Thanet groups stage protest over sewage releases as part of national day of action

Protest at Viking Bay
Protest at Viking Bay photo Fi O'Connor

Forty-one paddlers and swimmers have taken to the water at Viking Bay to protest against Southern Water releasing sewage into the sea and rivers.

Surfers Against Sewage organised a national day of action to highlight the continued threat to seas, rivers and lakes. Members of Save our Seas Ramsgate, Rise Up Clean Up Margate, Thanet Friends of the Earth and Plastic Free Thanet joined the protest.

Protest at Viking Bay
Photo Nik Mitchell

Green Party Parliamentary candidate for East Thanet Steve Roberts, who was at the protest, said: “It is a disgrace that Southern Water regularly dumps sewage into our seas. This takes away our right to swim in the sea and damages our reputation as a holiday destination.

Photo Dominic Rose

“The Green Party would bring water companies back into public ownership so that profit currently been given out to shareholders would be invested in updating infrastructure.”

Photo Fi O’Connor

Surfers Against Sewage say: “With an upcoming general election happening in the same year water companies are setting out their investment plans, 2024 is the year to turn the tide on the sewage scandal.”

Photo Jo Bright

Polly Billington, Labour’s candidate to be MP for East Thanet, also joined the paddle out. She said: “I will make tackling the sewage scandal one of my top priorities as MP for East Thanet because it impacts all of us.

“Filthy water isn’t just an environmental issue: it’s a health and economic issue too. Local businesses tell me it is affecting their livelihoods here in Thanet. That is why a future Labour government will make the water bosses face criminal charges if they fail to tackle sewage dumping, block their bonuses until they clean up their filth and impose fines they cannot ignore.

“It’s clear Thanet  residents care as so many attended today: now we need a government that will act.”

Photo Dominic Rose

Nationally, Environment Agency data shows there were 3.6 million hours of spills in 2023, compared to 1.75 million hours in 2022. Southern Water sewage spills lasted for a total of 317,285 hours in 2023.

Protest at Viking Bay
Photo Nik Mitchell

Last July releases from two outfall pipes in Margate affected six Thanet beaches – Margate, Fulsam Rock, Walpole Bay, Botany Bay, Joss Bay and Stone Bay.

Environment Agency pollution alerts were also issued several times for Viking Bay in July and August.

Photo John Horton

Storm overflow (combined sewer outfalls) releases occur due to the 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.

Protest at Viking Bay
Photo Nik Mitchell

Southern Water says: “In Kent, we have spent £276 million in four years on major waste and water improvement projects – including £30m on increasing stormwater storage at 16 sites to reduce our use of storm overflows during heavy rainfall- and have allocated a further £151 million of spending by this time next year.

“That would take overall spend in the county to £427 million in just five years. Meanwhile, across the region that five-year figure is likely to surpass £1.5 billion.”

Inside the Margate Wastewater Pumping station

Last month a £10.8 million project to renovate Margate Pumping Station was completed.

The works included an overhaul of screening equipment, boosts to electronic control systems, and the replacement of machinery reaching the end of life – including huge 40-year-old Archimedes Screw pumps.


  1. I never drink unboiled tap water or swim in the sea now. Cryptosporidium sounds awful & i don’t want to risk what has happened in Devon thanks.

  2. Why would anyone want to go in the sea around thanet, you will catch some kind of disgusting ailment, the government need to be taken to court for incompetence. They do not do enough to make the water companies, repair underground leaks or prevent sewage being expelled just feet from swimmers, surfers,children in the water. Disgraceful by all involved, if the government had a genuine deterrent and enforced it, the water firms would have to do something or perhaps be paying fines which cannot be forward to customers for decades. Government are too soft and the water companies don’t care because they know they will get away with it or forward the cost of improving to the customers, so their share holders do not suffer.

    • I have been swimming in the sea here, at Ramsgate Main Sands, every summer for several years. On most days in summer, there is no sewage outfall, and it’s all right to swim.

  3. No. Luck doesn’t come into it.
    In event of a spill, notices are put up on beach access routes, and such events are published in (for example) the IoTN

  4. If the idiots stopped voting for a Tory government, this would stop. The water companies have been permitted by the government to carry on dumping sewage because they can’t get the chemicals to treat it, thanks to Brexit.
    Well done all those that voted for it.

    • Well I voted for BREXIT and proud of it! Stopped live animal exports didn’t it! As for not being able to get chemicals because of Brexit your proof of that?

      • Well Laurence you have been conned by the greatest con man produced in the UK for decades, one Boris Johnson! Just what benefits have we received from leaving the EU, name one! Its been six years since our Chocolate Tea pot MP for South Thanet promised the gullible that if we left the EU we could stop live animal exports, well thats still waiting to happen, although a new law is promised but in the meantime live animals are still being exported. Duuurh!

        • Oh do catch up! The Animal Welfare (Live Exports) Bill passed its final stage of its parliamentary journey last week when on 14th May the House of Lords voted in favour and it will now go for Royal Assent!

          • Maybe Lawrence, but when will it be implemented? Like all laws they must be enforced, and funded, although many depend on a charity, like the RSPCA who are not a branch of the police, and who have their own policies as to who or what to prosecute!

          • If I may repeat myself, which in this case I doubt Lawrence, when will this new law be implemented? Like all laws they must be enforced, and funded, although many depend on a charity, like the RSPCA who are not a branch of the police, and who have their own policies as to who or what to prosecute!

  5. Unless the water company CEOs and politicians feel the threat of true violence and accountability, this type of protest will just be ignored. Nationalise without compensation, and imprison the executives.

  6. The margate treament station and longsesa outfall at north foreland was built arounf 1986 and commissioned in 1988. Before then the sewage was dumped from discharge pipes that went only a 100 yards of so beyond the low water mark and the flow wasn’t controlled as it is with the main station with a moon clock.
    So the water is still much cleaner than it was before ‘88, but in those days no one complained endlessly about a gippy stomach and the triggering sight of a piece of faecal matter or sanitary product ( the later shouldn’t ne flushed anyway)
    Questions should be asked as to where the infrastucture charges levied on the new builds has gone and what it produced in terms of additional capacity.
    How about ending the subsidy we all pay in our bills to cover the bills of those who don’t , make them pay and put the money into new capacity, that’d be a billion a year to start with.
    How many homes have been buit in thanet since then? Has there been an estimate for a new outfall and station?

    • It is a good idea to look at our water bills and see if we’re being asked to pay for maintenance of a water system that does not seem fit for purpose. Many people did agitate about sewage in the sea in the 1970s and 1980s ( I remember the ‘Surfing Turd’ protests at Bondi Beach , Sydney, in the 1970s). I spoke to a man who has been campaigning for water quality and against untreated sewage release , in England, since the 1970s – he was out protesting with us yesterday, too. Maybe those early protests led to our current level of knowledge about sewage release?

  7. Really good to see this event. I’m a bit annoyed at Polly Billington, she dipped in, got out, had a long chat in front of camera and left.
    She says ” That is why a future Labour government will make the water bosses face criminal charges if they fail to tackle sewage dumping, block their bonuses until they clean up their filth and impose fines they cannot ignore.”
    But this makes no sense. Labour were going to bring tackle train bosses for all those awful accidents but they didn’t manage that.
    Just imagine, water company CEO’s imprisoned for sewage outfalls, other company bods take their place. Fines levied but, if the costs aren’t passed on to customers the company eventually goes bankrupt because the infrastructure is not fit for purpose meaning fines will happen time and again.
    Who’ll buy the bankrupt water company? The government can’t let water treatment and supply stop so what will they do? As with the original privatisation, company debts will be waived, massive sweeteners will be offered to attract a takeover. But, this time, unlike the 1980’s, the new company won’t have anything to asset strip (it was done in the 80’s), they might be able to sell shares for money but, unless, the infrastructure is resolved, their first few months of business will lead to fines for sewage releases.
    It will be circular untill infrastructure and system capacity is resolved, demand for clean water is reduced, rain and foul water are separated and sewage treatment actually does treat sewage before it’s released.
    So Labour’s plan is not a plan to sort out water treatment and supply, it’s a plan to get elected. Silly soundbites, false promises, same old same old.
    With Blair Labour had a large majority in Parliament but did nothing to reverse what the Tory’s had done to our water supply and treatment services. Is Polly so naive gullible?

  8. We can ensure our safety if we download the Surfers Against Sewage app – this shows discharges , in real time. It is not good enough that this is now a necessity but SAS are doing great work to highlight the issue.

  9. The water companies have been paid over £70 billion to shareholders since privatisation, money that should have been spent on improving water treatment, and new reservoirs! Water is vital to everyone, so should be re-nationalised because privatising has failed. its been a license to print money for shareholders, thats why most investors are foreigners, especially the Chinese!

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