Anti-sewage campaigners at Scarborough’s South Bay were forced to protest outside of the water on Saturday, due to poor water quality at the popular bathing spot.
The campaigners were taking part in a nationwide protest organised by the charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), which saw thousands join protests at 12 of the UK’s most popular beaches.
“We protested about dirty water, but could not go in the water because the water was too dirty,” said Steve Crawford, the Scarborough protest organiser.
“We went to one of the most prestigious beaches in Yorkshire, on one of the hottest days of the year so far, and we were told we could not go into the water.
“We had people coming from Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and they arrived at the beach to be told they cannot go into the water.”
Crawford said that signs had been up for the past two weeks advising people not to swim in the water.
The 54-year-old has been forced to shut the surf shop he has owned on the beach for the past 17 years during that time. “Since 6 May I have not been able to work,” he said.
Elsewhere in the UK, SAS said that thousands of paddle-boarders, kayakers, swimmers and paddlers took part in the action.
Organisers described an “awesome turnout” at Brighton Beach, where hundreds of people took to the sea in the 20C heat.
Other locations staging protests include Falmouth and Gyllyngvase beaches in Cornwall, South Bay in Scarborough, Portobello Beach in Edinburgh, Penarth Pier Pavilion in South Wales and Tinside Beach East, Plymouth Hoe.
The Brighton protest also featured the world’s first-ever surfboard made from a mixture of raw sewage and resin, called The Floater, which featured two transparent windows where brown sewage water is visible.
“The public at large are sick and tired of greed taking precedence over the health of our ocean”, said SAS campaign manager Izzy Ross.
“Last year, 12 water companies paid out a combined £1bn to shareholders while relentlessly polluting UK waterways with sewage nearly 400,000 times.
“These mass paddle-out protests across the country are about holding polluters to account.
“We will not tolerate their shameless exploitation of our blue spaces any longer.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, Tweeted: “Congrats to @sascampaigns‘s protest on #Brighton beach this morning. Southern Water dumped sewage into Sussex’s waterways *16,000* times last year”.
SAS is calling for a 90 per cent reduction in sewage discharges by 2030, and for all UK bathing spots to be protected.
A recent SAS survey showed that trust in water companies was at 21 per cent among UK adults and that 85 per cent of people supported a ban on bonuses for CEOs of companies that failed to meet environmental standards.
Research by the charity also shows that 12 UK water companies paid out a combined £1 billion to shareholders in 2022.
The protests come as Environment Agency data revealed in March that in 2022 there were 301,091 sewage discharges in England, 14,008 in Scotland and 74,066 in Wales.
“The figures are shocking, the transparency is questionable, and the accountability is non-existent. It’s a broken system and we’re sick of it”, said SAS at the time of the data release.
Earlier this week, industry body Water UK apologised for the sewage discharges and announced a £10bn plan to reduce the number of sewage discharges into UK waterways. But it warned that water bills would likely rise to cover the cost, with one water firm, Anglian Water, predicting the average customer would pay up to £91 extra a year until the end of the decade.
SAS is also urging people to sign a petition calling for an “end to water companies profiting while they’re polluting”. It has so far gained more than 114,000 signatures.