Over 300,000 hours of sewage spills hit England and Wales’ most protected habitats last year - Unearthed

Graphic: Aman Bhargava / Revisual Labs
Graphic: Aman Bhargava / Revisual Labs

Beauty spots of global ecological importance are among the hundreds of sewage outflow sites, data analysis shows

Sewage poured into England and Wales’ most-precious conservation sites for more than 300,000 hours in 2022, an Unearthed investigation has found.

Using mapping analysis, Unearthed identified almost 1,200 sewage overflows that discharged in or close to internationally important habitats last year, all of which are supposed to be protected by formal conservation regimes.

The protected nature sites most heavily hit with sewage spills last year included some of the UK’s most loved and well-known beauty spots, from the south west coast to the Lake District, to Wales’ Brecon Beacons national park.

Protected areas, which include sites of special scientific interests (SSSIs) or special areas of conservation (SACs), are singled out for conservation because they are home to internationally prized, rare, or threatened species and habitats.

Under the government’s plan for tackling England’s sewage crisis, the overflows spilling into these valuable ecosystems have been identified as “high priority” – meaning they are among the pipes where action is most urgently needed.

However, the department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) has never revealed where these sites are.

Water companies contacted by Unearthed said the overflows were licensed by the Environment Agency, England’s environmental regulator, to release waters after heavy rains, reducing pressure on the sewer network and protecting homes from flooding. This meant they discharged a mixture of rainwater, groundwater, and sewage.

However, the water companies emphasised they were committed to reducing their use of storm overflows, and some acknowledged that these discharges were “no longer acceptable”.

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Posted On: 02/08/2023

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