The Safer Seas & Rivers Service

Overflowing sewage. Pollution. Poor water quality.

Download our Safer Seas & Rivers Service app to check the coast is clear before taking the plunge.

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An ocean dip with a side of dysentery? No thanks. Our award-winning, free to download app is the only national Water Quality service keeping you in the loop with what’s happening where in our waters.

When it comes to living in the UK, shit happens. And far too much of it in our waterscapes. Untreated sewage and wastewater regularly gush from thousands of sewer overflows around the country. It stinks.

Add to that the impact of severe rainfall – which churns all manner of unknown pollutants into the ocean from farming, septic tanks, roads and urban areas – and it’s not a pretty picture.

That’s why we’ve made it easy to check in, search out a swim, surf or sail spot, and be served the latest pollution forecast compiled from the Environment Agency, NRW and SEPA for 200 locations across the UK.

There’s more?

From when to catch your waves, to where to park your windbreak, beyond water health, the Safer Seas & Rivers Service can keep you updated on…

  • Real-time surf conditions
  • Wind direction
  • Tide times
  • Beach activities
  • Beach facilities
  • Lifeguard services

We’ve also recently updated the app with more features, so you can…

  • Check your rivers and streams: we’ve cast our nets wider, updating our app to cover some key rivers and streams across England, Scotland and Wales to include: Ilkley on the River Wharfe, Warleigh Weir on the River Avon, the Dee River in Wales, Seatown, Swanage Ulwell, Charmouth West, Eypemouth and Bowleaze Cove streams. More are being added all the time.
  • Pipe up to your MP: because action is in our DNA, we’ve developed an in-app tool to easily alert your MP to pollution in your area. You can also send your thoughts and views directly to the big cheese at your local water company. So don’t hold back…
  • Report an illness: if time in the sea’s got you feeling unwell, we’re all ears. Submitting a health report helps us fight against the dirty deeds in the water industry, gives us evidence for the impact of sewage on health, and allows us to take our case to the Government and inspire action.


The Safer Seas and Rivers Service uses real-time data from a combination of sources.

Water companies in England and Wales voluntarily provide us with real-time sewage alerts from sensors located on their Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO), which then automatically send alerts to the Safer Seas and Rivers Service.

In addition to the sewage alert, during the bathing season, Pollution Risk Forecasts (PRFs) are issued by the four regulators in the UK. 

Water companies in England and Wales voluntarily provide us with real-time sewage alerts from sensors located on their Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO), which then automatically send alerts to the Safer Seas and Rivers Service.

Water companies will send us an alert for a location that has been impacted by a nearby combined sewage overflow. In the majority of cases, we are unable to determine the location of the discharging pipe. 

The only exception to this is Southern Water, who voluntarily provides us with this information which allows you to see the exact location of the discharge. When there is an active sewage alert in place, this information is provided in the ‘overview’ section. All overflows that have the potential to impact that location will be mapped, and any that are actively discharging will be red.   

South West Water currently publishes this information for its own CSOs on its website but has declined to share this with Surfers Against Sewage. This is a barrier to transparency for water users, and we will continue to put pressure on South West Water for this information so water users can make a better assessment of risk, wherever they choose to swim.

In 2022, DEFRA published the Storm Overflow Reduction plan which states that “all water companies must provide data about the frequency and duration of storm overflows in near real-time and make this available to the public no later than 2025”.

Currently, water companies only provide public-facing real-time data about bathing waters. This information is what SAS has been able to utilise and is what informs the SSRS. Until recently, we didn’t receive information about sewage overflow discharges, we were simply notified if a location was impacted, with the exception of Southern Water who provide the location and impact of overflows for coastal bathing sites.

Thames Water is the only water company that currently meets this requirement and has published a live map that includes information about all overflows. We are currently not displaying this data as it doesn’t provide any information about the impacts of these overflows on popular swimming locations. 

We are working on a way to incorporate data from all sewage overflows into the SSRS. Although the alerts provided won’t be linked to a specific location, we still feel it’s important this information is made available to app users, so as we approach 2025 there will be updates made available to include this information.

If you have any questions about the alerts you’re seeing or not seeing, email us at [email protected].

Pollution Risk Forecasts use rainfall or other factors such as tidal information to assess the risk of a temporary reduction in bathing water quality. 

An analysis of past data showing variable quality and conditions such as heavy rain, strong winds or high tides allows the regulators to make active forecasts of water quality risk each day. When these factors lead to the risk exceeding a pre-determined threshold, they issue a pollution risk warning.

For England, Northern Ireland and Wales, forecasts are issued around 9:00 am every morning and we keep the alert up for 24 hours. 

In Scotland alerts are issued around 9:00 am but only remain in place until 10:00 pm that evening, at which point the location will return to a maintenance symbol until the new forecast is made the next morning.

Regulators will also inform us of any serious pollution events that can lead to a beach closure or advice against bathing. This could include an oil spill, burst pipe or algae bloom. 

When an incident alert is in place, more information about the specific event will be displayed within the location profile. 

If you have witnessed an incident that is not displaying on the SSRS, please notify us immediately by calling 01872 553 001 or email [email protected].

No AlertsNo water quality alerts in place. 

Sewage Pollution Alert – There has been a sewage discharge from a combined sewer overflow impacting this location within the past 48 hours. See the location profile for information on the time and date of the discharge.

Pollution Risk Forecasts – Bathing is not advised due to the likelihood of reduced water quality.

Pollution Incident Alert – There has been a confirmed incident at this location and bathing is not advised.

Poor Annual Classification – If bathing water received a ‘poor’ rating by the regulator, bathing is not advised and a permanent alert will be in place.

Maintenance – The systems that are responsible for this location’s alert are under maintenance and the water company/regulator has temporarily disabled real-time alerts.

Maintenance alerts in Scotland refer to the period between 10:00 pm and 9:00 am when no active forecast is in place.

Out of Season – Water quality data is not available as the site is out of season. This only applies to locations that receive alerts from the regulators. Water companies provide sewage alerts all year round.    

Designated bathing waters are locations popular with water users and designated under the Bathing Water Regulations 2013 which outlines waters suitable for bathing other than swimming pools. The water quality regulators are responsible for monitoring designated bathing waters. Official bathing waters may receive pollution risk forecasts or sewage discharge notifications, or both. You can find this information in the ‘details’ section of the location.   

Unofficial bathing waters are locations that haven’t been designated. These locations may still be popular with recreational water users but the water quality is not regularly checked and therefore does not have an annual classification. The source and impact of pollution at these locations may be unknown. Environmental regulators do not provide pollution risk forecasts for these locations, however, sewage discharge notifications are provided by water companies as a precaution.

Any coastal or inland water that is popular with bathers can be designated if it fulfills the criteria. If your favourite swimming location isn’t designated and you’d like to find out more about the process and how we can support you, you can find out more here. 

The relevant regulators take water samples that test for indicators of faecal matter at every designated bathing water throughout the bathing water season. 

Classifications for each designated bathing water are calculated by the regulators annually and are based on water quality samples taken over the previous four years. These results are classified as follows:

Excellent – the highest class
Good – generally good water quality
Sufficient – the water meets the minimum standard
Poor – the water has not met the minimum standard and bathing is not advised. Work to improve water quality at poor sites is detailed in the site’s profile on the regulator’s site.

Classifications were not provided for designated bathing waters by the Environment Agency in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19 preventing water quality sampling.

Our coverage is determined by which locations water companies provide us with Sewage Discharge Alerts for, or where Pollution Risk Forecasts are issued.

We’re continually striving to extend the service to cover all areas of the UK, and as more information about sewage discharges comes online, we will look to incorporate this into the SSRS.

If your local bathing water isn’t covered, there are a number of steps to take that may allow us to build a case for its addition:

  • Find more passionate people in your community who can support the bathing water application process
  • Logging signs of visible pollution on the SSRS and reporting to the Environment Agency
  • Contact your local MP, councillor and local authority to start campaigning for your bathing water

 Finally, we can put you in touch with Kirsty, our Community Water Quality Officer, who can help you apply for designation.

Contact Kirsty: [email protected]

The Safer Seas & Rivers Service only receives Pollution Risk Forecast alerts from the regulators during the bathing season. (England and Wales: 15th May – 30th September, and in Scotland: 15th May  – 15th September). 

As a result of years of campaigning by water users like you and organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage, in January 2021, it was announced that ALL water companies have committed to providing real-time data on sewage discharges all year round.

The majority of sewage systems in the UK are ‘combined’ – carrying both sewage and surface water run-off. During periods of intense rainfall, sewer capacity can become overloaded. When it does, treatment plants cannot cope with the increased volume of wastewater, and so are bypassed and an untreated mix of sewage and water is released via combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

Although the sewage is heavily diluted, the effluent is untreated and can pose a serious health risk. Our alerts remain active for 48 hours after a discharge has stopped. This is the advice provided by the World Health Organisation.

CSOs were designed as an emergency release during periods of heavy rainfall, however, we now know water companies are using them far beyond their original purpose.

Founded in 1990, Surfers Against Sewage represented water users tired of seeing sewage in the sea and getting sick doing the sports they loved. Sewage and agricultural pollution plague the UK’s rivers and oceans with the UK ranking last out of the 30 EU countries for bathing water quality and only 14% of rivers meeting good ecological status. Our own citizen science water quality testing conducted in 2021 also suggested that 75% of rivers we tested would be rated ‘poor’ under the Bathing Waters Directive, posing a continuous serious risk to human health.

To read more about water quality in the UK, read our latest Water Quality Report here.

It is our ambition to end sewage discharge into all UK bathing waters and to reduce all sewage discharges by 90% by 2030.

We are also calling for 200 inland bathing waters to be designated by 2030. To achieve this, we work together with our network of ocean activists to challenge the government and water companies to #EndSewagePollution.

After huge public pressure from Ocean Activists, the government has placed a legal duty on water companies to progressively reduce the adverse impact of discharges from storm overflows in their Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan. We have also pushed regulators to link water companies’ CEOs and shareholders’ pay to environmental performance to put an end to pollution for profit.

Over 200,000 Ocean Activists across the country signed a petition calling for an end to industry fat-cats profiting off another summer of sewage whilst demands for increased transparency of sewage discharges have led to record-breaking fines placed on Water Companies.

We can feel the groundswell of action on the sewage agenda making change! However, our mission to end sewage pollution is not over, find out more about our work on water quality and how to get involved here.

During periods of reduced water quality, there is a risk of contracting infections from bacteria and viruses associated with faecal matter.

During periods of poor water quality, entering the water could put you at risk of contracting eye, ear, skin and throat infections, gastroenteritis, E. coli and hepatitis. For further information on these conditions please visit our page on “The risks of mixing with sewage”.

The Safer Seas and Rivers Service aims to provide you with the information needed to make an informed decision on whether to enter the water. We cannot guarantee your safety and can take no responsibility for any sickness or injury associated with entering the water.

If you have experienced being sick after entering the water, please refer to a medical professional immediately. You can also help us build our case study bank by reporting your sickness via our sickness report form, so we can hold those responsible to account.

If you have been sick after entering the water, the Safer Seas & Rivers Service allows you to report your sickness directly to us. These powerful stories highlight the horrors people face after swimming in polluted waters. Whether you were ill for one day, or sick for weeks your story is key to the #endsewagepollution campaign.

To submit a health report,  submit a health report via the Surfers Against Sewage website here.

Think before you flush – only the three Ps (pee, poo & paper) should ever go down your toilet – everything else is an “unflushable” item. 

Unflushables and FOGS (fats, oils and greases) are responsible for 80% of all blockages and ‘fatbergs’, resulting in sewer overflows.

If you’re a dog owner, scoop your dog poop and obey dog rules and exclusion areas.

Check your home or business property is correctly connected to the sewer system and if your property is connected to a septic tank make sure it’s registered, working correctly and properly maintained.

Keep your beach clean – plastic pollution can harbour and spread bacteria and pathogens. Take part in a SAS beach clean or conduct your own beach clean. Take part now.

Our coverage is determined by which locations water companies provide us with CSO alerts for, or where Pollution Risk Forecasts are issued. Currently, the UK is behind in the designation of inland waters, with few inland sites being monitored for faecal bacterial loads or presenting information to aid water users to avoid pollution. 

The UK’s rivers are spiralling towards environmental collapse, posing a serious threat to human health to the increasing number of people who use them for their physical and mental well-being. Pollution from sewage discharges, agricultural run-off and chemicals are putting the population at risk of getting sick, destroying delicate ecosystems and threatening ocean recovery. To ensure river quality improves across the UK, we are calling for ambitious legally binding targets and an increase in Designated River Bathing Waters. We are supporting communities and working with regulators, to ensure new sites will become designated by offering support throughout the designation process.

To find out more, visit our new website, Protecting Wild Waters.

There are four main environmental regulators in the UK, all of which are currently providing pollution risk forecasts to Surfers Against Sewage during the bathing season:

England – The Environment Agency (EA)

Wales – Natural Resources Wales (NRW)
Scotland – Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA)

Northern Ireland – Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Northern Ireland (DAERA)