Sewage in UK rivers surges to top of voters’ agenda

Dog walkers have admitted that sewage discharges into rivers will be front of mind when casting a ballot at the local elections next week.

Residents near Winchester, Hampshire, shared concerns about human and animal health while walking along the River Itchen at Shawford, a rare chalk stream which has been damaged by sewage.

Wild swimmer Clare Pinniger, from Alresford, said: “My dog Diggory is a real water baby and we’re just worried about the effects on human and animal health of raw sewage.

“I don’t think there’s a single beach in Hampshire that hasn’t been pumped with raw sewage in the last year.

“I haven’t accepted that’s the norm. It’s been allowed to happen. It’s not alright.”

Events consultant Clare, in her 50s, added: “I’m a keen wild swimmer but you just don’t know what’s been discharged and what you might be exposed to.

“We all realised during the pandemic how important access to clean air and greenery is. It’s important for mental and physical health.”

Water companies released sewage into England’s chalk streams for 14,162 hours last year, an analysis of Environment Agency data showed.

The Daily Express Green Britain Needs You campaign has highlighted the state of the nation’s waterways.

Management director in occupational health Samantha Dalling, 51, from Alresford, said: “I know how important chalk streams are, and how rare they are in terms of the world scale.

“We should be looking after them.

“There’s not one beach in Hampshire that hasn’t had a sewage discharge in the last 12 months – that I find disgusting.”

Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey used the dog walk this week to call for tighter regulation to stop the releasing of sewage into rivers and seas which he branded “a crime against nature”.

He said sewage will be on many people’s minds on May 4 when they “protest” against the Government’s “lack of action”.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “It is wrong to say the Government is doing nothing.

“We listed chalk streams as high priority in the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan which sets out the strictest targets ever on water companies to reduce sewage discharges.

“We are requiring them to deliver the largest infrastructure programme in their history – an estimated £56 billion in capital investment over the next 25 years, driving more improvements.

“Our ambitious Plan for Water also sets out the increased investment, tougher enforcement and tighter regulation needed to clean up our waterways and tackle this issue. We have recently confirmed £1.1 billion in new, accelerated investment to tackle storm overflows.”

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