Saltburn swimmers and surfers take to the water to protest against sewage pollution

Dozens of surfers have taken part in a protest at Saltburn against the release of untreated sewage into rivers and the sea. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Campaigners have been raising awareness of sewage pollution at two North Yorkshire beaches.

Swimmers, surfers, paddle-boarders, windsurfers and environmentalists came together at Saltburn and Scarborough to highlight the issue of poor water quality.

It is part of a national protest organised by charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) - with 12 events occurring simultaneously at beaches and rivers across the UK on Saturday 20 May.

Speaking about the water companies in charge, Edith Reeve, the lead organiser for the Saltburn protest, said: "They're aware the system isn't working, but instead of telling us how they're going to actually put their money where their mouth is, they're expecting the public to cover that.

"It's just not good enough."

Stephen Thomas, a local surfer, had also attended the event. He has told ITV Tyne Tees that he has experienced sickness from previous sewage deposits in the area.

Mr Thomas said: "I've had symptoms from tingling, tongue tingling going in my mouth. I've had violent sickness and diarrhoea and illness for seven days."

Josh Harris, head of communications at SAS, said: “Last year water companies paid out a combined £1 billion to their shareholders while dumping sewage into UK waterways almost 400,000 times.

"We’ve suffered decades of broken sewers because of our broken system, and now the public have had enough and are demanding an to end this sewage scandal.

"Water companies are wreaking havoc on our precious rivers and seas, and we refuse to stay silent."

Research published on 4 May by SAS found less than a fifth of adults in the North East were confident that water companies are using their money to improve services.

A spokesperson for Northumbrian Water said: “We understand customers’ concerns about storm overflow discharges and we wholeheartedly agree that there is an urgent need to reduce the reliance on storm overflows to achieve the change we all want to see in our rivers and seas.

“We are spending £80m on improvements related to SOs in our current 2020-25 operating period and this follows investment of hundreds of millions of pounds over the past two decades, which has seen significant improvements on the North East coast.

Northumbrian Water added that hundreds of millions of pounds have been allocated between 2025 and 2030 to help make significant improvements.

“We know more can be done and we are committed to working with our local communities, and with the rest of the industry and Government, to look at how the UK wastewater and drainage infrastructure is designed, and the investment needed to work effectively now and in the future.

“We supply Surfers Against Sewage near real time information about spills in our areas for use with their app. We want people to be able to enjoy our beautiful coastlines, which is why we encourage people to use the SAS app to access this transparent and real-time data" a Northumbrian Water spokesperson added.

Data published by the Environment Agency in March reported that in 2022, Yorkshire Water had 54,273 monitored spill events, while the figures for Northumbrian Water was 29,697.

Yorkshire Water has apologised over high levels of sewage being discharged into the county's rivers and seas.

Chief executive Nicola Shaw admitted the company had not done enough to tackle storm overflows, which release raw sewage into rivers at times of high rainfall.

Ms Shaw, who has been in the post since May last year, said: "On behalf of Yorkshire Water, I am sorry.

"I get why people are angry; seeing sewage in our rivers and seas isn't right.

"We should have acted more quickly to change the situation."

The apology comes just weeks after Ms Shaw declined to accept a bonus of between £600,000 and £800,000 due to public criticism of the service.

Yorkshire Water plans to invest £180m by March 2025 to build more capacity to store waste water.

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