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Protests take place calling for end to sewage pollution of rivers and seas

18 May 2024 2 minute read
People take part in a protest by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), in Brighton, who are calling for an end to the sewage discharges plaguing the UK’s rivers and seas. Photo Lia Toby/PA Media Assignments

Campaigners gathered at Caswell Bay today as part of a protest against the shocking increase of sewage discharges in our coasts and rivers.

30-plus protests across Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland were coordinated by grassroots campaigners Surfers Against Sewage (SAS).

Analysis by SAS of data from Dwr Cymru Welsh Water’s monitored sewage overflows show a 47% increase in 2023 (108,860 hours) from 2022 (74,006 hours).

In 2023, there were 584,001 recorded discharges across England, Scotland and Wales – a 51% increase on the previous year – with sewage released into waterways for a total of 12,966,322 hours.

Of the 11 water companies with monitoring in place, United Utilities was the worst offender, reporting 97,537 discharges in 2023.

Yorkshire Water and Severn Trent Water were hot on its heels, reporting 77,761 and 60,253 discharges respectively.


SAS analysis found that Welsh Water had a total of 108,860 discharges, although this is not directly comparable to England due to differing methods of reporting.

Paddle-outs took place in the majority of water company catchments this weekend – including Scottish Water, where there were 15,289 spills last year, and Northern Ireland Water, where discharge figures are unavailable due to a lack of monitoring.

Grim choice

Giles Bristow, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Once again, the public face a grim choice this summer – risk swallowing shit or forgo a dip in the water.

“This year offers an opportunity to turn our collective anger into action and end the sewage scandal, with panicked politicians in listening mode, desperate to ride the waves of popular sentiment.

“A general election is imminent, and the public are out on the beachfronts and riverbanks making it clear that the issue of sewage pollution is at the top of the agenda.

“Ahead of the election, all parties need to show people genuine and quantifiable commitments to eliminate sewage pollution or suffer the consequences.”

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