Sewage dumped into England’s top Blue Flag beaches over 1,500 times last year

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey slammed the figures as a “national nature scandal” as beaches internationally recognised as environmentally friendly are covered in waste
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Water companies in England dumped sewage into beaches with a Blue Flag status more than 1,500 times last year, new figures show.

Blackpool Sands beach in Stoke Fleming, Devon, was found to be the worst incident, as sewage was discharged for 1,014 hours in 2022 during 63 separate dumps onto the beach.

Devon’s Meadfoot beach in Torquay, Sidmouth town and Exmouth also featured among the worst places for sewage spills per hour.

Blue Flag status is an international mark of recognition that a beach is deemed safe and environmentally friendly.

The stark figures, from an analysis of Environment Agency data done by the Liberal Democrats, who raised fears over the impacts of water pollution for swimmers and wildlife, show 1,504 sewage dumps in total on England’s Blue Flag beaches last year, lasting 8,497 hours.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey slammed the environment minister Therese Coffey saying: “What is the point of an Environment Secretary who doesn’t care about the environment?”

It comes after the government announced in its Plan for Water, which was published on Monday (3 April), that it wants to see more investment from water companies, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement for those who pollute.

It also includes a consultation on a ban of plastic in wet wipes and restrictions on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foam, textiles, cleaning products, paints and varnishes.

But the plan has been criticised by Labour for rehashing old policies which, it says, will not end the problem of water companies dumping sewage into rivers.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey has been under pressure to show that the government is acting on the sewage dumping scandal as public anger rises over the situation.

The Lib Dems called for her to resign last week following the release of the damning sewage statistics. Davey said Britain’s beaches are “being ruined by profiteering water companies getting away with dumping sewage as the government has failed to act for years.”

He said: “Whilst these firms have been raking in multi-billion pound profits, people have been left to swim in raw sewage. The whole thing stinks.

“Therese Coffey has had six months in the job and failed to take any meaningful action on these companies. It is clear she simply doesn’t care about our country’s rivers and seas and should therefore resign or be sacked.

The Lib Dem leader added: “Conservative MPs have shown time and again that they couldn’t care less about our rivers and coastlines. This government is as guilty as the water companies in allowing this national nature scandal.”

Which Blue Flag beaches had the worst pollution cases last year?

Listed are the top five beaches in England with the most sewage dumps last year, according to an analysis of Environment Agency data done by the Liberal Democrats:

1. Devon Blackpool Sands Beach, Stoke Fleming

Hours of spills: 1,014

Total spills: 63

New figures show water companies in England dumped sewage into beaches with a Blue Flag status more than 1,500 times last year. (Image by NationalWorld/Kim Mogg) New figures show water companies in England dumped sewage into beaches with a Blue Flag status more than 1,500 times last year. (Image by NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)
New figures show water companies in England dumped sewage into beaches with a Blue Flag status more than 1,500 times last year. (Image by NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)

2. Devon Meadfoot Beach, Torquay

Hours of spills: 946

Total spills: 79

3. Hampshire Beachlands Beach, Hayling Island

Hours of spills: 793

Total spills: 102

4. Devon Sidmouth Town Beach, Sidmouth

Hours of spills: 631

Total spills: 59

5. Devon Exmouth Beach, Exmouth

Hours of spills: 470

Total spills: 39

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