Extinction Rebellion activists in Teignmouth march for a ban on releasing sewage into the sea

Protestors march down to the beach during protests in Teignmouth

Climate change activists, sea swimmers and local people have marched through Teignmouth today (28 January) in a protest to call for cleaner seas and rivers.

The demonstration, which was organised by Extinction Rebellion, aimed to highlight the need for more investment, which could end the practice of allowing sewage to be pumped into the sea.

Among those present were members of Healthscape, a mental health support group that uses sea swimming as a form of therapy. But a member of the group, Peta Howell, said around a third of their dips in the sea are having to be cancelled due to sewage alerts at this time of year.

Peta Howell said: "We're fed up of our physical health being put into jeopardy by South West Water dumping sewage into our sea."

Members of Extinction Rebellion helped to organise protests across the southwest and intend to hold a much larger national protest in April

Campaigners began with a sit-down protest in the triangle square, before marching through the town to the Back Beach, which faces the mouth of the river Teign.

Gilly Robinson, from Dawlish, also attended the protest in Teignmouth and said she was not the only one to have travelled across Devon to be there.

Gilly said: "It's so thrilling today to see people from all over, from Sidmouth, from Totnes, from all over Devon and beyond. It shows how concerned people really are about what's happening or the action that needs to be taken - and isn't."

The organiser of the protest, Mike Puleston, was delighted with the turnout, which he felt reflected the huge strength of feeling in the town over what's happened to local bathing waters.

"Quite frequently the waters here have not been clean to swim in," Mike said.

Local Lib-Dem councillor Martin Wrigley also attended the protest and described the situation as unacceptable.

Martin said: "The occasions are far too often, it is not acceptable, there are always going to be times when the system is overloaded but those time are far too often, and far too frequent, and we are seeing far too much raw sewage pumped into our rivers and sea."

Protestors are concerned not just about being able to swim in the sea but also about protecting the planet too

This event was one of many happening around the southwest. Environmental groups like Extinction Rebellion are now hoping to work with other campaigners in the run-up to a mass assembly on 21st April, where it is hoped enough people will gather to encircle the Houses of Parliament.

Among protestors in Teignmouth, there was a feeling that the frequency of sewage discharges into the sea is increasing and South West Water, the Environment Agency and other authorities need to invest more. 

South West Water: 'We work hard to reduce the impact of storm overflows'

But in a statement, South West Water have defended their record around the coast, stating: “Our largest environmental investment programme in 15 years, WaterFit, is now well underway, delivering benefits for customers and the environment.

"We are investing £330 million in our wastewater network to dramatically reduce our use of storm overflows by 2025 and maintain our region’s excellent bathing water quality standards all year round.

The statement added: "We have been working hard to reduce the impact of storm overflows, and in the last bathing season, we reduced spills by 50% on the previous year, with the duration of those spills down by 75%.

"The South West has some of the best bathing waters in Europe. We recently achieved 100% coastal bathing water quality for the second time across 860 miles of coastline, with 99% rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’ compared to just 28% in 1991.”