Anglers Against Pollution

Huge increase in fish kills linked to sewage pollution

The Angling Trust is calling for immediate government intervention following confirmation of a huge increase in fish kills linked to sewage pollution in UK waterways.

Environment Agency (EA) data from the past four years shows an alarming rise in the number of fish deaths linked to sewage pollution, with figures escalating from 26,690 in 2020-2021 to a staggering 116,135 in 2023-2024, a 176% increase on the previous year. Southern Water and Thames Water stand out as being responsible for the majority of fish kill incidents linked to sewage pollution in 2023-2024.

This drastic increase, which is likely to be a significant underestimate, highlights the growing environmental crisis in UK rivers that demands swift and decisive intervention. 2023 saw a 54% increase in the number of sewage spills – from 301,091 spills in 2022 to 464,056 in 2023.

The reported fish kills over the past four years are as follows*:

  • 2020-2021: 26,690
  • 2021-2022: 27,824
  • 2022-2023: 42,070
  • 2023-2024: 116,135

Conversely, the number of prosecutions brought against water companies by the EA have seen a significant decline. From 2018 to 2022 prosecutions commenced by the EA against water companies reduced from 166 to just 33. In addition to the number of prosecutions declining, the number of investigations following a report of sewage pollution has also declined. Previous studies by Fish Legal have shown that fish kill investigation reports are not provided for over 50% of incidents.

The Angling Trust and Fish Legal campaign against water pollution and are at the forefront of combatting fish kills through a series of robust legal actions aimed at holding polluters accountable. Fish Legal has initiated numerous lawsuits against water companies for discharging sewage and harmful pollutants into waterways. The Angling Trust also works with local communities and environmental groups to join forces in reporting and combating sewage pollution.

Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, expressed concern over these findings, stating:

“We can’t let these mass fish killings continue. This unprecedented increase in fish kills caused by sewage pollution is a clear indicator of the deteriorating health of our waterways. The public is quite rightly horrified by the huge environmental damage being done by sewage leaks in the name of water company profits. If pollution from a private company were to kill over 100,000 birds, there would be national outrage. The water companies responsible for these sewage leaks – many of which are illegal – need to be brought under special measures immediately before our rivers, the fish and all the life in them are irreparably damaged.

“While the Angling Trust campaign to promote and develop angling, and protect fish, the health of our rivers is a wider public health and community concern,” Singleton-White said.

“Water that kills fish threatens other life and carries a significant risk for anglers themselves, as well as other water users, pets, and all river life. We need to see many more EA inspections and prosecutions following sewage pollution incidents to help restore our waterways to a state where fish and other wildlife can thrive.”

Penelope Gane, Head of Practice, Fish Legal, commented:

“These fish kill figures are likely to underestimate the true impact of sewage pollution on wildlife. We’ve found through our own enquiries that the Environment Agency rarely follows up with a fish survey to assess the full impact of pollution, relying instead on counting dead fish when their officers do attend or reports from water companies when they don’t. Of course, counting and recording dead fish can only happen if there are any fish left in the river to kill. We recently took legal action against Anglian Water with anglers in Peterborough after sewage killed tens of thousands of fish on the river Nene system.  Weeks after the water company paid out, the angling club were hit with another fish kill.  It’s heart-breaking for them to see the river wiped out again, just as it was starting to recover.”

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