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One-man campaign to clean up New Forest rivers

Russell Wynn is professor of ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton
Russell Wynn is professor of ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton

A CONSERVATIONIST has galvanised political support with a one-man campaign to highlight the growing problem of sewage being discharged into New Forest rivers.

Russell Wynn, director of Wild New Forest and professor of ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton, has spent months raising awareness of utility companies allowing effluent to enter waterways after heavy rain.

Both New Forest MPs have lent their support, and the topic has been hotly debated in parliament, with Phillip Dunne, chair of the environmental audit committee, seeking a Private Member’s Bill to place a duty on water companies to reduce reliance on combined sewer overflows.

Mr Wynn has been monitoring the problem near Southern Water’s Lyndhurst sewage treatment plant following heavy rainfall, and has witnessed at first-hand effluent being pumped out of discharge sites at headwaters along Beaulieu River.

“There are still large volumes of discharge going into the Beaulieu River, and indeed rivers right across the New Forest, and it’s really damaging our environment,” he told the A&T.

“The really worrying thing is that wastewater is becoming trapped in the over bank, for example at Long Water Lawn, a popular dog walking spot downstream of the wastewater works in Lyndhurst, and no one is monitoring that for pollution – this could be hazardous to people, pets and livestock.

“This has been going on under everyone’s noses for a really long time, but now people are waking up to it and realising that in 2021 it just should not be happening.”

Water companies are given permits by the Environment Agency that allow them to discharge raw sewage into rivers via overflows after extreme weather events to stop water backing up and flooding homes.

Mr Wynn said that while Southern Water has been working more closely with New Forest organisations, including the national park authority and Forestry England, on a long-term wastewater drainage plan, ultimately he wanted to see the company invest in better infrastructure.

Forest MPs Julian Lewis and Sir Desmond Swayne said they are both fully behind Mr Wynne and are also backing Mr Dunne’s parliamentary bid.

Sir Desmond, who swims regularly in the sea at Avon Beach, said he had written to Southern Water about the issue.

A Southern Water discharge site near Lyndhurst sewage treatment plant following heavy rainfall
A Southern Water discharge site near Lyndhurst sewage treatment plant following heavy rainfall

“Given the frequency of alerts from Surfers Against Sewage on my mobile app, I’ve become an enthusiast for Philip Dunne’s bill,” he said, and promised to persuade ministers to take up the proposed legislation if it ran out of time in parliament.

Dr Lewis told the A&T the government was “getting the message” and has accepted the aims of Mr Dunne’s bill, for which 135 MPs have expressed their support.

Cllr David Harrison, a member of the NPA, has also applauded Mr Wynn’s efforts, saying: “People may share my view that it is absolutely outrageous that Southern Water are permitted to legally discharge this polluted water out into one of the most sensitive environmental sites that you can find anywhere in the world.”

A spokesperson from the Environment Agency said Southern Water’s permit to discharge for its sewage works in the New Forest now stipulates that the duration and volume of any storm water overflows must be reported to the EA.

The agency is working with partners including Defra and Ofwat on the Storm Overflows Taskforce with the long-term goal of eliminating pollution.

Paul Walton, head of environment and rural economy at the NPA, said there was “increasing evidence” that stormwater releases are becoming more regular and potentially affecting habitats adjacent to waterbodies.

“We’re working with local stakeholders, landowners and managers to monitor water quality so that impacts can be better understood, and to deliver a range of solutions to diffuse and point source pollution,” he said.

Mr Walton also pointed to the NPA’s Local Plan, saying: “New homes must also either implement appropriate sustainable drainage systems or demonstrate that surface water runoff from the development will not adversely affect any designated nature conservation sites.”

As reported in the A&T last year, Southern Water admitted that as a result of heavy rainfall, “heavily-diluted screened and settled wastewater including rainwater and road run-off” were discharged from its Lyndhurst treatment works on August 19th and 20th, within permitted levels.

The A&T asked Southern Water for comment.

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