Support our Nation today - please donate here

One in four sea swimmers put off by sewage discharges – poll

31 Jul 2023 4 minute read
Photo Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Almost one in four UK sea swimmers is being put off from taking a dip because of sewage, according to a new poll.

Just over 30% of UK adults said they go sea swimming during the summer, and of these 23% said they will not this year because of sewage dumping by water companies.

The UK Government has recently said it will allow the Environment Agency (EA) to impose unlimited fines on water companies that pollute unnecessarily.

Current penalties are capped at £250,000, making it cheaper to pay that than to fix the pollution issue, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey told MPs earlier this month.

Thames Water’s interim chief executive Cathryn Ross recently described many of her company’s pipes as “ageing assets” that should have been replaced.

The utility firm gathered a £14 billion debt pile, with many critics blaming shareholders for taking too much money out of the company over the previous 30 years without investing enough in infrastructure.


Many other water companies have faced similar condemnations. They are only supposed to release raw sewage after heavy rains to stop sewage backing up the system and flooding homes and businesses, with the most recent data showing they had collectively dumped sewage 372,533 times in 2022.

The poll, carried out by Savanta for the Liberal Democrats, interviewed 2,272 adults between July 21 and 23 and found 43% of regular beachgoers said they were less likely to visit the British seaside this summer because of the sewage discharges.

Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson Tim Farron said: “Sewage dumping by water companies is ruining the British beach holiday.

“Coastal communities are at the mercy of water companies who unapologetically discharge raw sewage into popular swimming spots.

“If this continues, tourists will turn away from British beach holidays, leaving small businesses and local tourism to suffer from their mess.

“No-one should have to go for a swim or build a sandcastle next to raw sewage. This Conservative government needs to stop letting water companies off the hook and finally ban these disgusting sewage discharges and defend our tourism sector.”

An analysis by the party earlier this year showed there were 1,504 sewage discharges in 2022 on beaches with a Blue Flag rating – a standard that is supposed to signify that a beach is free from such pollution.

They want sewage dumps on Blue Flag beaches to be banned and have warned that tourists may decide not to visit beaches at all, which would deprive coastal communities of revenue.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Banning discharges overnight without any plan to fix storm overflows is reckless and would see sewage backing up into people’s homes and the street.

“The secretary of state demanded action plans on every storm overflow in the country and our Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan requires water companies to spend £56 billion to eliminate the harm from storm overflows – the largest infrastructure investment in water company history.”

Pollution alerts

An online interactive map of sewage discharges, using information taken from water companies, showed on Friday afternoon dozens of live pollution alerts along the English and Welsh coasts.

A Water UK spokesperson said: “Just one out of every 10 beaches achieved an excellent water standard in the 1990s.

“Thanks to water company investment, that has increased to seven in 10 beaches today. The majority of remaining pollution comes from other sources.

“Nevertheless, we recognise that more should have been done sooner to tackle the harm to our seas caused by sewage overflows. We have listened and have an unprecedented plan to start to put it right.

“Over the next seven years, water and sewerage companies plan to spend £10 billion – a tripling on current levels of investment – in the biggest transformation of our sewers since the Victorian era.

“As part of this, bathing waters will be prioritised and among the first to receive funding.”

Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
8 months ago

Seven years to do something they should have been working on twenty years ago… Privatisation has failed because it attracts the very worst that humanity has to offer.

No bills paid until the job is done is my suggestion. Think about it, if your kids don’t do their bit around the house and behave in a way conducive to the harmony of the household do you not withhold their pocket money? Why should these utter scumbags be treated with more leeway than the children you love more than life itself?

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
8 months ago

“Hi folks, this is Ellie, one of the new reporters on Unearthed. I’m writing to tell you about a major new Unearthed investigation – out today – about how the UK’s sewage crisis is affecting nature. The investigation has revealed that sewage poured into England and Wales’ most-precious conservation sites for more than 300,000 hours in 2022. Over the past five months, Unearthed has been conducting an analysis of data on water companies’ sewage spills in sites of international scientific or conservation importance.  Using mapping analysis, we found almost 1,200 sewage overflow pipes that spilled in or close to internationally important habitats last year, all of… Read more »

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.