Swimmers made ill from UK waters has doubled since 2021

SAS says government must curb behaviour of water companies responsible for “literal shit storm”
01 December 2022 , Steve Smethurst

Reports show increase in recreational water users becoming ill, and growing concern about the UK’s marine environment

More than half of the people who have tried wild swimming or water sports in the UK have experienced sickness after swimming, according to the latest Water Quality Report from marine conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS).

Swimming in contaminated recreational waters has been found to increase the risk of gastroenteritis as well as sinus infections, skin rashes, and conjunctivitis. SAS data shows that in the year to 30 September 2022, 720 water users reported getting ill after entering the water, more than double the amount of reports it received in 2020/21.

The SAS report follows a recent survey of 12,000 people, in which more than half expressed concern about our marine environment. The survey was published by Defra in collaboration with the Ocean Conservation Trust, the Scottish Government and Natural Resources Wales.

Lord Benyon, Minister for Marine said the survey highlighted the “immense value” that the general public places on our marine environment: “As a government we are determined to continue to build on the protective measures we already have in place in our Marine Protected Areas alongside introducing further restrictions on single use plastic.

“We are also championing the goal of protecting 30% of the global ocean by 2030 to help conserve our marine environment that is evidently precious to many.”

Rhian Jardine, Head of Marine Services for Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said that understanding how people perceive and value the seas around Wales was “critical” to improving their management, which varied from “protecting and restoring important biodiversity to maximising the wider benefits of resilient coasts and seas to our health and well-being”.

Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change, Welsh Government added that the Defra survey results would “feed directly into the work of the Wales Coasts and Seas Partnership, which highlights ocean literacy as a priority to improve how we manage and use our coasts and seas in Wales.”

Nicola Bridge, Head of Advocacy and Engagement at the Ocean Conservation Trust agreed that the survey results would be an “important tool” in shaping public engagement and education programmes. “It is a great baseline for us to work from,” she said.

“The government is complicit in the sewage scandal, failing to enforce and strengthen regulations to protect the health of the UK’s waterways – and the health of its citizens.

However, Amy Slack, Head of Campaigns and Policy at SAS, was underwhelmed by the rhetoric. She said: The UK public has made clear its disgust at what’s happening to our rivers and seas, and yet water companies continue to pollute at will.

“The government is complicit in the sewage scandal, failing to enforce and strengthen regulations to protect the health of the UK’s waterways – and the health of its citizens.Politicians are simply kicking the can down the road, legitimising sewage pollution for the next 27 years through the sewage action plan published this summer.

“It’s time the government took real action to curb the destructive and selfish behaviour of the water companies responsible for this literal shit storm.” 

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