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Sewage discharged onto Kent coastline including Blue Flag Sheppey and Tankerton beaches

Pollution risk warnings have been issued across the Kent coastline after sewage was discharged onto more than 10 beaches.

Beaches around Sheppey and Whitstable, have all reportedly had storm sewage discharged onto them in the last 48 hours – despite some being of Blue Flag status.

The Sheerness Blue Flag beach on the Isle of Sheppey
The Sheerness Blue Flag beach on the Isle of Sheppey

Coastlines in Herne Bay, Ramsgate, Folkestone, Hythe and Dymchurch are also affected.

According to Surfers Against Sewage, one of the UK’s marine conservation and campaigning charities, swimmers should avoid beaches after the recent weather meant sewage overflow ended up in the sea.

The charity says swimming in these areas could lead to people becoming sick due to bacteria and viruses in the water.

Its online interactive map tracks real-time sewage discharge and pollution risks around the UK.

Today it's been recorded that Sheerness Beach, Minster Leas Beach, Leysdown Beach, Tankerton, Herne Bay and Herne Bay Central beach, Ramsgate Sands, Ramsgate Western Undercliff, Folkestone, Sandgate, Hythe and St Mary's Bay have all been flagged as having sewer overflow discharged at their location within the last two days.

Kent beaches that have had sewage overflow discharged onto them in the last 48-hours. Picture: Surfers Against Sewage
Kent beaches that have had sewage overflow discharged onto them in the last 48-hours. Picture: Surfers Against Sewage

The three Sheppey beaches and Tankerton are currently recognised as Blue Flag beaches.

This means the beach must fully comply with the water quality sampling, there should be no industrial, waste-water or sewage-related discharges affecting the beach area.

However, despite the charity's warning there is no official "do not swim" warning from the local council.

A spokesman for Southern Water explained that Surfers Against Sewage use data from Southern Water's Beachbouy website which can be found here.

He said: “Extreme rain can overwhelm the combined sewer and drainage system which exists in many parts of our region.

A Blue Flag flying over Sheerness beach
A Blue Flag flying over Sheerness beach

"To protect homes, schools and businesses from flooding has led to some overflows – releasing excess water into the sea.

"These discharges are heavily diluted, typically being 95 per cent rainwater.

“We are dedicated to significantly reducing storm overflows and are running innovative pilot schemes across the region to reduce the amount of rainfall entering our combined sewers by 2030.”

Today the Environment published monitoring data for 2022.

This included data from all 10 water and sewerage companies operating in England, with information on the frequency and duration of storm overflow spills.

Tankerton beach, Whitstable
Tankerton beach, Whitstable

While the data shows a 19% reduction in the number of sewage spills nationally - down from 372,533 in 2021 to 301,091 spills in 2022 - this is largely due to last year’s below average rainfall.

The Southern Water data also shows that in 2022 the average number of spills per storm overflow was 17.8, compared to 20.2 in 2021.

The total number of monitored spill events last year was 16,688, compared to 19,077 in 2021.

Last year 0.7 of storm overflows spilled more than 100 times, compared to 2% in 2021 and 19.6% of storm overflows did not spill at all, compared to 18.6% in 2021.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: "Storm overflows are a safety valve designed to release excess storm water from the sewerage system into rivers or the sea during periods of rainfall and/or snowmelt to ensure they are not overwhelmed. Water companies should only do this under strictly permitted conditions."

Herne Bay Pier and Herne Bay beach. Picture: Alan Langley
Herne Bay Pier and Herne Bay beach. Picture: Alan Langley

In response to this Toby Willison, Southern Water’s director of environment and quality, said: “Today’s official Environment Agency data for 2022 shows a fall in overall storm overflow activity and we are already exceeding the government’s expectations for spills per overflow.

"However, we know this still isn’t good enough and are working extremely hard to drive down storm overflows.

“Following the success of small-scale, innovative nature-based and engineering solutions which slow the flow of surface water into our sewer system, we are now looking to roll these out more widely over the next two years.

He added: “Our digital monitors now cover 98.5% of our outfalls, and will hit 100% by this time next year. We will continue to report our progress in a transparent and open way.”

The beach at Ramsgate
The beach at Ramsgate

The Surfers Against Sewage website states that the UK's sewage system is in "a terrible state".

It says: "The UK’s antiquated, outdated sewerage system is in a terrible state.

"It cannot cope with the combined problems of increasing population, urbanisation and climate change.

"In 2021 there were over 370,000 discharges of untreated sewage into UK rivers, totalling over 2.7 million hours of pollution.

"The UK is consistently ranked as one of the worst countries in Europe for water quality."

Singer Feargal Sharkey visited Whitstable as part of a Good Morning Britain investigation, which aired this morning and revealed there were a staggering 202 releases in the town last year.

KentOnline has extensively covered the impact ongoing sewage releases by Southern Water are having on the town's residents, visitors and businesses.

Tankerton Beach, Whitstable. Picture: Paul Amos
Tankerton Beach, Whitstable. Picture: Paul Amos

A spokesman for Keep Britain Tidy and The Blue Flag awards, said: "We at Keep Britain Tidy continue to be concerned about sewage spillages and how they are negatively effecting our rivers and seas by spewing plastics, litter and human waste into the Natural world. We support any action to reverse this degradation.

"The Blue Flag, that Keep Britain Tidy awards for English bathing beaches that have met the standard, is only awarded after applicant beaches have been assessed by Keep Britain Tidy and the water has been tested by the Environment Agency and found to be excellent as defined by the International Blue Flag standard. The tests are carried out prior to the awards being made before the start of the bathing season which runs from May to September.

"The Blue Flag is not be flown currently as it is not applicable outside of the bathing season.

"Outside of the bathing season any sewage events will only affect the awards if evidence is found in the water tests conducted for the standard by the Environment Agency prior to the awards being made.

"Once that award has been made, signage is required on the beach as part of the award that informs the public where any nearby overflow pipes are located and makes it clear that following heavy rain the public are not advised to swim in the sea."

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