More water pollution recorded in Cornwall than anywhere else in the country

Water pollution can come from sewage discharges, industrial dumping, agriculture and road run-off. Credit: PA Images

Cornwall has seen more water pollution incidents than any other local authority area in England, new figures show.

The Environment Agency recorded 1,278 incidents in the area over five years, making it the only place to top 1,000 cases, data obtained by Radar has revealed.

Laurence Couldrick, chief executive of the Westcountry Rivers Trust, warned of the impact of pollution on Cornish rivers and seas, given their “economic and environmental importance”.

He urged water companies to clean up their act in the south west but said agriculture and other sources are also to blame.

Across England, nearly 36,000 category one to three water pollution incidents were recorded between 2018 and 2022.

Cornwall is a water pollution hotspot, now figures show. Credit: PA

Of these, 246 were classed as ‘major’ incidents – the most serious category – while 1,286 were ‘significant’.

The water industry has come under particular scrutiny for how it records pollution events.

The figures show the number of cases stemming from water companies is on the rise – from 1,922 in 2018 to 2,213 last year.

Water pollution can also come from other sources, such as agricultural run-off or industry and manufacturing.

The Rivers Trust, a charity working to protect waterways in the UK, said: “People are rightly demanding that we restore our water bodies to a state of good health and resilience.”

Surfers Against Sewage protesting against water pollution. Credit: PA

A spokesperson for Water UK, a trade association, said: “Although this data reveals that two-thirds of all water pollution incidents had nothing to do with water companies, the industry takes its role in reducing pollution very seriously.”

They said serious incidents have fallen by more than a third since 2011.

“Companies are now proposing to invest £96 billion, the highest on record, which will include upgrades to sewage treatment works and an overhaul of our sewer network,” they added.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “The number of pollution incidents caused by the water industry is unacceptably high. We expect water companies to significantly reduce them, and to report them to us quickly.

“We will not hesitate to take enforcement action where necessary and have secured over £150 million in fines from the water industry since 2015.”

But responding to the criticisms, a spokesperson for South West Water said: “While the vast majority of Cornwall’s water pollutions from 2018-2022 were not linked to our operations, there is always more to do when it comes to reducing pollutions and we are fully committed to playing our part in protecting our region’s natural environment.

“We have significantly reduced pollution incidents across the region, with the number of overall incidents down by 30% year-on-year, the lowest for over 10 years.

“Serious pollution incidents have been reduced by 75% and we are targeting zero serious pollutions by 2025.”