for those who love the outdoors

23 September, 2022

Protesting against sewage in our waters – time for change

For many people, outdoor adventures often include water. But our rivers and seas have hit the headlines recently for their poor state. Sewage pollution plagues the rivers and ocean. So what is the problem and what can we do about it?

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For anyone who loves to walk or run beside the water, or enjoy activities such as surfing, swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking and more – being around the water might actually make you sick. So what is the problem and what can we do about it?

What is the problem?

Water companies are discharging raw sewage into British rivers hundreds of thousands of times a year, according to data from the Environment Agency. Untreated sewage is only meant to be discharged into rivers in exceptional circumstances, such as during heavy rainfall.

Our rivers are now filled with filth and chemicals; sewage is discharged into rivers across the UK and Ireland on a daily basis. The sheer volume of sewage and run-off entering the water means the UK is ranked last in EU countries for bathing water quality.

Pollution is not the only problem, though, as abstraction and habitat destruction also put the future of rivers in jeopardy.

What does that mean for us?

Recreational water users - anglers, swimmers, surfers, canoeists, paddlers and more, are at risk every we they wade in to the water. If we are in water that has raw sewage in it, we’re at risk of catching gastroenteritis, ear, nose and throat infections, skin infections, and even hepatitis and e-coli. The Bluetits, a sea swimming network has seen many of its members speaking up about raw sewage contaminating their favourite swimming spots.

Poor water quality also harms river and ocean wildlife, reducing biodiversity and damaging delicate ecosystems.

What would we like to see?

We want bathing water standards for well-used rivers across the UK for the benefit of a multitude of recreational activities - to enable us to swim, paddle, catch and play without worrying about pollution. Swim England has called for more inland waters to be granted bathing water designation.

We want to see an end to discharging sewage into UK bathing waters and world-leading water quality legislation to end sewage pollution.

We want to create an honest conversation about sewage, agricultural and other sources of pollution in rivers so we understand the scale of the challenge.

What can we do about it?

There are several things we can do in support:

  • Call on our local MP to demand that the government adopts an action plan that’s fit for purpose to end sewage pollution. Your MP represents us in parliament and we have the power to ask they support the change you want to see. See here for more details: https://www.sas.org.uk/EndSewagePollution-EmailMP
  • Raise awareness of the situation. On social media use popular hashtags such as #EndSewagePollution, #TogetherForRivers and #VoteForTheOcean.
  • Join/organise a beach clean. See here for more: https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/beach-cleans
  • Fundraise/donate to a charity, such as https://www.sas.org.uk/donate/ or https://theriverstrust.org/donate
  • Report an environmental incident. While out, if we spot a pollution incident, any illegal activity or anything else, please report it immediately to the authorities.
    These hotlines are open 24 hours a day:
    England, Scotland and Northern Ireland: 0800 80 70 60
    Wales: Natural Resources Wales hotline: 0300 065 3000
    Ireland: EPA Headquarters: 053 916 0600
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Natasha Sones

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I have an outdoor adventures blog. Having three children, I am particularly interested in getting outside with my family. I aim to make every day an adventure, especially with my children, husband, dogs and friends. From exploring new cities to being in our campervan with the dogs, we like an adventure. We live near the sea and forest and explore every day.

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