Kent Wildlife Trust says volunteers were forced to cancel a wildlife survey after Southern Water waste releases into the coast at Margate and Fulsam Rock on November 16-17.
Releases were made from both the short and long sea outfall pipes and pumped into the ocean off the coast of Margate following heavy rainfall.
The Shoresearch survey was due to take place on Friday, November 18 at Fulsam Rock but conservationists at Kent Wildlife Trust had to stand volunteers down after a risk assessment deemed that the sewage discharge would have put them at risk.
The cancellation of the event was disappointing for organiser, Marine Conservationist Sherece Thompson of Kent Wildlife Trust, who said: “There is a huge amount of work that goes into survey days and the data that the volunteers collect and collate is extremely important, however we simply could not risk people’s health and were forced to cancel.
“The sewage discharge resulted in people being advised not to swim in the water with a warning appearing on the ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ app, and I had to consider the health risks if the event had pressed ahead, the worst-case scenario being a volunteer contracting hepatitis if they were to cut themselves whilst in contact with the water.
“This week I have received reports of dead fish washing up on Minnis Bay and I have been told of dogs falling ill after being walked there. To think our beaches are so polluted that we put our health at risk if we use them is devastating, and it will undoubtedly have consequences for the marine life that have no choice but to live there.
“This practice needs to stop and I would ask people to visit our Defend Nature campaign page on our website and write to their local MP, we need laws in place to stop this from happening, so wildlife can thrive.”
Alerts for wastewater releases around Thanet’s coastline were flagged on Southern Water’s Beachbuoy site for November 16-17.
The overflow releases, that may impact water quality, were flagged for Western Undercliff, Ramsgate main sands, Viking Bay, Stone Bay, Joss Bay, Botany Bay, Walpole Bay, Fulsam Rock and Margate main sands.
Initially unverified, outfalls were later confirmed as genuine. The release from Margate was verified as the first this year from the town’s wastewater pumping station.
A Southern Water spokesperson said: “Due to a technical fault on the night of Wednesday 16 November, the pumps at Margate Wastewater Treatment Works briefly stopped working.
“We also experienced extremely heavy rain – 31mm of rain falling in just 12 hours at that location – at the same time, leading to volumes of surface water entering the sewage and drainage system locally.
“The resultant increased flows, made up of up to 95% rainwater, were released throughout storm overflow pipes in order to stop homes, schools and businesses from flooding.
“While storm overflows are permitted by the Environment Agency, we are leading the water industry in finding ways to reduce our reliance on them across our region. This is going to take time and enormous investment – this is why we’re investing £2bn across five years to improve our performance.
“Throughout this incident, we fully engaged with a range of partners including the Environment Agency and Thanet District Council, and would like to apologise to anyone for any concern caused.”
Shoresearch is The Wildlife Trusts’ national citizen science survey of the intertidal shore where the sea meets the land. It’s a good way to explore the local area, learn more about the wildlife found there and add to the understanding of the habitat.
Volunteers are trained to identify and record the wildlife on shores across the UK. The data collected by the project helps experts to monitor sea life and better understand the effects of pollution, climate change and invasive alien species.
Shoresearch data has been key to designating Marine Conservation Zones.
To learn more about the Defend Nature Campaign, visit the Kent Wildlife Trust website.
Kitesurfers Against Sewage
The annual Tide Pirates Down Winder event took place on Sunday (November 20) and has raised more than £1,800 for the Surfers Against Sewage organisation.
The Ramsgate’s Kite Pirates team up with Tide Waterports, which teaches in Pegwell Bay and Minnis Bay, to take on the kitesurf from Whitstable to Margate.
Some 35 people took part, some in ‘sewage’ fancy dress, to complete the challenge.
Organiser Graeme Rolbiecki, from the Kite Pirates, said: “It went very well. It was a bit more difficult to do this year as the wind was behind us, blowing from the west, which makes it difficult to keep the speed up. It is better when there is a north wind.
“It took longer than normal but everybody got it done and there were no accidents or incidents.”
Funds will go to Surfers Against Sewage, which is the primary charity involved with trying to put pressure on the government to clean up Britain’s waterways and coastline.
Graeme says it is a cause close to all the hearts of every kind of watersports enthusiast and conservationist.
He says on the fundraiser page: “We’re hoping this event will both raise cash and more importantly awareness of all the terrible things that are currently happening around our beautiful British coastline because of years of underinvestment and mismanagement by the water companies charged with cleaning and treating our sewage water.”
Storm Overflow Task Force
Southern Water says storm overflow (combined sewer outfalls) releases occur in Margate due to the town’s predominantly combined sewer system, where both wastewater and rain runoff enter the same network. During heavy downpours, rain overloads the system. To avoid homes, businesses, schools and roads flooding, excess water is released into the sea. Releases are around 95% rainwater but have not been fully screened.
The Margate catchment is part of a Storm Overflow Task Force pathfinder project looking at solutions to waste releases. Southern Water is working alongside Kent County Council, Thanet District Council, and residents to improve drainage in the area and drive down the use of storm overflows.
The types of intervention identified in a project report are a mix of innovative and traditional solutions such as removing and slowing the flow of rainwater in the network, making better use of the existing infrastructure, removing impermeable surfaces, creating sustainable drainage in parks, diverting rainwater to the environment, and investing in new assets.
Southern Water has also undertaken flow and manholes surveys. This information will be used to improve the network model for the Margate area. There is also a programme to install some 300 level monitors in the Margate catchment. This will also give more ‘real-time’ data of water levels in the sewers.
Natural solutions include rain gardens, creating tree pits and even realigning road gulleys.