Water Quality Report (2021)

See what impact sewage had on our environment and human health in 2021.

The state of the nation’s water means that those bathing in these natural treasures are also exposing themselves to a myriad of health threats.

We are in the midst of a new wave of sewage pollution. In 2020 alone, sewage was pumped into rivers and seas nationwide over 400,000 times, totalling over 3.1 million hours of sewage polluting our precious waterways – the rivers and coastlines so many of us enjoy bathing and play in.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown us just how important blue space is for both our physical and mental health. Our rivers, beaches and lakes have restored us at a time of crisis, given us sanctuary and provided us with places to play at a time we have been shut off from the rest of the world. Record numbers of people flocking to rivers and coastline have likely been exposed to sewage and water pollution for the first time and those that are aware of this hidden danger have been motivated to speak out. Data from our Safer Seas & Rivers Service and water quality evidence gathered by citizen scientists has helped shine a light on the sheer scale of the current sewage pollution scandal putting a red alert on our rivers and coastline.

However, what this report most clearly reveals is that is our rivers that are in the poorest health. Only 14% of rivers meet “Good Ecological Status” with none passing chemical standards, suggesting serious issues of sewage, and other pollution.

This report also reveals the fundamental flaws of the water quality testing regime. Our findings indicate that sewage pollution still plagues Bathing Waters classified as having the “highest cleanest seas” as much as, and sometimes more than, beaches rated as “satisfactory” or “poor”, both during the summer and winter months. These revelations have highlighted the need to completely rethink the way we monitor water quality and move to a system that provides information on the state of the water in real time and year-round.

Our ambition is to end sewage discharges into UK Bathing Waters by 2030. The campaign has momentum, decision makers are listening, together, we can make a difference.

Read the report