Stop the ‘turd trucks’ polluting our rivers and beaches!

© Paula Fernley

Local campaigners against the importing and dumping of sewage into the Exe estuary took a blue plaque to their MP Simon Jupp’s office in Exmouth on Saturday 28 January to highlight the shocking state of our bathing waters. 

ESCAPE (End Sewage Convoys And Poollution Exmouth), Transition Exmouth, Plastic Free Exmouth, Tidelines, Women Swimmin’ and TEDS swimming group joined together as part of a national day of action with Extinction Rebellion across the UK. They processed from Pier Head, carrying a plaque for Simon Jupp MP before walking to the sea by the lifeboat station. The Exmouth plaque reads: ‘Simon Jupp Conservative MP: stand up to South West Water and protect Exmouth from sewage’. 

© Paula Fernley

In October 2021, the vast majority of Conservative MPs, including Simon Jupp, MP for Exmouth, voted against an amendment to the Environment Act 2021 that would have placed a legal duty on water companies not to pump waste into rivers.

Councillor Joe Whibley said: 

“This is an awful situation for our environment, not to mention the fact that it could devastate our growing watersports-related tourism ventures. We’re horrified every time a BBC crew turns up to report on the state of the waters. And South West Water have so far offered nothing quick and nothing concrete. Together with the Environment Agency, we need our representatives to create tougher standards for what is, and more importantly what isn’t, acceptable.”  

Mary Culhane of Women Swimmin’ says: 

“As year-round swimmers we’re taking risks entering the water – the situation is so bad that last year Exmouth was ranked as the second worst Blue Flag beach for sewage spills in Devon, with the beach closed to swimmers in September. Profiteering water companies rake in multi-million-pound profits and hand huge bonuses to their CEOs whilst we are left to swim in raw sewage.”

© Paula Fernley

South West Water’s Maer Lane works spilled sewage at Exmouth beach 62 times for a total of 857 hours during 2020, increasing to 74 times for 1,128 hours during 2021.  This problem is clearly getting worse, with many spills taking place in even light rain. The fact that South West Water imports huge volumes of sewage sludge into Exmouth is not helping (43 per cent of all sewage treated in Exmouth is imported). Over 26 million litres were trucked in during 2020 from 16 locations throughout East Devon in 3008 HGV movements. That’s enough to fill more than 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools! Since 2021 data from South West Water shows that 80 tankers (or Turd Trucks!) a month bring sludge into the town.

ESCAPE has been working locally with Surfers Against Sewage and Exmouth Town Council to raise awareness after examining data. An ESCAPE spokesperson said: 

“A revolving door of Environment Secretaries and a government in disarray has led to little action being taken to hold water companies to account, especially the poorest performers like South West Water. Instead, we just get empty threats from government and lethargy from industry regulators. To my mind what we’re seeing can only be described as complete abandonment of responsibility for pollution on the part of the water companies and Environment Agency.”

© Paula Fernley

Plastic Free Exmouth said:

“We fully support these actions.  The discharge of sewage into the seas is a national disgrace.  During our regular beach cleans, we routinely find items washed ashore after known sewage releases, including sanitary wear, needles and disposable wet wipes.  We feel the Government should be taking much more robust action to prevent this.”

Anne-Marie Culhane from Tidelines said:

“Storm sewage overflows can contain anything that goes down the drains – from human waste to household chemicals, pharmaceuticals and plastics. As well as potentially harming human health, frequent sewage discharges can seriously damage river and ocean ecosystems, for example by creating algal blooms. Chemicals in the water can harm fish, shellfish and other species and reduce oxygen levels in the water which impacts aquatic insects and other species throughout the whole ecosystem and food chain. This is a critical issue. All of us should be bending over backwards to keep our rivers and oceans clear and healthy. What is the Exe/Isca ‘river of fish’ without life?”

Nicky Nicholls, chair of Transition Exmouth said: 

“Repeated sewage flooding of The Maer has rarely been reported to the Environment Agency and yet it has polluted this local nature reserve four or five times a year for the last 20 years. This year has been the worst yet with more than six spillage events and flooding of around an acre of land. South West Water has never been fined for these sewage discharges. Having used sanitary towels, toilet tissue and condoms on our nature reserve for wildlife, dogs and humans to walk through is totally disgusting.” 

© Paula Fernley

Find out more about ESCAPE’s work in Exmouth by visiting their Facebook group.