‘Terrible shame’ as sewage discharge near Barcombe Mills swimming spot revealed

Sewage was discharged into a river upstream from Barcombe Mills, a popular swimming spot near Lewes, a total of 78 times last year, new data has revealed.

Thursday, 8th April 2021, 11:34 am
TJ and Tommy Schofield kayaking at Barcombe Mills last year
TJ and Tommy Schofield kayaking at Barcombe Mills last year

Lewes resident Brian Schofield, who often goes kayaking at the spot with his sons TJ, 12, and Tommy, 10, said it was ‘a terrible shame’.

After heavy rainfall, water companies are permitted to discharge sewage into rivers or the sea via stormwater outfalls to prevent it backing up into homes and streets – a course of action which must be reported to the Environment Agency.

Data published by the Environment Agency last week showed that a Southern Water sewage treatment facility near Barcombe Mills, known as the Barcombe New Water Treatment Works, spilled sewage into the river 78 times in 2020.

Brian Schofield at Barcombe Mills

These spills lasted 962 hours in total.

Another nearby facility, named Barcombe Cross, which in 2019 overspilled 77 times into the river, failed to report any overspills in 2020.

This was due to a ‘signal or connection issue’ with its monitoring system.

Mr Schofield said Barcombe Mills was ‘a lovely resource for the community’, especially during the pandemic.

Playing at the river

“During lockdown one it was really popular, really well-used,” he said. “It was just a really nice spot for people to be outside and able to social distance.

“So it’s a terrible shame that at the moment, it’s not always safe to swim up there.

“Hopefully Southern Water will realise that they are damaging what is a lovely resource for the community.

“It’s a brilliant place, so many people want to Stand Up Paddle-board now, so many people want to wild swim.

Brian in his kayak

“That’s the kind of stuff that’s the future of East Sussex – high quality of life, outdoor experiences.

“For them to be damaging it, it’s not just damaging the environment, it’s damaging the economy.”

He wants to see the area at Barcombe Mills listed as a designated bathing site.

This would mean the water would be subject to the same rigorous public health testing as coastal waters.

“That would be amazing, that would be the best outcome,” Mr Schofield said. “It would recognise that this is a place where people swim.”

There are currently 12 inland bathing waters in England, which are all lakes, though a river in West Yorkshire will become the first in England to be a designated bathing site from May.

A Southern Water spokesman said: “CSO (Combined Sewer Overflows) storm releases contain a mixture of rainwater and highly diluted wastewater.

“These releases are permitted by the Environment Agency and are made for one reason – to protect homes and businesses from flooding.”