Surfers Against Sewage will hold a protest march to highlight poor water quality in Cullercoats Bay
Hundreds of surfers, paddle boarders and swimmers are expected to descend on Cullercoats Bay on April 23 to highlight the region’s poor water quality.
The protest is one of 11 taking place across the UK aiming to end waste water pollution by 2030 and targeting different regional water companies. Surfers Against Sewage North Tyneside have decided to shine the spotlight on Cullercoats Bay as it is currently the only beach in the borough which does not hold the prestigious Blue Flag.
Organizers expect around 200 people to take part in the St George’s Day event which will see participants meet at the Collingwood monument overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne before marching to Cullercoats to protest Northumbrian water.
Read more: Northumbrian Water pays £165,000 for environmental damage after 2018 pollution incident
While admitting the utility company is “pretty good” compared to others in the UK, Surfers Against Sewage regional representative Andrew Riley said it had been a few years since Cullercoats Bay won for the last time a prestigious blue flag. Given the recent boom in sea swimming and watersports following the Covid lockdowns, Mr Riley said: ‘We want Northumbrian Water to do more and faster.
He added: ‘Cullercoats has become a bathing center on the North Tyneside coast but the water quality is the worst so we have a position where more and more people are using it but the quality of the water does not improve.
“The nationwide protests aim to call on all water companies to end sewage pollution by 2030, and we are using the local Cullercoats issue to highlight this. There have been five sewage discharges in the off Tynemouth last year. That’s five more than we want. I was probably in the water for one of them. That to me is unacceptable in 2022.
“We want Cullercoats to reclaim its blue flag so that water quality can be demonstrated to be at the level where it is safe for water users.”
Since 2017, North Tyneside Council, Northumbrian Water and the Environment Agency have been working together to determine why Cullercoats Bay’s water quality has deteriorated.
Contaminated groundwater rather than sewage is thought to be the likely cause. During this period, Northumbrian Water made improvements to its network as well as local government assets and also corrected some home connection issues.
Water sampling is carried out regularly and Northumbrian Water is investigating the possibility of diverting water from a municipal culvert to its own system. A spokesperson for Northumbrian Water said: “We share the passion for our North East coastline demonstrated by campaigners and our customers, and the fact that 32 of the 34 bathing waters in our region meet the two highest standards of Defra is a really positive indicator of water quality along our beaches.
“Over the past two decades, we have seen dramatic improvements, reflecting our industry-leading pollution performance, and we are committed to playing our part, alongside our partners and others whose businesses have an impact on bathing water quality, to ensure such high standards are achieved and maintained.
But Mr Riley said: ‘We appreciate that they have worked around Cullercoats and are investigating it, but we want them to do more and faster. As kayakers and surfers, we want to be reassured that we are using waters at the minimum level.
“We’re not anti-Northumbrian Water, but we’re anti-sewage and anti-pollution and what we’re asking them to do is keep doing what they’re doing, but do more and do it faster. They are truly avid water lovers and beach users who just want Cullercoats to get their blue flag back and are frustrated with the pace of change.
Mr Riley said the irony is that Cullercoats Bay is one of the safest places to swim along the North Tyneside coast. “I swim in King Edward’s Bay, surf regularly and also paddle board and kayak. I love the ocean. I have a 10 year old who is the same but I am not taking my 10 year old to Cullercoats.
According to Surfers Against Sewage nationwide, in 2020 alone, sewage was released into the environment more than 400,000 times, which equates to more than 3.1 million hours of discharge. Only 14% of UK rivers meet ‘good environmental status’ under the EU’s Water Framework Directive. And the UK is ranked last in Europe for bathing water quality.
The April 23 protests are being touted by the environmental charity as the biggest day of action on water quality the UK has seen.
Do you think campaign groups should put pressure on UK water companies to tackle waste water pollution? Have your say in the comments below.