Safer Seas & Rivers Service

Safer Seas & Rivers Service

This week, us Brits will be indulging in two of our greatest pleasures. Bank holidays and trips to the water’s edge.
But did you know that over half of us, the great British public, are scared of swimming outside because we’re unsure if the water is clean or polluted?
Hmm… Some amazing organisation really should create a solution to this issue. Perhaps in the form of a free mobile app 🤔 🤔 🤔

Yes, today, ahead of the Bank Holiday weekend, we have launched our updated Safer Seas & Rivers Service app with a ‘Poo Watch’ stunt on Jubilee Beach, Southend. And we’ve also published new research which shows just how much the #SewageScandal is affecting our water use.

Remind me, what is the Safer Seas & Rivers Service (SSRS)?
Simply put, the SSRS is a vital and free public health information service, providing real-time water pollution alerts straight to a user’s phone. Why? To help beach goers make an informed decision on how, when and where to use the UK’s beautiful beaches and rivers to avoid any potentially harmful pollution coming from sewer overflows and farming run-off.
That sounds great! Does it do anything else?
Funny you should ask… Yes, through the free app you can:
submit evidence of sewage pollution – an essential step in holding big polluters responsible;
submit health reports to us – water companies put our health at risk every time they discharge raw sewage, help us fight back by sharing your story;
email your MP and your water company CEO at the click of a button to demand they #EndSewagePollution.
I really should have this. How do I download it?
It’s simple. Either search for Safer Seas & Rivers Service on your mobile app store or click the button below.

Mental Health And The Ocean.

Mental Health And The Ocean.

Surfers Against Sewage Reveals £20bn Health Benefits of Watersports

• Nationally, the physical health benefits of people undertaking water sports could amount to £20.2bn per year
• The number of people taking part in water sports has doubled since the start of the pandemic
• There has been a 31% increase in people visiting the beach to relax and unwind since the start of the pandemic
• People living close to the sea have better overall mental health and reduced risk of depression
• People feel more restored and happier when there is a more natural and protected marine environment
• 80% of people want to see more action to restore the ocean

A new report released by the national ocean conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage, highlights the clear link between the health of the ocean and people’s mental health and wellbeing. Through a representative survey of 10,000 people across the UK, the report finds that people taking part in ocean-based water sports has doubled since the start of the pandemic. Extrapolated to the UK population and using methods widely used by health professionals to quantity health outcomes, the report estimates physical health benefit of water sports of up to £20.2bn per year.

The report shows that, despite COVID-19 restrictions, the level of engagement with the marine environment remains strong. More people have reported visiting the coast to relax and unwind through the pandemic than previous years with 85% of people reporting that spending time by the sea makes them feel refreshed and revitalised; and 86% saying it makes them feel calm and relaxed. With specialist mental health care costs reaching up to £1,125 per case and evidence of the link between being in close proximity to the sea and mental health, the report highlights the potential for ‘blue prescribing’ as an alternative mental health treatment.

Amy Slack, Head of Campaigns & Policy at Surfers Against Sewage says:

“The ocean is our life support machine. It covers 70% of the earths surface, provides 80% of the oxygen we breath, and absorbs 93% the excess heat from CO2, protecting us from climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how important the ocean is to our mental and physical health. During lockdown, many of us have missed the peace and calm being near the ocean can bring us, the joy we experience chasing waves on the beach, and the exhilaration we get from riding surf. We depend on a wilder ocean for a nourished mind, we depend on a cleaner ocean for a healthy body. At the start of the UN Decade for the Ocean, our report highlights the clear public demand for increased ocean protection that allows marine ecosystems to rebound and thrive and, in turn, allows us to thrive with it.”

The report also points to evidence that suggests people feel more restored and happier when there is more natural and protected marine environments, highlighting the risk that continued degradation of the marine environment could have on public health and wellbeing. However, whist almost a third of UK seas are designated as ‘Marine Protected Areas’ (MPA), many are described as ‘paper parks’ that exists without sufficient monitoring and enforcement with many destructive practices still permitted. Just over 60% of people who knew what an MPA was thought they were ineffective at protecting the ocean. Surfers Against Sewage have found that over half to respondents to their survey thought that UK seas were threatened and in poor health with 80% wanting to see action to restore the ocean, 60% wanting more effective government action.

In June, the government announced that Highly Protected Marine Areas would be piloted in inshore and offshore waters in England. The call for evidence to inform pilot sites has been undertaken with public consultations expected in 2022. Surfers Against Sewage are calling for 30% of all marine protected areas to be highly protected marine areas by 2030



By Hugo Tagholm Chief Executive, Surfers Against Sewage.

There has been an enormous public response to the raw and compelling new documentary Seaspiracy directed by film makers Lucy & Ali Tabrizi. Advocates and critics of the documentary have emerged in droves, and NGOs have been scrambling to respond, particularly those that felt the brunt of the film’s criticism.
People who never paid any interest in the ocean issues that I work on suddenly got in touch – confused, disgusted and conflicted – and asking questions. What do you think? Should we eat any seafood at all? What are you doing about plastic fishing gear in the ocean? How can we restore fish populations?

First and foremost, Seaspiracy gets a lot of things right.
• It’s created a new and genuine debate about the sustainability of seafood, forcing us all to re-evaluate our relationship with the ocean.
• The impact that that overfishing is having on the ocean and the contribution the fishing industry makes to the plastic pollution crisis is correct.
• It points to the stark reality of ocean ill health, rightly attacking catastrophic industrial supertrawling fishing practices and questioning the robustness of fisheries monitoring and sustainability.

But it get things wrong.
The science is somewhat clunky and many statistics outdated. In particular, the claim that our ocean will be ‘virtually empty by 2048’, which comes from a 2006 study by Boris Worm of Dalhousie University, has been widely questioned given efforts to protect and restore some fish populations since its publication. In seeking to try and match any fact with a conspiracy, the result is often hyperbole. And the solution is of course not as binary as the documentary’s simplistic conclusion that we should just stop eating fish.
Without a doubt, we currently harvest and kill too many of most, if not all, fish species. Over 90% of fish populations are overfished or fished to capacity. This is absolutely unsustainable. Indiscriminate fishing techniques such as industrial bottom trawling wreck our marine ecosystems in their entirety. Moreover, we fish everywhere in our ocean – even in so-called marine protected areas. Fish populations have very few, if any, true ocean sanctuaries where they can survive, breed and thrive, revitalising and restoring their populations to resilient levels.

However, there is a risk that the film undermines the genuine and progressive work of many brilliant marine conservation charities who are calling for the very same protections for the ocean and fish populations that the filmmakers are now calling for. We also need to recognise that progressive sustainable fishing practices will be a vital part of creating a new approach to preserving and restoring Planet Ocean. The wonderful thing about the marine ecosystems is that they rebound so quickly and abundantly, if allowed.

One other concern with the documentary is that it diminishes the importance of getting a grip on consumer and corporate plastic pollution, with a monotonal focus on fishing as the only real contributor to the ocean plastic. We all have a role to play in turning the tide on plastic, not just the fishing industry.

Ghost gear is the term used for abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear that can continue to catch fish and other wildlife for years. Monofilament line is almost invisible and cannot be detected by sight or echolocation. Along with trawl net, it is extremely tough; once an animal is caught, even one with the strength of a whale, it cannot break free. Every year, 640,000 tonnes of ghost fishing gear is lost or discarded in our oceans, killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of seabirds, mammals and other forms of sea life.

It’s a horrendous problem, and far from conspiratorially being something Surfers Against Sewage were keen to avoid talking about, the issue of plastic pollution from the fishing industry is something we’ve been working on and shouting about for years. In 2014, we released the Marine Litter Report in collaboration with World Animal Protection, which highlighted the devastating impacts of ghost fishing gear.

Where SAS fits in.
We empower 100,000s of dedicated volunteers to remove tonnes of plastic pollution from our beaches every year, including vast amounts of lost and abandoned fishing gear. Many of our volunteers specifically target fishing nets washed up on beaches and we collaborate with organisations like Odyssey Innovation to promote recovery and circularity initiatives – turning the them into things like kayaks and sunglasses.
We have also been campaigning for overarching plastic pollution reduction targets in the Environment Bill to help to drive down the amount of plastic pollution reaching the ocean from all sources, including fishing gear.
Our Ocean and Climate report released in January 2021 also highlights that overfishing is a major contributing factor to the degradation of the ocean alongside other harmful extractive processes such as mining and oil extraction. That’s why our Ocean and Climate Petition calls for the government to implement Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAS) – as the film highlights, the existing network of Marine Protected Areas don’t currently provide adequate protection for fish populations or whole marine ecosystems.

What’s next?
We are calling for the implementation of HPMAs to fully protect all marine species and habitats from human disruption and to allow ecosystems to recover. We urgently need the UK to implement and enforce these marine protections where deep-sea mining is banned, commercial fishing is forbidden, oil and gas exploration is ceased and pollution inputs are tightly regulated. This will allow our fish to thrive again. 30% by 2030 is what we have been calling for.

I’m pleased to see that the film’s producers are joining Surfers Against Sewage and other established NGOs and stakeholders in asking the UK government to create and enforce ‘no-catch’ marine reserves in at least 30% of UK waters. This is the goal many voices in the marine conservation sector have been united around for some time. Seventy-five countries have already committed to protect 30 per cent of our ocean by 2030[iv] – a brilliant start … but realising and enforcing this commitment will be the real challenge, to be discussed at next month’s COP15 conference.

The best places for these fully protected areas of the sea often correspond to where marine animals can breed and take shelter – kelp forests, sea grass beds, reefs and saltmarshes. These habitats have the triple benefits of helping restore biodiversity, increase biomass and capture carbon. Establishing these no-go zones for industry will create a spill-over of fish populations into areas where more sustainable fishing practices can develop. There are many global examples of this happening – showing that protecting sea life can help drive a sustainable approach to fishing, if we do it right.
Good to combat global warming.
Good for people.

And good for the sustainability of fish populations.
An ocean win cubed!

How you can support.
Please sign our petition to support HPMAs – we expect to be doing much more campaigning on this issue as the government launches a consultation to designate these zones. I’d also urge you to follow the Blue Marine Foundation, who are leading pioneering work to call for National Marine Parks and working with the fishing community to protect fish populations in new ways.

You can also sign Ali and Lucy Tabrizi’s petition here:

And on the question of eating fish…
We should all make our own personal choice. Many of us will increasingly choose a plant-based diet and others will look for the most sustainable and local seafood options.

However, millions of people rely on fishing, for both their livelihoods and as a source of food. This is particular the case in poorer communities and developing countries around the world. Abandoning fishing would be devastating for them. It’s imperative that we help protect these communities from damaging industrial fishing practices, work with them to create Highly Protected Marine Areas and collaborate to ensure future fisheries and fishing is sustainable.
Protecting large swathes of our ocean, sustainable fish populations and sustaining human populations should not be mutually exclusive.
The ocean can and should sustain us – so long as we give it the chance to.

 Surfers Against Sewage (

Water Companies Forced To Show Real-Time Discharge Data

Water Companies Forced To Show Real-Time Discharge Data

• New commitments from the water industry to increase transparency around storm overflows
• Real-time data on sewage discharges into bathing waters to be made available all year round
• Environment Secretary to work with Philip Dunne MP on the aims of his Private Members’ Bill to tackle river pollution

A joint industry-government group established last year to tackle river pollution has today (22 January) agreed a new objective to prevent damage from storm overflows.

The Storm Overflows Taskforce – made up of Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, Consumer Council for Water, Blueprint for Water and Water UK  – has agreed to set a long term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows. Following recommendations from the Taskforce, water companies will also increase transparency around when and how storm overflows are used.
Storm overflows were designed to be used during extreme weather to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rainwater, releasing diluted wastewater into rivers rather than letting it back up into people’s homes. However climate change has led to increased rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades.

Water companies have agreed to make real-time data on sewage discharges available at bathing sites all year round, meaning surfers, swimmers and other water users can check the latest information – especially after heavy rainfall.  Water companies will also accelerate work to install monitoring devices to create a complete picture of their activity by 2023.

In addition, the Taskforce has agreed with water companies that they will publish annual monitoring data on their websites about their use of storm overflows so that progress in reducing their use can be tracked. The Environment Agency will compile this data into an annual report that is easily accessible to the public.

The Taskforce update comes as the Government confirms it is also working with Philip Dunne MP on our shared ambitions to tackle sewage pollution in our rivers.

The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, introduced by Mr Dunne to Parliament last year, has raised awareness of a number of issues associated with storm overflows. The Government has committed to continuing to work with Mr Dunne on the best way to make progress in reducing the harm caused by sewage spilling into our rivers.

Since 2010, 884 storm overflows have been improved to reduce their environmental impact and frequency of operation, with a further 798 improvements planned for the period 2020 – 2025.

Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow, said: 

“I have been shocked to discover the extent of sewage routinely spilled in our rivers. Poor water quality has a very damaging impact on aquatic species which depend on clean rivers, and risks healthy enjoyment of our rivers by the public.

“I am really pleased this Government has recognised that this has got to change. I am delighted the Minister has responded so quickly to Covid restrictions interrupting progress of my Private Members Bill by agreeing to work with me to develop measures to improve water quality across England.”

The Storm Overflows Taskforce was set up in August 2020 to bring together water companies, regulators and environmental NGOs to accelerate progress in this area, building on work already underway to improve our rivers and waterways.

Its work covers a series of short, medium and long-term actions focused on the goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows – a generational endeavour that will involve significant change and take time to achieve.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

“Making sure we have clean rivers is an absolute priority and I have been clear that I want to cut down on the water sector’s reliance on storm overflows.

“The Storm Overflows Taskforce, established last year, is working urgently on options to tackle this issue, which demonstrates a collective commitment for change in this critical area.

“Our ambitious Environment Bill already sets out how we will tackle various sources of water pollution. I look forward to working with Philip Dunne and others on how we can accelerate progress in this area.”

The Environment Bill will place a statutory requirement on water companies to produce drainage and sewerage management plans to help deliver more of the actions needed to address the risks sewerage assets may pose to the environment.

It is the responsibility of water companies to ensure serious water pollution incidents do not occur, and they have committed to a significant programme of improvements to the monitoring and management of storm overflows over the next five years at a cost of around £1.1 billion.

As a result of the work of the Taskforce, water companies have identified opportunities to increase the number of overflows they will improve over the next five years.

Work will continue to consider how the guidance given by the Secretary of State to the regulator Ofwat can best reflect the importance of water quality in water companies’ activities.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said:

“Publishing easily accessible data is an important step to reversing the overuse of storm overflows, but disclosure is only ever the beginning. People want to see progress.  

“Water quality in England’s 240,631 kilometres of river is everyone’s responsibility but water companies have a pivotal role in helping the whole country make the necessary big changes. We look forward to working with them, as well as government and MPs, to turn today’s ambition into action.”

John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat said:

“The work of the Storm Overflows Taskforce will play a crucial role in protecting precious parts of our ecosystem.

“We are committed to working with Government, regulators and the water industry to meet this challenge and ensure that we leave our rivers in a healthier condition for current and future generations.”

Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of CCW, said:

“Increasing transparency around the use of storm overflows is a welcome step but consumers will expect it to result in urgent action where pollution is jeopardising the health of our inland waters and the nature and people that enjoy or depend on them.”

“Radical change to a complex sewer system will take time to deliver but water companies should now be looking to prioritise improvements in rivers and streams where the damage caused by the over dependence on storm overflows is already acute.” 

Christine McGourty, Water UK Chief Executive, said:

“Water companies are passionate about protecting and enhancing our nation’s rivers, and over the next five years we will invest £1.1bn in improving storm overflows as part of our £5bn environment programme. Storm Christoph demonstrates how important overflows are in ensuring that sewers don’t flood at times of very heavy rainfall. Today’s announcement will help ensure that we can continue protecting people’s homes and businesses whatever the weather. 

“We look forward to continuing the close collaboration with Government and other partners to help enhance the health of rivers even further, for the benefit of our customers, communities and the environment.” 

Sewage Emissions Scandal Continues

Sewage Emissions Scandal Continues

Saturday 7th November: A new environmental report released today, by ocean conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), reveals water companies are routinely discharging untreated sewage into UK waters. This is polluting the environment and placing the health of surfers, open water swimmers, bathers, stand-up paddleboarders and other water users at risk.
The Water Quality Report reveals that water companies were responsible for almost 3,000 raw sewage pollution incidents into bathing waters in England and Wales from licensed Combined Sewer Overflows from 1st October 2019 to 30th September 2020, impacting some of the most popular beaches in the country. The report showcases 153 health reports submitted to SAS by water users after falling ill from using the water. Reports included cases of gastroenteritis; ear, nose and throat infections; eye infections and in some cases, long-term health effects. Research by the European Centre for Environment & Human Health has also found that water users have three times the level of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in their gut, highlighting that regular bathers are exposing themselves to bacteria which has become resistant to even the most clinically effective antibiotics. The state of UK water quality is therefore putting water users at an ever increasing risk.
Surfers Against Sewage tracks these discharges with real-time data obtained from water companies and provides pollution alerts from regulators for over 370 beaches through the Safer Seas Service app. Analysis from this reveals that 70% of sewage pollution notifications were issued outside the official Bathing Season. Campaigners are calling for all water companies to provide year-round, real- time sewage discharge notifications to protect the burgeoning perennial swimming, surfing and water sports community.
Etienne Stott, London 2012 Canoe Slalom gold medallist, commented: “As a canoeist, being on the water is a huge part of my life, and like many people, I see rivers and the ocean as precious beyond measure. It’s hugely concerning to read the report and see just how much sewage is being pumped into our waterways, and it’s even more concerning to see that these leaks are going unreported. I’m absolutely committed to this campaign for greater environmental awareness and transparency when it comes to our waters, as everybody should have the chance to safely enjoy the great outdoors”.

Hugo Tagholm, Chief Executive of Surfers Against Sewage, says: “Keeping water users safe from illness due to poor water quality in rivers and the ocean is core to Surfers Against Sewage’s DNA. Polluted waters kickstarted the organisation into action 30 years ago and is an issue that worryingly continues to affect water users today. Everybody should be able to enjoy our oceans and rivers safely, however this report shows that water companies are using these like sewers and consistently putting profit before protecting the planet. This is not only detrimental to our natural environment but it’s putting our health at risk, and this feels particularly horrifying in a year where we are all battling the COVID19 pandemic, a virus that is being tracked through sewage works.”

The report also highlights:The report also highlights:

• Southern Water has failed to issue sewage spill notifications for the majority of 2020 – with 21% of total reports of ill-health submitted from within Southern Water’s boundaries. In comparison to the 690 sewage spill notifications issued by Southern Water in 2019, they only managed to issue 79 alerts this year, stating “notifications should have been sent but frustratingly they weren’t.”

• In addition to sewage discharge notifications, a further 2,642 pollution risk warnings were issued by regulators, indicating coastal pollution from agriculture and urban environments, and a potential risk to public health.

• There are fundamental flaws in the water quality testing regime and Bathing Water classification process. Some of the worst pollution incidents are being wilfully ignored through ‘discounting’ in water quality tests carried out by regulators. As a result, it is suggested that 65 Bathing Waters received higher classifications than they should.

• Despite some water quality progress over the last 30 years, the UK still ranks a woeful 25th out of 30 European countries for Bathing Water quality. Almost 35% of Bathing Waters still need some form of improvement to be elevated to the “excellent” standard.Campaigners are calling for:

• An enhanced water-quality testing regime providing a true picture of the UK’s water quality, testing for emerging viruses and antimicrobial-resistant bacteria as well as accurate real-time water quality information available all-year-round for all UK inland and coastal Bathing Waters

• World-leading water quality legislation with an Environment Bill that exceeds EU water quality standards as well as sewage legislation setting ambitious and legally binding targets to end untreated sewage discharge in all Bathing Waters by 2030. We also need legislation that holds the same standards for both inland and coastal waters

• Nature-based solutions to sewage pollution with increased investment and associated targets for the restoration of natural habitats to reduce pressure on the water systems and help prevent sewer overflows, whilst increasing biodiversity and tackling climate change

• Investment from water companies in sewerage infrastructure to eventually end the use of emergency sewage overflo.

Campaigners will hand in the #EndSewagePollution petition to Secretary of State for the Environment, George Eustice MP, digitally on Tuesday 10th November. The petition represents tens of thousands of voices and cross-sector organisations backed by millions including the Rivers Trust, Outdoor Swimming Society, British Canoeing and the Wildlife & Countryside Link.

The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, which was set for its 2nd reading in the House of Commons on 13th November, has now been pushed back to January 15th 2021 due to the national lockdown. Proposed by the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Philip Dunne MP, the Bill seeks to provide a much needed and essential framework for water industry reform to end sewage pollution, restore England’s rivers and protect water users. Having supported the drafting of the Bill, The #EndSewagePollution coalition is encouraging the public to contact their local MP to support the Bill ahead of the debate.

Lewis Pugh, UN Patron of the Oceans, who wrote the foreword to the Water Quality Report – and who himself became ill after swimming the full length of the River Thames in 2006 – says: “As an endurance swimmer and the UN Patron of the Oceans, this journey has taken me all over the world, from the icy waters of the poles to glacial lakes high in the Himalayas and to many of the world’s great rivers. However, I’ve only swum down four rivers, and for good reason. On each occasion, I became violently sick due to pollution. Two of these rivers were in the UK.”

To find out more about Surfers Against Sewage and the #EndSewagePollution coalition and to take
action visit: