Water Quality

Pollution can make you sick and harm the marine environment we believe should be protected.

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) has been monitoring sewage pollution at hundreds of beaches and surf spots nationwide. Shockingly, some of the nation’s best beaches can be polluted by raw sewage up to 60 times during the summer.

Pollution can make you sick and harm the marine environment we believe should be protected. It is important to be aware of the risks, know what to look out for and challenge those responsible to ensure we face no risk when we want to enjoy the sea.

Surfer & SAS member Dr. Dave Baglow explains the risks of mixing with polluted water.

As a water user, whatever your craft, you’re used to taking a risk. Whether it’s the risk of drowning, hypothermia, sun-burn (maybe not!) or injuring yourself on rocks, we take calculated risks every time we enter the water with regards to our health. We modify our behaviour accordingly to these risks and you could perhaps argue that overcoming these risks provides part of our enjoyment. We decide whether to enter the water in the first place, where we enter it and at what specific time. Becoming experienced in the water is surely the same as becoming experienced in evaluating and dealing with personal risk.

What then of unknown risks? It’s common sense that our health can be affected by sewage-polluted water, but to what extent? Bathing waters contaminated by sewage can harm us and cause illnesses that range from the annoying to life threatening. Did you know that if you regularly surf in polluted seawater that you’re advised to discuss Hep A vaccinations with your GP? Do we as a group know what all the health risks are? There is a growing amount of evidence on the illnesses that we are at risk of getting from sewage. Worryingly though, as a group we are blissfully unaware of this evidence and how these illnesses may present themselves. More importantly perhaps, as a group we’re unaware of what we can do about these risks to minimise the potential impact on our health.

Information is king. We can educate ourselves as a group and seek early medical treatment if necessary. Crucially SAS are also provide the means for us to get accurate and up to date notifications on where the sewage is being dumped in our water, in real time. Ingeniously they are going to deliver this information right onto our smartphones to help us plan our surf. Two vitally important steps in helping us modify our risk from the dangerous pathogens found in sewage water.

But how do we stop this?

How do we ensure our water is clean and safe for us and the generations that follow? Now is the time to act. To stand up to water companies, to challenge government to make mandatory requirements to prevent the exploitation of current methods and to change behaviour of individuals that mistreat the networks that lead to our seas.

SAS have challenged, lobbied and worked with water companies, regulators and governments to ensure the best possible water quality targets are being sought. The data we collect, we provide to the water users free of charge ensuring the best possible and most up to date information is readily available. Trends in data and reports of pollution and sickness allow us to prioritise beaches and water bodies that need addressing and focus – the information that locals provide help create positive change.

Reporting Pollution

Pollution incidents can go unseen and unnoticed. Unreported pollution incidents can lead to repeated detrimental impacts on recreational waters with long lasting effects. In the eyes of the regulator if they don’t know about it, it’s not happening and no action is needed.

Pollution is found on UK beaches in many forms ranging from general litter to shipping waste, chemical spills to sewage effluent. Pollution can have a devastating effect on the environment, and people’s enjoyment, health and safety when using beaches.

As a local set of eyes and ears, if you witness or suspect a pollution event has taken place you must report it – the guide below sets out how you can report it and what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future. This information can also potentially determine how it is treated and mitigated. By informing the regulators about pollution incidents we are able to hold those responsible to account.

The regulators in each of the devolved nations in the UK have the same Pollution Incident Hotline available to report any incidents that may have an impact on coastal waters.

Call the Pollution reporting hotline

Before you call and report it is useful to gather as much evidence as possible to ensure that the case is well documented and the matter can be resolved and the culprits be held responsible.

The Pollution reporting hotline: 0800 80 70 60

After reporting it to regulator – let others know! Let SAS know the details about the incident and the log number that the regulator provides – this way we can chase it up if needed.

Then share the incident. Let as many people know about the potential threat to the environment as possible.

The more people that know the less people can be impacted by the pollution. The more people that know the greater and better evidence gathering can take place.

Letting others know can also ensure logs to the regulator are placed into the same case, increasing its importance.

Tweet us the details and use the hashtag #PollutionReport


and Include the Environment Agency


A Case Study: Leah

Leah is usually a happy and healthy 13 year old who loves the sea and surfing. On a typical August day Leah headed out for some fun in the surf. What she didn’t know was at the same time, the Safer Seas Service was reporting the local water company had recently discharged untreated human sewage from their sewer overflows.

That night Leah was severely ill. Her mother, Claire described her daughters condition as “the sickest she’s ever been”. Severe bouts of sickness and diarrhea lasted for 3 days. After Leah recovered Claire’s concern turned to anger and soon frustration.

When Claire contacted SAS and shared her story, we asked her to contact her local MP and her local councillor. Claire received a response from her MP, agreeing that more infrastructure improvements were needed. Claire’s MP also wrote to the Chief Executive of the water company asking for an update on the infrastructure improvements needed to prevent further discharges impacting human health.

Never underestimate the power of these personal actions. Remember, elected officials are there to serve you and your community on issues that are important to you. Use them! A personal letter or series of letters will motivate good MPs and councillors to challenge water companies and regulators, pressing them for actions that might bring an end to harmful sewer overflow discharges.

Leah recently spoke in Westminster, at the Protect Our Waves All Party Parliamentary Group. The meeting was attended by MPs, representatives from the Environment Agency and Water Companies. Her story was impactful, and moving, the consequence of which was support from MPs to ensure that strict limits are placed on sewage spills in the future.

There’s a long and concerning list of illnesses and afflictions associated with using polluted waters. They range from the inconvenient and uncomfortable to the life threatening. These personal stories, like Leah’s, are harder to ignore or dismiss than mind-boggling stats. Leah was struck down with her sickness simply because she went surfing. That’s just not acceptable. The last words on this issue and the maybe the most relevant come from Leah herself:

  • I love surfing, and going in the sea with my friends. I just wish water companies weren’t allowed to pollute our seas.


MP Letter / Resource For Action

Safer Seas Service continues to inform the general public about the health of their local beach. The data generated also, worryingly exposes the failing in both the sewerage system, and the loopholes within the legal framework used to hide the true impacts of pollution. During the 2015 bathing season (May – Sept), 95% of UK beaches met the minimum EU water quality standard, yet the Safer Seas Service warned users of 3,045 pollution incidents from sewer overflow discharges and runoff from farmland and urban environments. There were 926 discharges of untreated human sewage at English beaches covered by the Safer Seas Service. Alarmingly only a mere 11% of these sewage spills had the potential to be monitored by the weekly Environment Agency water quality testing regime. Leaving a disturbing 89% of the untreated sewage discharges unchecked and outside of the legal framework designed to protect surfers, bathers, water users and coastal communities.

Furthermore, there are 41 beaches across England (16), Wales (11) and Scotland (14) where SAS believe the sampling spot is placed in an area that avoids the most polluted, yet popular areas on the beach. The results at these beaches could be misleading communities and the vital opportunity to implement any necessary improvements could be withheld.

If you share these concerns and want to see legal changes to the protection of your bathing waters, we urge you to join SAS in calling for :

An increase in the length of the Bathing Season in the UK ensuring “out of season” water sport users, such as surfers are protected by a legal framework.

A review of how the UK implements the Bathing Water Directive, ensuring bathing water quality is tested at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, thus protecting the bathers, surfers and water users most at risk.

Increasing water company obligations to introduce more effective and faster investment to remove current sewer overflow assets with priority awarded to sensitive areas such as bathing waters, recreational watersports zones and Sites of Special Surfing Interest.

Mandatory year-round sewer overflow warnings introduced for all affected UK beaches regularly used by the public to protect public health where the current water-quality testing regime fails to do so.

A strict, legally binding limit of 3 sewer overflow discharges per season, per sewer overflow asset.

Discharges should only be acceptable in extreme weather events.

A ban on water companies installing all new sewer overflow assets directly impacting areas of the coastline important for public recreation or environmentally sensitive areas.

Your MP is your elected official representing you in parliament. Use them. Challenge them to make your agenda, their agenda. The best way to lobby your MP and task them to take up your concerns is to personally contact them. This needn’t be complex or long; but a personal letter to them often makes them stand up and take note, share your experience, include images, stats, make sure they know how important this issue is to you. SAS have provided a letter template outlining a challenge to MPs on the bathing season; please feel free to use this to structure your own letter. The steps are the same if you want to start your letter from scratch, but if you are stuck or have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the SAS team who will be able to help you out.

Remember, a personal letter can often be MUCH MORE effective at showing your passion and desire to protect the environment.

Some of our MPs are already members of the Protect Our Waves All Party Parliamentary Group. If your MP is not a member check here, then invite them to join! This way we can directly Lobby them during the group meeting and ensure that they are kept up to date with any new evidence or campaigns that might be threatening waves around the country.

Step 1: Download the letter template

Step 2: Add your MP’s Name and address to the letter. You can find their address through this link: Contact your MP here

Step 3: Add your name and address to the letter.

Step 4: Attach the letter in an email to Your MP. You can find their email address through this link: Your MP’s email address can be found here

Step 5: Copy in your National Environment Secretary :

[email protected] (England)
[email protected] (Wales)
[email protected] (Scotland)
[email protected] (Northern Ireland)

Alternatively, post to the address featured on the letter.

Step 6: Let others know that you have sent a letter to your MP and call on them to do the same!