The Guardian

Most inland bathing spots have unsafe pollution levels – report

Helena Horton Environment reporter

The majority of popular inland bathing spots in the UK have been found to be unsafe for swimming.

In a representative survey of popular swimming and water sports locations, 60% were found to have pollution at unsafe levels, according to the annual report from the campaign group Surfers Against Sewage.

Forty locations were sampled weekly by volunteer citizen scientists throughout the 2023 bathing season. Twenty were popular sites for bathing, and 20 were upstream of a nearby sewerage overflow associated with those swimming spots. Using Environment Agency methodology, 24 of the 40 locations were deemed “poor” quality, and four of 20 bathing sites showed a clear decrease in water quality from locations upstream to downstream of an overflow.

The report says untreated sewage was discharged more than 399,864 times into UK waterways this year – the equivalent of more than 1,000 discharge events a day.

Surfers Against Sewage has also reported 1,924 cases of sickness due to suspected sewage pollution in the last year – nearly triple the number reported in the previous year.

The case of Reuben Santer, a physics teacher at a school in Exeter, is highlighted in the report. He contracted an incurable condition called Ménierè’s disease after surfing at Saunton Beach in Devon. Santer said his doctors told him the condition, which can cause vertigo and ear problems, was due to a virus or bacteria entering his ear during his surf.

Giles Bristow, the CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “How much do our blue spaces need to suffocate in sewage before those we elect to keep us safe and protect our environment wake up and smell the shit?”

Steve Reed, the shadow environment secretary, said: “It is disgusting that families and children cannot enjoy our waters without the threat of getting sick.”

The water minister, Rebecca Pow, said the volume of pollution in UK waters was “utterly unacceptable”. “Our plan for water is delivering more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement,” she added.