus (group of species) which are both naturally found in the intestinal tracts of warm-blooded animals and, therefore, faeces. Many strains of E. coli and Enterococci are harmless, and cause no problem in our intestines, however some strains can be harmful to humans when ingested and spread to other parts of the body, causing stomach cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting. E. coli and Enterococci are both easily sampled from water, and so are easy to detect. This makes them very useful markers for the presence of sewage in waters.

Event Duration Monitor Data (EDM):

Regulators in England, Scotland and Wales require water companies to submit annual data about their sewage overflows. These annual event duration monitor datasets are also referred to as EDM data. This data is collated information from the water companies which shows activity from their overflows over the previous year. Northern Ireland is not required to produce the same data and falls far behind the rest of the UK for data monitoring. In England and Wales, water companies are also required to submit EDM data for the bathing season for all sewage overflows which impact bathing waters.

End Sewage Pollution Manifesto:

Surfers Against Sewage have teamed up with other environmental charities, sports governing bodies and community groups to create the End Sewage Pollution Manifesto. Our manifesto sets out the progressive policies that we want all parties to include in their election promises ahead of the next General Election. See here for our End Sewage Pollution Manifesto.

Environment Performance Assessment (EPA) rating:

The Environment Agency introduced the Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) in 2011 as a tool for comparing performance between water companies across the years. These are annual classifications which are given out to each English water company.

Environmental regulators:

Environment Agency (EA) – England
The EA is sponsored by the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Its main role is to protect and improve the environment through regulation and protection in England.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) – Wales
NRW advise the Welsh Government and work as regulators for the environment in Wales.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) – Scotland
SEPA is the Scottish environmental regulator and its main role is to protect and improve Scotland’s environment.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency – Northern Ireland.
NIPA is an executive agency which sits within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEARA). Its main role is to protect and improve the environment in Northern Ireland.


Landscape scale restoration projects:

Landscape-scale conservation is a holistic approach to landscape management, aiming to incorporate local communities, the economy, conservation and restoration.



A manifesto is a public declaration of principles, intentions, or views and can come in many different forms. A manifesto can be used as a campaigning tool to call for change or by politicians to set out what you will do if people vote for them.



Ofwat is the water company financial regulator in charge of regulating privatised water companies (those in England and Wales).



All wastewater treatment works operate under an Environmental Permit (permit) issued by the Environment Agency. Permits specify the conditions the site must meet, and the Environment Agency is responsible for checking and enforcing compliance with these permits.

Pollution Risk Forecast (PRFs):

Pollution Risk Forecasts (PRFs) are issued by the environmental regulators throughout the bathing season. Pollution Risk Forecasts use rainfall or other factors such as tidal information to assess the risk of a temporary reduction in bathing water quality. An analysis of past data showing variable quality and conditions such as heavy rain, strong winds or high tides allows the regulators to make active forecasts of water quality risk each day. When these factors lead to the risk exceeding a pre-determined threshold, environmental regulators issue a pollution risk warning.

Protecting Wild Waters:

Protecting Wild Waters is a toolkit created by Surfers Against Sewage, providing communities with support to apply for bathing water designation. From bolstering campaigns in the community to advising on how to contact the local MP for support, this toolkit has step by step guidance for those wanting to get their local swim, dip, paddle spot designated to ensure water quality testing takes place there throughout the bathing season. You can read more about the Protecting Wild Waters toolkit here.



Remunerations can be defined as money received for the performance of work, including pay and additional benefits. For example, when we talk about water company bosses’ total remunerations we are talking about their total pay (which includes their annual bonus within this).


Safer Seas and Rivers Service (SSRS):

The Safer Seas and Rivers Service (SSRS) provides users real-time water quality and beach safety information. The SSRS app alerts users to water quality issues linked to sewer overflow discharges, heavy rainfall and other pollution incidents. Water companies in England and Wales voluntarily provide the SSRS with real-time alerts from EDMs located on their Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) assets, which then automatically sends alerts to the Safer Seas and Rivers Service. Additionally, during the bathing season, Pollution Risk Forecasts (PRFs) are issued by the environmental regulators.

SAS Reps:

Surfers Against Sewage reps are our network of volunteers who help deliver change at both a regional and national level. For more information contact [email protected].

Sewage Discharge:

Water companies across the UK regularly dump raw sewage into our rivers and into our sea via sewage overflows. This is also known as a sewage discharge and this is what triggers an alert on our Safer Seas and Rivers Service.

Sewage Overflow:

Across much of the UK, our sewerage network is set up as a ‘combined system’. This means that our sewage water and surface water flow into the same pipe system before travelling to a treatment plant. However, when the sewerage system becomes overloaded – because of heavy rainfall for example – water companies are allowed to use sewage overflows (including Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and pumping stations) to discharge untreated human sewage and wastewater into the environment.

Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan:

The storm overflows discharge reduction plan, set out by the UK Government, sets out the targets for England’s water companies to meet requirements as to how they will get there. Storm overflows need to be improved to meet all targets by the following dates:

  • By 2035: all storm overflows discharging near designated bathing waters, and 75% of storm overflows discharging into or near ‘high priority sites’.
  • By 2050: all remaining storm overflows.

Although it’s a step in the right direction to have these targets in place, the target deadlines are far away, allowing water companies to continue to pollute waters for many years to come whilst the steps outlined are not expected to solve the problem.

Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS):

Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) are features built into the landscape to slow down and divert surface water, designed to mimic natural drainage and reduce the impact of surface water flooding. They are a natural approach to managing drainage.


Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations:

Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations is a set of UK regulations which aim to protect the environment from the adverse effects of untreated urban wastewater. Urban wastewater includes water from domestic and industrial premises and urban pollution from surface water run-off. Without treatment, urban wastewater has significant adverse impacts on our water environment. This is because it:

  • Contains nutrients which, when in excess, can speed up the growth of certain plants, disrupting natural processes and harming wildlife
  • Can be contaminated with harmful chemicals and bacteria which present risks to human health and the wider ecology of our water bodies


Water Quality Report:

The Water Quality Report is an annual report published by Surfers Against Sewage which investigates and summarises water quality pollution across the UK.

Water UK:

Water UK is the trade association for the water industry across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They also represent the UK water industry in discussions with government, NGOs, regulators and in international forums.