A recent report has revealed that the majority of popular inland swimming locations in the UK are not safe for bathing.
According to the latest report from Surfers Against Sewage, 60% of popular swimming and water sports areas were found to have high levels of pollution in a sample study.
In 2023, a group of volunteer citizen scientists collected samples from 40 different locations on a weekly basis during the bathing season. Half of these locations were commonly used for swimming, while the other half were located upstream from a sewage overflow that was connected to the swimming areas. According to the standards set by the Environment Agency, 24 of the 40 locations were considered to have “poor” water quality. Additionally, four of the 20 bathing sites showed a noticeable decline in water quality when compared to the locations further upstream from the sewage overflow.
The findings reveal that in the current year, untreated sewage was released into UK waterways over 399,864 times, which is equivalent to more than 1,000 discharges daily. Surfers Against Sewage has documented 1,924 instances of illness caused by suspected sewage contamination in the past year, which is almost three times higher than the previous year’s reported cases. These incidents resulted in 1,987 days of sickness leave.
The report features the story of Reuben Santer, a physics educator at a high school in Exeter. He was diagnosed with an incurable ailment known as Ménierè’s disease after surfing at Saunton Beach in Devon. According to Santer, his medical professionals informed him that the infection was caused by a virus or bacteria entering his ear during surfing. As a result, he had to take a leave of absence from work.
Santer stated that he has never felt anxious before, but this particular experience has caused him concern about the possibility of vertigo symptoms recurring while driving, surfing, working, or in any other situation where it could be hazardous.
Following the report by the Guardian that the UK plans to deviate from EU regulations for monitoring water in England, activists are concerned that the situation may deteriorate even more.
Giles Bristow, the Chief Executive Officer of Surfers Against Sewage, expressed disappointment in the findings of our annual water quality report. The report highlights the neglect and lack of concern from government officials, water companies, and regulators in regards to the condition of rivers and coastlines in the UK. This negligence not only affects our environment, but also poses a threat to the health of individuals. It is concerning that it takes such extreme circumstances for those in positions of power to take action and address the issue at hand.
At all levels, there is a pattern of failure – from governments and regulators neglecting to uphold laws, to water company executives accepting corrupt funds and refusing to improve their practices. Unfortunately, it is the public who suffers the most from this. How many times do we have to demand change? Our leaders must make transparency a priority, ensure that laws and regulations are strictly enforced, and stop allowing water companies to benefit from polluting the environment.
According to Steve Reed, the opposition spokesperson for environmental issues, the water industry has been severely damaged during the 13 years of Conservative government. Sewage pollution has contaminated our rivers, lakes, and oceans, making it impossible for families and children to safely enjoy these natural resources. Despite this grave issue, consumers are being forced to pay more for their water bills while CEOs continue to receive large bonuses.
Rebecca Pow, the minister in charge of water, stated that the amount of pollution in our waters is completely unacceptable. She also emphasized that this is the first government to take such thorough measures to address the issue. Our strategy for water management includes increased funding, stricter regulations, and more rigorous enforcement to monitor all overflows, decrease pollution from all sources, and impose quicker penalties.
“The strict targets outlined in this plan have prompted the largest infrastructure initiative in the history of water companies, totaling £60 billion over the course of 25 years. This in turn will greatly reduce the number of sewage discharges by hundreds of thousands.”