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Shocking sewage overflows show urgent need to go further, faster, on water pollution

31 March 2022

Commenting on sewage overflow figures, which show 372,533 sewage discharges in 2021 polluted our waterways for 2,667,452 hours, and Government measures on sewage pollution announced today, Dr Richard Benwell CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link said:

“These figures show another year of our waterways being choked by sewage pollution. This must change, for our own health as well as that of plants and animals struggling to survive in our polluted waters.

“While moves today to reduce sewage spills are welcome, if the Government is serious about cleaning up our rivers, we need a hard deadline set in law to improve the overall quality of our waters and strong enforcement measures. The Government is suggesting just 38% of storm overflows that harm our most important wildlife sites should be improved by 2030. That’s not ambitious enough if the government is to meet its 2030 legal deadline to halt wildlife’s decline.[1]

“We must halt the most harmful pollution by 2030 and go further, faster to stem the flow of water pollution for people and wildlife.”

Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Blueprint for Water Group is calling for:

  • All water companies to set a target for zero pollution incidents (categories 1, 2 and 3) by 2030, backed up by a legally binding government targets for sewage and for the overall quality of our rivers.
  • At least two inland bathing waters to be designated per water company per year.
  • That the most environmentally harmful Combined Sewer Overflows are decommissioned – not just monitored – within the next round of water company business plans.


Notes to editors:

1. Defra has set of target of 2035 for eliminating the environmental impacts of 3,000 storm overflows affecting the most important protected sites (wildlife sites and sensitive rivers). But such harm must be ended by 2030 at the latest, as it is a vital to achieve the legally binding target to halt of the decline of nature by 2030 that the government has committed to in the Environment Act. Defra estimate that just 38% of high priority overflows will have been improved by 2030, which is too slow to halt the decline of biodiversity by 2030.

  • Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) is the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, bringing together 65 organisations to use their strong joint voice for the protection of nature. Our members campaign to conserve, enhance and access our landscapes, animals, plants, habitats, rivers and seas. Together we have the support of over eight million people in the UK and directly protect over 750,000 hectares of land and 800 miles of coastline.
  • Read more about Blueprint for Water here

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