Sewage and pollution at England beaches at record high amid controversy over MPs storm overflows vote

The types of pollution affecting water quality varies from sewage to oil and fuel spills and even harmful algae.

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Pollution incidents at England’s beaches and other bathing spots have reached a five-year high, with more than 100 sewage, oil and other spills recorded so far this year, NationalWorld can exclusively reveal.

The number of pollution incidents so far in 2021 is more than double that of 2020.

On Tuesday (26 October) the Government U-turned by announcing new rules to force water companies to reduce  the impact of sewage discharges from storm overflows.

It came after Tory MPs were criticised for effectively giving the green light to water companies to dump raw sewage in rivers, by voting down a Lords amendment that would have placed legal duties on them.

Storm overflows are when untreated water, containing waste, is diverted to rivers or seas during heavy rain, to stop old-fashioned sewers becoming overwhelmed and flooding homes and streets.

More than 100 pollution so far this year

Bathing water quality data sourced from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reveals which beauty spots are being worst affected by pollution.

Although the bathing season runs from 15th May to 30th September, pollution incidents are recorded all year round by the Environment Agency. The work continued during 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The types of pollution affecting water quality varies from sewage – which includes waste water from toilets, sinks and showers from homes and businesses –  to oil and fuel spills and even harmful algae.

Incidents have skyrocketed this year.

In 2017 – the first year with available data –  there were 40 pollution incidents recorded but this has risen almost every year since. There were 46 incidents in 2018, 52 in 2019, 51 in 2020 and 107 in 2021 (to 26 October) - a mammoth 168% rise in incidents since 2017.

Pollution by sewage made up 86% of the incidents so far this year.

The data only includes bathing water so it does not fully reveal the true extent of pollution across England’s waterways.

Any sort of pollution can have devastating health consequences and also cause severe destruction to the environment.


Incidents are largely concentrated in the South West of England. Since 2017, the region has recorded 163 pollution incidents, significantly higher than any other region. So far in 2021, 41 incidents have been recorded.

The Government said bathing waters are mostly in the South West, so the region is overrepresented in the data.


A danger to health

Campaigners warn that England’s dirty waters could cause a myriad of health problems.

A spokesperson for the Marine Conservation Society said: “Pollution from sewage incidents and stormwater runoff mean that chemicals, bacteria and plastics enter our sea.

“Pollution incidents can result in water users suffering from illnesses such as gastroenteritis and ear, nose and throat infections.

“Last year an average of 36.7 sewage related debris items were found per 100m on UK beaches.”

A Government U-turn

Earlier this week Tory MPs were slammed after voting against a proposal from the Lords to the Environment Bill that would have placed legal duties on water companies to reduce discharges. It was defeated by 265 MPs’ votes to 202.

However, yesterday the Government announced plans to bring forward an additional legal duty on water companies to secure a reduction in the impact of sewage discharges from storm overflows.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Earlier this summer, the Government published a new strategy for Ofwat mandating them to progressively reduce the discharge of sewage from storm overflows in the next pricing review.

“Following a debate in the House of Commons last week during the final stages of the Environment Bill, today we are announcing that we will put that commitment on a statutory footing with a new clause.”

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