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Shocking new data published by the Environment Agency today shows that South West Water was responsible for discharging 42,484 sewage spills in 2021. This was an increase of 431 discharges compared to 2020.

South West Water is the privatised water and sewage company in the South West of the UK covering the North Devon World Surfing Reserve as well as other areas of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset.

The figures for 2021 for the whole area show a staggering 351,785 hours of sewage flowed into our beautiful surfing ecosystem in the south west in 2021.

The data was published as the Government announced a consultation on actions that need to be taken to stop the sewage scandal. Their proposed targets for 2035 and 2040 have been criticised by campaigners for being far too slow.

Surfers Against Sewage - a Member of the Local Stewardship Council which guides the North Devon World Surfing Reserve - is leading the campaign to end the great sewage scandal affecting the North Devon World Surfing Reserve and coastlines around the UK.

Surfers Against Sewage CEO, Hugo Tagholm said: “The level of public outrage on the sewage pollution scandal continues to grow by the day, yet we’re seeing a consultation today that provides us with targets and timeframes decades away. The water industry must surely be forced to act faster, with a greater urgency to tackle their woeful pollution record that is contributing to the destruction of our rivers and coastline.”

The North Devon World Surfing Reserve plans to respond to the Government consultation by calling on the Government and our local MP to apply pressure and penalties NOW rather than wait for 2040. It is important to force water companies – including South West Water - to act with the pace, scale and ambition required to restore our waters and end the sewage pollution crisis once and for all.

Whilst the beaches in the reserve are some of the best in the south west, there are still significant improvements that can be made to ensure that they carry the highest ‘Excellent’ standard, as set out within the Bathing Water Classifications. The Stewardship Council believes that beaches throughout the reserve should aspire to and always maintain the highest level of water quality, and be protected from both sewage effluent and diffuse pollution from local agriculture. Croyde Bay currently carries a Good classification, below the top level it rightly deserves.

South West Water has a history of polluting the coastline which has angered North Devon surfers for a long time. A recent article in the Financial Times said “Last year the Environment Agency hit South West Water with the lowest environmental rating of the nine large privatised sewage and water companies in England and Wales. The regulator singled out the regional monopoly for poor performance, saying in 2020 it had been “consistently unacceptable” for the 10th year in a row”.

Hugo Tagholm adds: “The consultation must also focus on redirecting executive pay and shareholder dividends into protecting our rivers and seas. Water companies must be stopped from harvesting vast profits whilst sowing pollution at will.”

The table below from Surfers Against Sewage ranks South West Water as the worst environmental performer between 2016 and 2020, scoring only 10 out of 20:

Surfers Against Sewage is coordinating a day of protest on April 23rd targeting each water company and calling for:

  1. Stronger and bolder targets to end untreated sewage discharge

  2. An enhanced testing regime which shows a true picture of the UKs water quality in real time

  3. Nature restoration to reduce pressure & minimise impacts on sewage infrastructure 4

  4. Increased investment from industry in infrastructure to prevent destructive practices

Check out the SAS website for more information:

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