Water company mocked for blaming seagull poo for heavily polluted beach

‘Well I’m glad that’s been cleared up. Now I can stop talking about shite and go back to talking about music. Happy days’ – Feargal Sharkey.


Southern Water has been brutally ridiculed for blaming seagulls and old sewer systems for the dire state of a beach in Southsea, Portsmouth.

The city council of Portsmouth is investigating a recent decrease in water quality off Southsea seafront. The council warns that a drop in quality may result in visitors being unable to enter the water at what is one of the local authority’s most popular beaches.

When attempting to work out the reasons behind the deteriorating water quality, Southern Water claimed the problem is down to seagull poo and leaky sewers, not sewage discharges.

A spokesman for Southern Water said: ‘Seagulls are roosting under the pier which can be a problem.

“We have to speciate the E.coli; by looking at the samples we can find out the type of animal source it comes from.”

The spokesperson said they have been working closely with the Environment Agency and Portsmouth city council for more than a decade to tackle concerns in the area.

“Over this time, leaking ageing sewers have been identified as one contributing factor, prompting a major upgrade programme involving sealing pipes with special polymer linings and ensuring manholes are watertight.  

“Water quality in Southsea is affected by a range of other contributing factors, including surface water run-off from roads and pavements, wildlife such as seagulls roosting beneath the pier, and private sewer pipes wrongly connected to surface drains,” they added.

The comments prompted a flood of ridicule online.

Environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey tweeted: “Well I’m glad that’s been cleared up. Now I can stop talking about shite and go back to talking about music. Happy days.”

Someone else noted how seagulls have always been resident at the seaside.

“If you go down to the sea today, apparently, Southern Water says it’s seagull poo that causes poor bathing water quality. How many years have seagulls been at the seaside?”

Another bemused onlooker equated the water company’s comments to some of the incredulous excuses made by Tories, posting:

“Southern Water have been imitating the Tories with coming up with the most ridiculous lie to cover their own asses.”

Someone else wrote:

“Water quality off south coast is down in Seagull poo?! Nothing to do with all the raw sewage Southern Water have been (& still are) pumping out almost all of the time then?”

In 2021, privatised Southern Water was fined a record £90 million for deliberately dumping billions of litres of raw sewage off north Kent and Hampshire coasts to avoid costs and penalties.  In November 2022, reports revealed that the water company had dumped sewage 493 times in eight days at bathing beaches.

Ed Acteson of SOS Whitstable, which had been monitoring the data, said in his experience the scale was equivalent to five months’ worth of discharges: “The Environment Act was supposed to herald a new era for the environment in Britain. But this is the worst I have ever seen sewage pollution in the south-east.”

Earlier this year, it was revealed that despite significant amounts of sewage being dumped into UK waterways, in 2022, seven of the UK’s nine water companies gave bonuses to their executives linked to environmental targets.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Alessandra Barbieri at Pixabay

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