England’s dirtiest beaches that swimmers should avoid have been revealed in time for the Easter break.
Four of the five worst-affected beaches are in the south-west county of Devon – a popular tourist destination and the only county with two coastlines.
New analysis shows that water companies dumped sewage on to English Blue Flag beaches more than 1,500 times in 2022.
The dumping took place over 8,497 hours on beaches marked as safe and environmentally friendly, raising fresh concern for swimmers and beach-goers.
Here, MailOnline reveals the popular beaches that wild swimmers should avoid this Easter bank holiday weekend.
New analysis shows that water companies dumped sewage on to English Blue Flag beaches more than 1,500 times in 2022
Blackpool Sands, in Devon, was the Blue Flag beach worst affected by the dumping and more than 1,000 hours – 42 days – of sewage was released there in 2022
Blackpool Sands in Devon saw more than 1,000 hours of sewage discharge across 63 dumpings and is the worst offender on the list.
The ‘safe’ swimming beaches that had sewage dumped on them in 2022
|Beach||County||Hours of spills||Number of spills|
|Dovercourt Bay Beach||Essex||15.75||21|
|East Runton Beach||Norfolk||0.33||2|
|Long Sands Beach||Tyne and Wear||0.26||3|
|Mablethorpe Town Beach||Lincolnshire||3.97||4|
|Saltburn Beach||North Yorkshire||144.45||55|
|Sandown Beach||Isle of Wight||1972.11||161|
|Scarborough North Bay Beach||Yorkshire||223.36||112|
|Seaburn Beach||Tyne and Wear||38.25||13|
|Shore Road Beach||Dorset||192.42||28|
|Sidmouth Town Beach||Devon||631.27||59|
|St Leonards Beach||Sussex||13.3||13|
|Swanage Central Beach||Dorset||43.06||29|
|Torre Abbey Beach||Devon||192.61||27|
|Trevone Bay Beach||Cornwall||296.74||16|
|West Runton Beach||Norfolk||38.77||17|
|Westward Ho! Beach||Devon||4.9||8|
|Whitby Sands||North Yorkshire||0.18||1|
|Whitley Bay Beach||Tyne and Wear||54.44||36|
|Widemouth Sands Beach||Cornwall||22.62||33|
The other most affected beaches include the sheltered cove of Meadfoot Beach, in Torquay, Sidmouth Beach and Exmouth Beach, all in Devon.
Devon has more than 35million visitors a year, bringing £1.4billion to the region.
The only beach in the top five not to be found in Devon is Beachlands Beach, in Hampshire, which came in at third, figures from the Environmental Agency analysed by the Liberal Democrats show.
Other tourist hotspots, including Brighton Beach in Sussex which saw 45 discharges lasting 107 hours in total, saw significant sewage spills.
In Eastbourne, there were 77 sewage discharges lasting more than 450 hours last year.
Peter Feehan, a 22-year-old computing apprentice who grew up near the Devon beaches, said the dumping was ‘very bad’ and that it was ‘really upsetting to see the beaches I grew up around soiled’.
Sean MacIver, 22, another Devon local, said it was a ‘shame’ that water firms ‘don’t have the proper procedures to prevent or reduce such spillages’.
It comes as Therese Coffey announced the Government’s Plan For Water in a speech on Tuesday.
The Environment Secretary said it was ‘completely unacceptable’ that sewage was being dumped into waterways but that the problem could not be solved ‘overnight’.
She added: ‘Clearly the penalties that have been deployed so far… have not been a sufficient deterrence for poor performance.’
The Government wants to see more investment from water companies, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement for those who pollute.
It also includes a consultation on a ban of plastic in wet wipes and restrictions on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foam, textiles, cleaning products, paints and varnishes.
The substances are used in non-stick coatings for cooking pans.
Fines for releasing untreated sewage would be reinvested into a new Water Restoration Fund which the Government said would support local groups and community-led schemes to clean up waterways.
The Government also wants to encourage water companies to install more smart meters in households to reduce water demand and help rare chalk stream habitats with a £1million fund.
Water companies are allowed to release sewage into waterways in the event of storm overflows.
A Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs spokesman said they were working with the Environment Agency to crack down on polluting water companies.
‘We have put in place the strictest ever targets, and introduced the largest infrastructure programme in their history – an estimated £56billion in capital investment over the next 25 years.
‘We continue to strengthen monitoring of sewage spills and, under our Plan for Water, have today launched a consultation on issuing unlimited penalties to water companies for damaging the environment.’
A recent parliamentary question revealed Southern Water, the regional water company for Sussex, breached sewage permits 195 times in 2022, compared to 118 times in 2021.
Water company bosses have raked in £51million in the last two years.
Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said Britain’s beaches were being ‘ruined’ by ‘profiteering’ water companies and accused the Government of failing to act.
‘Whilst these firms have been raking in multi-billion pound profits, people have been left to swim in raw sewage. The whole thing stinks.
‘Therese Coffey has had six months in the job and failed to take any meaningful action on these companies.
‘It is clear she simply doesn’t care about our country’s rivers and seas and should therefore resign or be sacked. What is the point of an Environment Secretary who doesn’t care about the environment?
‘Conservative MPs have shown time and again that they couldn’t care less about our rivers and coastlines. This Government is as guilty as the water companies in allowing this national nature scandal.’
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat spokesman for the environment, said last week that Coffey should resign over sewage statistics.
Last night it was revealed water firms dumped sewage on England’s cleanest beaches more than 1,500 times last year.
The other most affected beaches include Meadfoot Beach, in Torquay, Sidmouth Beach and Exmouth Beach, which are all in the southwest county of Devon
Meadfoot Beach on the English Rivera in Torbay. The secluded spot is a popular place for sea swimming, despite the sewage dumping
Meadfoot Beach was also in the top five of most affected beaches, where sewage was dumped for 946 hours in 2022
Toby Willison, Southern Water’s Director of Environment and Quality, said the data showed a fall in overall storm overflow releases and that the firm was ‘already exceeding’ government expectations.
He added that the water company is looking to roll out more ‘small-scale, innovative nature-based and engineering solutions which slow the flow of surface water’ over the next two years.
‘Larger construction projects have also made a big difference, including a new 11km sewer pipe in Brighton, which along with two associated pumping stations and a wastewater treatment works, ensures that the 95million litres of wastewater from Brighton and the surrounding areas is fully treated.
Sidmouth sea front, with the red cliffs of the Jurassic Coast in Devon. Sidmouth was one of the most affected Blue Flag beaches
Sidmouth pictured from the top of the cliffs. The small Devon town welcomes tens of thousands of visitors every year and was had one of the strongest post-Covid recoveries in the region
Exmouth beach in May 2020. The popular RNLI-protested location is a favourite of tourists and locals and featured in BBC continuity announcements
Bays in England with a Blue Flag mark – an international award recognising the finest stretches of coastline – were soiled for nearly 8,500 hours in total. Pictured: protester against sewage in Newquay, Cornwall, 2022
‘Our digital monitors now cover 98.5 per cent of our outfalls, and will hit 100 per cent by this time next year. We will continue to report our progress in a transparent and open way.’
Labour’s shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said on Monday: ‘This announcement is nothing more than a shuffling of the deck chairs and a reheating of old, failed measures that simply give the green light for sewage dumping to continue for decades to come.
‘This is the third sham of a Tory water plan since the summer. There’s nothing in it that tells us how, if or when they will end the Tory sewage scandal.’