Is sewage hitting a beach near you amid the heavy rain?
Beaches around the country are at risk of pollution, after sewage was released into the sea following heavy rain - Rupert Evelyn reports
Swimmers can see in real time whether their local beach is among dozens experiencing sewage spills due to the week's heavy rainfall.
Based on data from hundreds of beaches, an interactive map by environmental campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) warns of pollution at several popular bathing spots. According to the map, storm sewage has been discharged from sewer overflows and into waters in Cornwall, Devon, Sussex, Essex, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland and Cumbria.
A spokeswoman for SAS said pollution warnings in other areas may not be linked to heavy rain, and those visiting the coast are advised to check the map on their website before they swim.
Official data also shows there have been a number of discharges since rain began to fall on Monday.
The pollution warnings come as what appears to be sewage was filmed spilling into the sea on the Sussex coast. In what a local councillor called "a new low", the footage of murky water where families often swim was shared on social media.
According to SAS, Southern Water and Wessex Water, the spills related to heavy rain have taken place within the last three days.
What is a sewage overflow?
Overflows put untreated sewage into the seas and rivers to stop drains overflowing, for example after rain storms. Raw sewage was dumped into rivers and the coasts around 375,000 times last year, the Environment Agency reported.
The government said it aims to reduce discharges into bathing waters by 70% by 2035, and eliminate 160,000 incidents of sewage overflows by 2040.
Which popular swimming spots are among those highlighted by the map?
Swimmers have been advised by SAS not to visit Devon's Budleigh Salterton beach on Wednesday, due to the likelihood of reduced water quality.
There are three sewer overflows in the area, one discharges directly onto the beach, another is 400m east and the third discharges 1.3km away into the sea, SAS said.
The map also shows sewage has been spilled into Cornwall's Fistral beach, a popular spot for surfers. A sewer overflow has discharges into the sea at the southern end of the beach.
Essex's Southend-on-Sea draws huge crowds on sunny days, but bathers are currently been advised to stay away from the city's Thorpe Bay and Jubilee Beach.
"There are a high number of sewer overflows discharging directly onto the beach here and more in the wider catchment of Southend-on-Sea," SAS said.
Bognor Regis in West Sussex, Robin Hoods Bay in Yorkshire, Rest Bay in Bridgend are also among the hotspots highlighted by the map.
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An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We publish daily pollution risk forecasts throughout the bathing season via the EA’s Swimfo website to indicate when bathing water quality may be temporarily reduced due to factors such as heavy rainfall, wind or the tide. “The current risk of surface water flooding reinforces the need for robust action from water companies to reduce discharges from storm overflows. We are monitoring the current situation and supporting local authorities where needed.”
Southern Water said thunderstorms and more rain than usual "overwhelmed" its network.
"This led to some overflows – which are used to protect homes, schools, businesses and hospitals from flooding – spilling excess water into the sea in parts of west Sussex" it said.
Southern Water added that the discharges are heavily diluted and, typically, 95% of them are rainwater.
A Wessex Water spokesperson said: “Storm overflows are sometimes used during heavy rainstorms to protect properties and roads from sewer flooding by releasing stormwater into watercourses. “While it’s extremely rare for storm overflows to cause a sewage pollution incident, we’re committed to completely eliminating the discharge of any untreated sewage. Every month we’re investing £3million to reduce storm overflows, starting with those which discharge most frequently or which have any environmental impact.”
Welsh Water said: "Despite the widespread rain, only two of our combined storm overflows (CSOs) operated at designated bathing waters.
"The spills were compliant with our permit to operate them and as we always do with these CSOs we sent notifications to Surfers Against Sewage so that they were aware and could notify their members."