Sewage spill threatens beaches

Camber Sands red flag

Recent analysis has shown the scale of Southern Water’s failure to stop raw sewage from being discarded into local rivers and ultimately into Rye Bay. The data is taken from 2019, which led to Southern Water being fined £126 million for ‘deliberately misreporting its performance’, and has been collected by the Rivers Trust under the campaign, Is My River Fit To Play In?

A search of their interactive map reveals shocking results. Six locations in Rye saw a discharge from the sewerage network into local rivers in 2019. The worst offender was Southern Waters’ outflow at St Margarets Terrace in the Rock Channel area. In 2019, this storm overflow spilled 102 times for a total of 585 hours into the River Tillingham.

The location of the next worst site was the storm overflow at Rye Cricket Salts which spilled 31 times for a total of 115 hours into the River Rother.

Other raw sewage spills were reported at:

  • Monkbretton Bridge – storm overflow spilled 21 times for a total of 25 hours into the River Rother;
  • Winchelsea Road – storm overflow spilled 18 times for a total of 144 hours into the River Tillingham;
  • Wish Street – storm overflow spilled 5 times for a total of 4 hours into the River Tillingham;
  • Fishmarket Road – storm overflow spilled once for a total of one hour into the River Rother.

The River Trust’s advice is to avoid entering the water immediately downstream of these discharges, especially after it has been raining. The rivers Tillingham and Rother enter Rye Bay, after only a short distance, between the beaches of Camber Sands and Winchelsea Beach.

‘Using rivers for swimming, paddling, fishing and playing is fantastically rewarding and good for our health, but like all outdoor sports, carries an element of risk.’ the Rivers Trust said.

‘There is no public health monitoring of river water quality in the UK, so this map will help river users weigh up the risk before taking to the water. It shows some of the sources of pathogens (bacteria or viruses) in rivers which can cause illnesses. We are calling on all river users to join us in tackling these issues.’

More information on the Rivers Trust and their work can be found here.

Pollution Spotters needed

Southern Water recruiting ‘pollution spotters’

In a separate move, Southern Water has been posting up signs on paths around Rye to recruit ‘Pollution Spotters’. The company is asking walkers to contact them if you notice ‘discolouration, strange odours or debris in rivers or streams’; ‘overflowing manholes or water flowing from the ground’; or ‘dead fish or wildlife in distress’.

The number to call is 0330 303 0368 or email

Image Credits: Kevin McCarthy .


  1. Posting this information at Camber should go quite a long way to cutting visitor numbers in the future without the need for further parking restrictions.

  2. With new evidence that the Covid-19 virus has been found in sewers around the world and that it has been present for over a year, we really must take measures to stop it’s spread into our rivers, estuaries and into the food chain via the sea, If we don’t then we will get outbreaks regularly,
    Southern Water will have to up it’s game, borrow some money whilst it is cheap and rectify these problems.

  3. Interesting piece on an aspect of flood risk often overlooked. Southern Water operates a Combined Sewerage Overflow (CSO) system in Rye which means that water runoff and sewerage combines in one system. I have written about this in Rye News before. In “normal” conditions the system just copes, but in periods of extreme rainfall, as we now see more frequently, the water runoff overloads the system and can cause spillage at the pump locations (places listed in the piece) and also as the treatment plant reaches capacity , flow is diverted directly to outfall and then to the river system.To move away from CSO would require significant investment which given the amounts required to tackle water system leaks ( today’s national news) is unlikely to be forthcoming. This matter is raised periodically by me at the Southern Region Flood and Coastal Committee but without huge investment, solutions by the privatised water companies are unlikely. Future development added to the existing system and more extreme rainfall events will only aggravate the problem. Because of health risks it is very important that all spillages and leaks are reported immediately (photo evidence is helpful) to Southern Water. REACT (through its Facebook page) can help as required.

    Anthony Kimber PhD
    Member SRFCC and Chair Rye Emergency Action Community Team (REACT)

  4. If the raw sewage were used to make gas it would be processed and the inert residue used as fertiliser. There are villages in Germany that are self sufficient in all their energy needs simply by processing sewage. In India, villages have electricity because notices outside village toilets say “USE ME”.

    Covering nature with concrete, steel and glass fibre seems absurd when a free raw material is available. In the 21st century we should have advanced enough to put our, unstoppable, toilet habits to good use.

  5. I know this is an old article but readers might be interested to know that our MP Sally-Ann Hart has just voted against proposals in Parliament to prevent Water companies from discharging sewage so easily. It would be interesting to know why this is.

    Antony Kimber – Southern Water actually do very well on the leakage front when compared to other water companies. However they do very badly on the pollution from sewage front (hence their recent enormous fine) and they need to focus more on controlling these spills. The law may allow them to use CSOs in “extreme” weather but in reality a very small amount of rainfall can trigger them. The Environment Agency has powers to prosecute but their budgets have been cut to the bone. Something urgently needs to change and Sally-Ann Hart would do very well to explain her reasoning.


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