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Wild New Forest conservationist Russell Wynn welcomes sewage discharge laws

A NEW Forest conservationist battling water pollution has welcomed new laws to cut the amount of sewage entering rivers – but says more needs to be done locally.

As part of moves to "build back greener" from the pandemic, the government is making efforts to tackle effluent in UK waterways after the issue was raised by Philip Dunne, chair of the environmental audit committee, in a private member's bill introduced last year.

Locally, Russell Wynn, of environmental group Wild New Forest, has been campaigning for months to raise awareness of the issue, monitoring the problem in streams near Lyndhurst sewage treatment plant following heavy rainfall.

Conservationist Russell Wynn
Conservationist Russell Wynn

He has witnessed first-hand, sewage being pumped out of discharge sites by Southern Water at headwaters along Beaulieu River.

The new law builds on the work already underway by the Storm Overflows Taskforce, set up in September 2020 to bring together government, the water industry, regulators and environmental groups.

As part of this, utility companies have committed to improving 800 more overflows over the next five years.

Speaking to the A&T, Mr Wynn said that given the high conservation and recreational value of New Forest rivers such as Beaulieu, the area should be made a priority.

"I would like to see some of the promised capital investment targeted at reducing combined sewer overflows discharges into New Forest rivers as a priority," he said.

"Also, I want the relevant management bodies to investigate potential entrapment of pollutants and coliform bacteria on the overbank areas of restored rivers in the New Forest, such as the Beaulieu River at Longwater Lawn.

"There is a potential risk there both to the grazed lawn ecosystems that should be legally protected as part of the special area of conservation, and a health risk to livestock, pets and people accessing floodwater pools at those locations."

A storm overflow site in the New Forest
A storm overflow site in the New Forest

Mr Wynn said this area, a popular dog-walking spot downstream of the wastewater works in Lyndhurst, is not being monitored for pollution.

Both New Forest MPs have lent their support to the issue, which has been steadily gaining momentum.

A number of key policies are now to be made law, including a duty on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operations on an annual basis.

The government is also legally required to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce such sewage discharges.

Currently water companies are given permits by the Environment Agency that allow them to release raw sewage into rivers after extreme weather to stop water backing up and flooding homes.

However, their use has increased in recent years as climate change has led to greater rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth.

Following the government's announcement, chair of the Environment Agency Emma Howard Boyd, said: "We all have a responsibility to protect our water environment and I am pleased to see government accelerating the delivery on its pledge to drive further improvements and reduce the reliance of the water sector on storm overflows.

"While storm overflows play an important role in not overloading our sewers, it is vital that water companies strive to keep their use to an absolute minimum.

"Our changing climate will put more pressure on our drainage network so it’s great to see this commitment to action."

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