The UK unites

Against sewage


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

Wherever you are across the UK

Sewage is making people sick

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%.

Citizen science water quality testing of England’s rivers has revealed that 60% of popular bathing sites don’t meet minimum safety requirements for water users. Testing from upstream and downstream of sewage overflows has shown a direct impact on water quality across four different locations. In 2022, England suffered 301,091 sewage discharges, yet English water companies paid dividends of £1.4 billion and £11 million to their CEOs (for year ending March 2023).

Recent news has thrown Wales into the spotlight as it’s shown that the Recent news has thrown Wales into the spotlight as it’s shown that the water companies in Wales have been illegally discharging sewage. They discharged for a total of 613,618 hours, that’s the equivalent to 25,567 continuous days of sewage discharge in 2022.

Our own investigation has also revealed Welsh Water has been using their emergency overflows recklessly (and potentially illegally), discharging from Gwbert pumping station 24 times in the last two years. They’re using their assets however they like, regardless of permit and regardless of the impact on the environment.

Across the UK, sewage pollution issues are intricate and complex, but we can all relate to is the amount of shit flooding into rivers and seas on a daily basis. The UK as a whole saw untreated sewage gush onto beaches and inland beauty spots at least 399,864 times last year.

From Thurso to Fistral, Cardiff to Belfast, the symptoms are the same, our wildlife and ecosystems are suffering and people are getting sick.

This year we received 1,924 sickness reports from water users who got ill after entering the water. From Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales to England, people are suffering from the same issues after entering contaminated water. Some were sick for a day, some a week and some, sadly, are now suffering from chronic illness.

We’ve heard from many brave water lovers in this report who have come forward to share their stories and urge for change from governments, regulators and water companies on sewage and other water pollutants.

But something’s Changing…

As we read through sickness reports and images of sewage flowing out onto well-loved beaches, we would be forgiven for feeling like nothing changed from last year – but it has.

Through this report, we’ve heard the stories of campaigners who are fighting for access to clean and safe water in their area. Their inspirational stories are but a glimpse into the steady stream of community action bubbling up across our nations.

From Ruby’s campaign to save Lough Neagh, to Steve and his Scarborough businesses fighting the sewage on their doorstep. And the Citizen Science schemes by the Porty Water Collective to Hannah from the Friends of the Dart community fighting for bathing water designation – these actions by everyday people who give a crap, are culminating into a tidal wave movement on water quality across the UK. And we’re being heard.

Actions on the ground this year and in the decades before, are not just cleaning up the state of water at a local level, they are also feeding into the national debate and forcing politicians to think about solutions to fix the systemic issues which are the fundamental causes of sewage pollution.

Our collective cries at the lack of water quality information now means by the end of 2023, water companies in England will have to monitor all storm overflows. And this increased amount of data is already allowing us to expose the illegal activities of water companies, and the failure of both governments and regulators to hold them accountable for this.

In Northern Ireland, the outcry from locals has finally got the ball rolling on the provision of at least some kind of water quality data, and whilst the information is weak right now with so much more to be done, we are at least moving in the right direction.

As a result of campaigning this year, England’s financial regulator has looked again at whether water companies should be able to dish out bonuses and dividends. And they’ve started to hold them to account for this.

There is of course so much more that still needs to be done to truly #EndSewagePollution but we are part of an upswell of action and an opportunity for change is approaching.

The End Sewage

Pollution Manifesto

In 2024, with the UK general election approaching, we have a once-in-a-blue-moon chance to truly turn the tide on sewage pollution.

Wherever you are in the UK, every single candidate is on the hunt for your vote. And by using your power to make them work for your vote, you can help make a change, and make your local beaches and rivers safe again.

To help you do this, we’ve brought together a coalition of water charities, NGOs and organisations to form the End Sewage Pollution Manifesto – a five-point plan for making the UK’s waters healthy and safe again. Created by water lovers united by an ambition to deliver thriving water environments, our collective manifesto sets out the progressive policies that water users want all parties to include in their election promises ahead of the next election. All we need to do now is to make it clear to every party and candidate that if they want our vote they must get behind our manifesto. Over the coming months, SAS communities, reps, supporters and more will be reaching out to their local candidates to call on them to support the manifesto to #EndSewagePollution.

You don’t have to be into politics to get involved, if you want to see clean beaches, rivers, canals and lakes (or lochs) in your local area, then find out more online about how you can take small actions to make big differences in your community.

Enforce the law

Everyone should be equal before the law. And that goes for Water Companies too, it doesn’t matter who owns them.

That’s why our number one priority for any government is to simply enforce the law to ensure storm overflows are only used in exceptional circumstances. To do this, governments must provide environmental regulators with the resources and independence they need to hold polluters to account.

Prioritise high risk pollution events

We are water lovers and water users who are getting sick when we do what we love.

We are also the ones witnessing the destruction of the natural ecosystems that clean and healthy water supports. The health of the environment and the people who use it must come first as water companies End Sewage Pollution. Not just tackling the easy problems but those with serious consequences.

That’s why we want the next government to take immediate targeted action to end untreated sewage discharges affecting bathing waters, popular water usage areas and high priority nature sites by 2030.

Reveal the truth

As we have seen throughout the water quality report there is a complete mishmash of transparency about the state of water quality in the UK and the performance of water companies.

Whilst some nations provide more information than others, no government is showing the true cost of sewage pollution to people or the planet. That’s why we want to see UK wide transparency about sewage pollution including accurate and accessible real time discharge information which is consistent on a national scale, year round testing of water quality by regulators and a clear and transparent bathing water application process.

Stop pollution for profit

We are in a cost of living crisis, yet executives of Water Companies are receiving huge bonuses whilst presiding over near constant pollution, and shady shareholders are getting rewards for not just mediocre, but worsening performance and in some cases criminal wrong doing. This needs to end.

That’s why we want water companies’ first responsibility to be to the environment and customers. Government’s can start this by putting a cap on CEO bonuses and making the payment of dividends dependent on environmental compliance.

empower a nature led approach

Nature is the very thing we are looking to protect. But nature can also play an active role in reducing sewage pollution.

From sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) and constructed wetlands at a local level, to landscape scale restoration projects, nature has a huge potential to relieve the pressure on sewerage systems and prevent the use of overflows. When used in the right place and cared for effectively, they can be the most cost-effective option to tackle pollution with the co-benefits of trapping carbon, improving biodiversity and reducing flood risk.

That’s why we want the next government to put nature first by removing barriers to the adoption of nature-based solutions, and require water companies to prioritise the use of innovative and effective nature-based solutions to solve water quality issues.

Take action on water quality

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