Update Wednesday: No-swim warning at five Devon beaches

Budleigh is now open but Exmouth, Sidmouth and Beer are still closed

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com 

People are being advised not to swim in the sea at five holiday beaches along the south Devon coast due to the risk of pollution. The alerts have been issued warning of possible contamination due to heavy rain, in some places causing storm overflows to discharge untreated sewage into the water.

The warnings were in place on Wednesday for the beaches at Wembury, near Plymouth, Teignmouth Town, Exmouth, Sidmouth Town and Beer. A notice for each location said: “Pollution Risk Warning: Bathing not advised today due to the likelihood of reduced water quality.” Exmouth, Sidmouth and Beer are on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and in the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Warnings were also in place for 11 beaches in Cornwall.

The warnings coming at the height of the tourism season were published by the Safer Seas and Rivers Service from the campaign group Surfers Against Sewage. It is also available as a mobile phone app and monitors 400 locations around the UK coast, issuing alerts based on real-time tracking of combined sewage overflows and pollution risk forecasts.

The service gave details of the following Devon locations where warnings were in place:

  • Wembury: There is a sewer overflow from Wembury pumping station that discharges 50m upstream of the beach.
  • Teignmouth: A sewer overflow at the railway station discharges northeast of the beach.
  • Exmouth: There is a sewer overflow discharging through an outfall to the south east which may affect bathing water quality especially after heavy rainfall.
  • Sidmouth: Two sewer overflows are located at Sidmouth, one discharges through a long sea outfall some 600m out to sea while the other discharges into the River Sid, just under 400m to the east.
  • Beer: Three sewer overflows surround Beer with one discharging from Beer car park, one discharging 600m North East and one slightly further to the South.

The Envrionment Agency , which assesses water quality at designated bathing beaches, had precautionary alerts on Wednesday advising against swimming in the sea at Wembury, Teignmouth and Exmouth. The warnings followed alerts on Tuesday for Exmouth, Goodrington, Paignton and Budleigh Salterton, and at the weekend for Saunton in North Devon, where the water was contaminated by sheep manure.

Heavy rain can trigger legally allowed storm overflows to prevent pipes which carry a mixture of rainwater and sewage backing up to flood roads, homes and businesses. Downpours can also wash animal waste and fertiliser into rivers and seas, causing pollution.

South West Water, which provides water and sewerage services in Devon, said in a statement: “The alerts raised at Teignmouth and Exmouth today were from the Environment Agency’s Pollution Risk Forecast (PRF system) which triggers precautionary alerts when weather conditions pose a potential risk to water quality along with other factors, and were not related to SWW activity.

“Alerts have been raised for Sidmouth and Beer in relation to stormwater overflows which may temporarily impact bathing water quality – these are precautionary and we expect them to be removed soon.”

A South West Water spokesperson said: “In recent days we have seen heavy localised rainfall which followed the prolonged period of hot and dry weather. As a result, the rain hasn’t been able to permeate into the ground and a significant volume has run into our network, which can cause our storm overflows to trigger. We continue to invest in our network to reduce the use of storm overflows as part of our WaterFit plan.”

The company says its plan will “dramatically reduce our use of storm overflows, maintain our region’s excellent bathing water quality standards all year round and reduce and then remove our impact on river water quality by 2030.” It says storm overflows act as a legal safety valve to prevent sewers becoming overloaded and flooding homes, roads and businesses. South West Water achieved 100per cent coastal bathing water quality for the first across 860 miles of coastline earlier this year.

Surfers Against Sewage said: “Water companies discharged raw sewage into UK waters over 370,000 times in 2021 alone, demonstrating just how important real-time pollution alerts are in helping the public dodge poor water quality and have the cleanest and safest experience possible.”

It said a poll it commissioned found more than half the British public (52%) were scared of swimming outside due to not knowing if the water is clean or polluted. It said of the one in six Brits (17%) that have tried wild swimming in UK waters, more than half (55%) had fallen ill.