Anti-sewage campaigners have warned nationwide protests “will continue” until water companies commit to “stop making profits out of killing wildlife”.
Hundreds of protesters attended a mass “paddle out” at 12 bathing water locations across the UK on Saturday (20 May) to call for an end to firms dumping sewage into UK rivers and seas.
Campaigners took to the likes of Tinside Beach East in Plymouth Hoe, Gyllyngvase beach in Falmouth and South Bay in Scarborough to take a stand against sewage pollution, with the action taking place just days after Industry body Water UK issued a “we are sorry” statement over mass sewage spills.
It said the public was “right to be upset” about the current quality of the country’s rivers and beaches and admitted “more should have been done”. The apology was followed by an announcement to invest £10 billion to upgrade the UK sewer networks - but the public is set to pay towards the works through higher bills.
I went down to Essex Bridge in Staffordshire on Saturday where activists gathered to protest against sewage being dumped.
One activist, Leonard Gaunt, 80, told me the apology given by water companies over the scale of sewage pollution was “absolutely pathetic” as “they have known for years what is going on”.
Mr Gaunt said he was protesting in the River Trent “against water companies who are making exorbitant profits and politicians who are not listening and something has to be done.”
He explained: “All the rivers are dying, nature is dying, the fish are dying and this will ultimately end up in the sea for more pollution. So somebody somewhere along the line has got to start listening.”
The 80-year-old slammed the apology given by the water industry as “absolutely pathetic”, adding that it was an attempt at “trying to ‘whitewash’ this over because people are protesting”.
‘I am outraged’
Caroline Quaife, 60, also joined in with the protests at Essex Bridge and has been swimming regularly for many years. She set up the wild swimming group Staffordshire Swooshers in 2020 which has grown in popularity with nearly 3,000 members on its Facebook page.
She told me she is “really fed up of the quality of our rivers getting worse and worse” and is outraged that firms have been profiting from polluting UK waters.
The £10 billion government spending on more than 350,000 miles of sewers will come on top of £3.1 billion already set to be spent between 2020 and 2025.
The new investment will initially be funded by shareholders in water companies but it has been revealed that the public will have to pay towards upgrading storm overflows through increases in their bills by regulators for years.
Anglian Water confirmed its customers could face a £91 increase on their bills every year, including £12 to help pay for the £10 billion investment plan.
Ms Quaife said: “I think it is outrageous that water firms should take £60 billion in profits then ask for £10 billion from the public purse. I am just outraged.
“It makes me really angry. And it makes me angry that we have a government that thinks that’s okay.”
She added that she has previously been ill from swimming in the River Trent having suffered from “diarrhoea and unpleasant things like that”. She wants to see “a lot tighter regulation” and shareholders not “syphoning off profits”.
She said: “We don’t want to hand our future generations Victorian sewer systems. We want to hand to them 21st century systems and we want to stop polluting our environment. This country is a beautiful country and we are just trashing it.”
Another campaigner, dressed in a poo-themed costume, said raising customers’ bills to cover the £10 billion investment is “pretty appalling”, telling NationalWorld that “we need a regulatory body that actually has some teeth”.
She said: “We have regulations, we have information and awareness but we don’t have powers to enforce them. Somebody needs to be able to enforce the regulations that we have.”