Over 300,000 hours of raw sewage flooded almost 1,200 sewage overflow pipes, discharging in England and Wales’ ecologically critical wildlife habitats last year.
Shockingly, these areas are officially protected under conservation rules, as revealed by Greenpeace‘s Unearthed investigative unit.
The analysis mapped water company data on sewage spills onto protected nature sites, raising serious concerns about environmental protection and the impact on biodiversity.
The investigation found that 1,193 raw sewage overflows occurred within 50 metres of protected areas, resulting in approximately 305,963 hours of sewage spillage.
The River Derwent and Bassenthwaite Lake in the Lake District, and Chichester and Langstone Harbour, both Special Protected Areas (SPAs) and Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance), were among the hardest-hit locations.
Additionally, other water bodies, already at risk from sewage and fertiliser-driven eutrophication, received over 200,000 hours of sewage, according to the report.
A Defra spokesperson told Energy Live News (ELN): “Polluters must pay for their actions – so we are scrapping the cap on civil penalties and have given Ofwat new powers to toughen up rules on dividends so that people’s bills do not reward environmental damage.
“And the Environment Agency (EA) has launched a major criminal investigation into potential non-compliance at wastewater treatment works by water companies.
“Our Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan set strict new targets on water companies and it prioritises action in ecologically important sites – such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) – so overflows in these areas are addressed.”
An EA spokesperson told ELN: “We are unequivocal that polluting our rivers is unacceptable.
“While we have seen a culture shift from the water industry in recent months, this needs to lead to a prolonged change in how they operate and treat the water environment. We continue to play our role by driving up monitoring and transparency to ensure the public can see what is going on, improving the way we regulate the sector through a bigger specialised workforce to focus solely on water companies, and there is an ongoing major criminal investigation into potential non-compliance at wastewater treatment works.
“We will always seek to hold those responsible for environmental harm to account – including through our new powers to deliver penalties that are quicker and easier to enforce, which will act as an important deterrent against criminal behaviour.”