Southern Water named among water companies that "flooded" UK wildlife habitats with sewage last year by Greenpeace

New data has revealed that some of the country’s most sensistive wildlife habitats were flooded with sewage for more than 300,000 hours last year.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Almost 1,200 sewage overflow pipes discharged in England and Wales’ habitats – which are supposed to be officially protected under conservation rules - for over 300,000 hours last year. This includes 33,939 hours by Southern Water, 12,981 hours by Wessex Water, and 589 hours by Thames Water.

Greenpeace’s investigative unit Unearthed mapped water company data on sewage spills in 2022 onto maps of England and Wales’ Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Special Area of Conservation (SACs), Special Protected Area (SPAs) and Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance) to identify every pipe that discharged within 50m of a protected nature site - Defra’s own definition of a “high priority” discharge site.

Langstone Harbour was among the areas impacted.Langstone Harbour was among the areas impacted.
Langstone Harbour was among the areas impacted.
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Chichester and Langstone Harbour, an SPA and Ramsar site, received over 3,200 hours of sewage. A university study found over 50 chemicals and e.coli bacteria at 760 times the EU’s safe levels after sewage releases.

Megan Corton Scott, Political Campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “These are the casualty figures from a war which nature is losing, badly. Private water companies treat our countryside as a toilet, and their vandalism doesn’t stop at some of our most sensitive conservation areas.

"Beloved lakes, beaches and rivers, rare wildlife habitats, sites of special scientific interest are being sacrificed so water company bosses and shareholders can continue to reap huge profits. The idea that the sewage industry could be shamed into doing the right thing has been tried and failed - nothing matters to them except profit.

"The only way to force them to clear up their mess is to make all of their dividends and bonuses dependent on actual results. Instead of long-term targets and empty threats, ministers should actually force the water companies to do the job we pay them for, starting now.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In 2021, Southern Water was fined £90m after pumping 16bn-21bn litres of untreated sewage into delicate ecosystems including the Solent. Earlier this year, the water company joined other members of Water UK in apologising for a lack of preventative action and outlined a commitment ‘to put things right’ with a promise to invest £10bn in sewage infastructure between 2025 and 2030.

Nick Mills, Head of Southern Water’s Clean Rivers and Seas Task Force, said: “We share our communities’ passion for the environment and we work very closely with the Environment Agency, who assess outfalls for environmental risk potential, and we ensure our stormwater outfalls comply with strict permits and are located and managed appropriately.

“These stormwater outfalls are used when the system is overloaded with surface and groundwater, so homes, schools, hospitals, and communities are not flooded. Furthermore, such discharges are heavily diluted with rainwater.

“We have prioritised sensitivity of watercourses when rolling out Event Duration Monitors (EDM) which are now at almost 100 per cent coverage.

“We are working extremely hard and investing heavily to reduce their use across our region and are already exceeding the government’s own reduction targets.”