Swimming in sewage: how can we stop UK water firms dumping human waste in our rivers and seas?

Swimming in sewage: how can we stop UK water firms dumping human waste in our rivers and seas?

Last week, the companies responsible for polluting our waters were once again let off the hook by the government. But the fightback, from swimmers, surfers and environmentalists, is growing

While the global leaders were in Glasgow at Cop26 last week, trying to agree forms of words to convince us they were serious about saving the planet, I was peering into a soupy brook that runs through protected wetland on the north Kent coast. In the past few months, the tidal brook at Long Rock beside the Swalecliffe wastewater treatment plant near Whitstable has become a potent symbol of the battle to enforce that most basic of environmental principles: don’t dump raw human sewage into rivers and seas.

I was standing beside the brook with Andy Turner, a local musician and environmentalist. Most mornings for the past 15 years Hunter has monitored the big skies here for migrating birds that have decided to make a stopover – bramblings and fieldfares this morning – and also the quality of water in the brook. He points out to me the overflow pipes that sometimes feed untreated sewage directly into the stream. “Some days you come down here and it’s fine and you might even see kingfishers or water voles,” he says. “Other times it’s just dead and stinking, this nasty coffee colour.”

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