‘We’ve had enough’: campaigners descend on Kent beach protesting against sewage spills by Southern Water

Sewage campaigners descend on UK beach in protest. (Photo: Getty Images)
Sewage campaigners descend on UK beach in protest. (Photo: Getty Images)

Campaigners fighting for an end to sewage pollution in UK rivers and seas are protesting in North Kent today (Saturday 23 September).

The protest is due to begin at 3pm on the slopes of Tankerton beach in Whitstable, hosted by campaign group SOS Whitstable.

The group says the seaside town suffered more sewage releases than any other location in Kent last year and as of 10 September 2023 the group also discovered 591 hours of sewage has been washed up in the sea over 160 separate times.

Campaigners today will be joined by guest speakers and supporters including singer Feargal Sharkey, comedian Paul Whitehouse, boxer Barry McGuigan alongside environmental and public ownership activists.

The group wants to see tougher punishments for offending water companies and wants to tell Southern Water “we have had enough of sewage pollution”.

On its website the campaign group said: “We do not feel that Southern Water are going far enough or moving fast enough in their efforts to solve this issue, which continues to harm local businesses, damage the environment and, with recent water tests showing high levels of E. Coli after releases, place public health at risk.

“Things have to change.”

Last year, a protest hosted by SOS Whitstable on Whitstable beach attracted more than 2,000 demonstrators.

Whitstable is one of Southern Water’s six project areas to look at solutions of storm overflows, with a number of interventions underway aiming to cut them by 20 per cent by 2025.

Southern Water’s head of clean rivers and seas task force, Dr Nick Mills, said Whitstable was at the “forefront” of work being done to cut the use of storm overflow for example through installing sustainable drainage schemes like tree pits and rain gardens and a £25 million upgrade to Swalecliffe Wastewater Treatment Works.

Storm overflows are designed to release excess water when heavy rain puts pressure on sewer networks which could lead to flooding.

But it has been found that water companies are discharging sewage illegally during dry weather, which is against their permits.

A recent BBC investigation found that Thames Water, Wessex Water and Southern Water are engaging in “dry spilling”.

It was found that Southern Water illegally released sewage at 25 sites across its area last year for a total of nearly 800 hours.

John Penicud, head of wastewater at Southern Water said ‘dry spills’ “are a complex issue” as “water is a powerful force of nature”.

Josh Harris, Head of Communications at environmental group Surfers Against Sewage, told NationalWorld that the reputation of water companies is “sinking lower and lower” and they “must immediately be investigated by the authorities.”