Whether you’re surfing, bodyboarding or bodysurfing the story is the same when it comes down to the grimy issue of sewage, it’s not just a problem here in the UK – but around the globe.

Water quality

One of the major contributors to poor water quality here in the U.K. are combined sewer overflows (C.S.O’s). This is a term used when an excess of human waste and rain water fills the sewage system – once the amount of waste gets to a certain level it is released straight into our rivers and seas (often untreated) which dramatically lowers the quality of the water we bodysurf in.

The reason we use them is because a huge percentage of the U.K.’s sewer system date back to the Victorian age. They were only meant to be used when a heavy storm hits, but are vastly overloaded these days. They were initially intended as a fail safe to stop the streets flooding, but due to the forever growing population of the UK some water companies can’t process the amount of sewage they receive, so they just release it into the sea causing sea users to get waste deep in what effectively diluted sewage.

A combined sewer overflow

A combined sewer overflow

Recent studies show there are roughly 22,200 C.S.O’s around the UK (of which only 22% of them are monitored – by just 12 different water companies). South West Water (S.W.W.)has  22,000 of them, discharging into the rivers and seas and 500 of these directly onto beaches – especially so during heavy rainfall events. This isn’t too good for surfers, bodyboarders or bodysurfers!

The U.K. is not renowned for its hot, dry summers; better known for wet weather – yet there is a continual optimism to get out and about in it – regardless! However, due to the amount of wet weather it gets (and the large population), means that the sewage system in many locations (all around the UK) gets filled far too easily and quickly. As a result of this the C.S.O.’s are used too often, almost as if water companies plan when they’re going to use them. This has a huge effect on the water quality, which in turn has a larger effect on wildlife, public health and the environment.

What can we do to help?

Well there are a few things (which may seem small individually) but if enough people do it, can make a big difference. One of these is to not flush sanitary towels, cotton buds or wet wipes down the toilet. These items get caught on the beaches and sides of rivers when the C.S.O.’s are released having a devastating affect on the environment and wild life. One company “Surfers against Sewage” aims to tackle this growing issue.

Safer Seas Interactive Map

If going out in the U.K. (and there’s been heavy rain recently) do make sure to check out the Safer Seas Interactive Map, to see just how clean the seas really are near you.

However, until things improve (around the world) there’s no getting around the fact that your skin will be covered in a greasy slime every time you return from bodysurfing – you will definitely need a shower!


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