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 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.
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.
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.
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.