Living right on top of the sea certainly has its perks. Sure, there are hordes of evil seagulls to contend with, but being able to take a dip in the English Channel whenever the mood takes you is something truly great. It is pretty horrific, then, to find out that Southern Water has been dumping raw sewage into our coastal waters. Roughly 21 billion litres of raw sewage has been released along the Brighton coastline over the last 12 months – and all the council has done to challenge this is charge Southern Water with a meagre fine, despite Southern pleading guilty to 6,971 cases of unpermitted sewage discharges. This follows Southern’s 51 guilty pleas to widespread and long term breaches of environmental law by Southern Water between 2010 and 2015. Clearly the current system is not getting us anywhere! No one wants to be swimming in shit-infested water, so some local Brighton heroes took up the case, and are trying to plug up Southern Water’s sewage dumping plans once and for all.
South Coast Sirens (SCS) was set up by sea users in and around Brighton earlier this year, in response to serious health & safety implications of the continued sewage releases for humans and marine life Their end goal is to stop sewage releases into the sea all around the South Coast, to get Southern Water to commit to stopping sewage outlets, and invest in upgrades to their out-dated system. The SCS group was founded in late 2020 and has started to independently test how clean local bathing waters are, and to monitor the frequency of raw sewage spillages into our seas by Southern Water.
Southern Water self-reports on their sewage spillages on their website which suggests that spillages only occur in stormy weather conditions – checkout Beachbuoy
“Southern Water get more affluent, and we get more effluent, and that stinks!” – Lorelei Mathias, South Coast Sirens
However, after swimmers experiencing sewage spills in dry weather conditions and after Ofwat’s 2017 finding that Southern Water’s data was unreliable, regular sea swimmers and locals decided to check the facts for themselves. South Coast Sirens was born.
“A really big point of our campaign is to raise awareness… especially to Brighton council because it’s a really big thing affecting tourism. All this publicity about shit being dumped in the sea – it’s going to put tourists off enormously, so we are really asking for their attention… We had one idea which was talking to local universities and trying to get graduates and PhD students who might have a research interest in infrastructure and engineering, and asking: is there any way we can get brains together to try and help Southern, not just to criticize them, but actually support them? Because [giving them fines] shouldn’t be the only solution! That’s where we are coming from: awareness raising of the problem and making people as angry as we are, but also helping to test the water to provide proof that it’s happening, and then also trying to collaborate with them as well. That’s a really key point!”- Lorelei Mathias, South Coast Sirens
On 6th August 2021the South Coast Sirens announced that they had met their first milestone in campaigning for clean bathing water along the South Coast. Independent sea-water quality testing will now begin in the Brighton area, thanks to generous local support for South Coast Sirens’ crowdfunding appeal. These tests are intended to supplement the testing carried out by the Environment Agency during the summer bathing season and to make sure that it is seawater and not sewage water that locals and tourists are swimming in. Each test cost £20 so the more funds raised, the more testing can be done.
“After just a few short weeks, SCS has exceeded its initial target of £1000 and we would like to send a huge thank you to SCS supporters who have already donated over £1300 so that water testing can begin. A new target of £2000 has been set so please spread the word about SCS’s campaign.” – Libby Darling, South Coast Sirens
“These days Southern are really taking the pee. As they get more affluent, we get more effluent! The sea should be safe and accessible, all year round. On behalf of all the sea-users in Brighton and beyond… we’re begging Southern to please invest some of their profit into urgent upgrades to their infrastructure – so we’re not all literally swimming in sewage. If they don’t heed the sirens’ cries, there are rumours of a Buoycott! – Lorelei Mathias, South Coast Sirens
The next step is getting the law changed to allow more accountability, and encourage Southern to invest in upgrading the Victorian infrastructure to stop these leaks happening now. More recently, South Coast Sirens and other action groups (Hayling Island Sewage Watch, SOS Whitstable, Seaford and Brighton & Hove Surfers Against Sewage) joined up along the coast on the weekend of October 8th for the Sh*t Down Protest’ & Photo call on Brighton Beach. The protest involved sitting on the beach on ceramic toilet bowls as a visual reminder of the raw sewage spewed in our coastal waters. Protest songs ‘Under the Pee’ (a campaign film to raise awareness of the sewage problem by cause-powered collective MelonComedy.com), ‘I do like to be beside the Wee-side’ and ‘Sh*tting on the Dock of the Bay’ could be heard all along the coast, all in aid of the demands that the sewage dumping threatening our health and wildlife stops – and that Southern Water invests now in the infrastructure needed to treat raw sewage volumes today.
It used to be better where it’s wetter, but water companies have dumped raw sewage 3000 times – rain or shine. They’re taking the piss, and we’re asking them to invest profits into upgrading their systems so we can swim in safe clean water.
We are the swimmers and sea-birds… please stop dumping sea-turds… – Under the Pee by local Brightonian Creatives Lorelei Mathias & Phil Johnstone Melon Comedy
“We thought it was a huge success, we had 30 to 40 people come down to our city beach to demonstrate against the water company, Southern Water, who on a regular basis are discharging raw sewage into the ocean. The reason why it’s important is because raw sewage can kill you – ultimately – there was a case in 2000 where a young girl on the beach in Dawlish, Devon, died from e.coli poisoning, so.. It kills people, it makes people very sick. There are a lot of our members, swimmers, who get really ill quite often from the waters. It needs to stop! The water company has been negligent in the past, and will continue – especially as the MPs have now kicked out the tougher water regulation proposals that were put forward by Surfers Against Sewage, and the House of Lords. The Conservative Government have chosen not to adopt them so that’s why we are doing this – and why we are going to keep on campaigning, We are going to get bigger and bolder!” – Stu Davis, Surfers Against Sewage
Nobody wants to be neck-deep in shit, so having these groups that are willing to fight for our ability to swim in safe, clean water is essential. However, the activism that the South Coast Sirens, Surfers Against Sewage and other groups are undertaking is but one method of inciting change – their efforts can be aided by the general public in many ways. Whether that be joining up with these movements or writing to the council or Southern Water, all action, no matter how small, can help the fight for our coastline.
Join the cause!
South Coast Sirens and Surfer’s Against Sewage both have thriving Facebook community pages, with up to date information on ongoing sewage dumping, regular meet-ups and all the information you need to join your voice to support theirs.