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14,000 swimming pools worth of sewage spewing into Scotlands rivers prompts Feargal Sharkey to call for action

Popstar Feargal Sharkey has demanded action over Scotland’s sewage dumping crisis as we reveal 14,000 Olympic pools of filth spewed into our rivers in a year.

The punk icon - now a pollution campaigner raising the alarm over filthy waterways in England - warned the situation could be even worse in Scotland.

The Teenage Kicks singer, 64, blasted the lack of data in Scotland, where just 4 per cent of storm drains are monitored - compared to nearly 90 per cent down south.

It comes as we report today how in nearly half of all sewage spill incidents in 2021, no note was taken of the volume of waste discharged into our waters.

Sharkey said: “Scotland’s first problem is simply the sheer scale of the lack of monitoring. But from the few bits of data available… there is just as big a scale of sewage dumping going on in Scotland as there is in England and Wales.”

It comes as we can reveal the shocking 14,000 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of sewage dumped in Scotland’s rivers in a year could just be the tip of the iceberg.

New analysis of sewer overspill data from SEPA has flagged up thousands of occasions in 2021 in which the volume of waste overflowing into Scottish waterways was not logged.

On top of that, Scottish authorities are only required to monitor a tiny 4 per cent of overflows in our 31,000-mile sewer network - compared to England which monitors 89 per cent.

It comes amid a growing campaign south of the border to clean up sewage-polluted rivers - with music star-turned-eco warrior Feargal Sharkey a key figure.

Speaking to the Record, the Undertones frontman said efforts to tackle the problem in Scotland were hamstrung by lack of proper monitoring.

Sharkey, 64, said: “The simple truth of the matter - and I guarantee you the same applies in Scotland - there’s a lack of political oversight and a failure of the regulatory system to properly monitor what these companies are actually getting up to.”

Feargal Sharkey, best known as lead vocalist in the 80's punk band The Undertones
Punk icon Sharkey has become a respected advocate for cleaner rivers across the UK.
Sewer storm overflow
Raw sewage going into a river.

The rock icon, also a keen angler, has been leading the charge for cleaner waters and greater transparency around sewage dumps - particularly in England, where water companies were privatised.

However, our analysis, produced alongside the Scottish Liberal Democrats, shows glaring gaps in data provided by state-owned Scottish Water on sewage spills north of the border too.

There were a whopping 10,799 sewage “overspill events” in Scotland in 2021 - the last year we have stats for. But in nearly half of cases - 5219 - no record was made of the volume discharged.

The amounts which were recorded nationwide, however, totalled a staggering 34million cubic metres - the equivalent of 13,600 Olympic pools.

In 2020, the figures were even worse, with more than 12,000 overflow events - and 48million cubic metres of waste discharged, or 19,200 Olympic pools’ worth.

Scottish Lib Dem chief Alex Cole-Hamilton said the revelations showed even these figures were likely a “significant underestimate”.

Scottish Liberal Democrats Alex Cole-Hamilton
Scottish Liberal Democrats Alex Cole-Hamilton

He said: “The Scottish Government are neglecting our rivers and waterways.

“In England almost every sewage overflow is monitored but here the monitoring is far more rudimentary with just 4 per cent of overflows getting the same treatment.

“That means there is every reason to believe that the current volumes are a significant underestimate of the true figure.

“The next environment minister must listen to the calls from Scottish Liberal Democrats and environment campaigners for targets to be set to reduce discharges, for enhanced monitoring to be backed up by transparent reporting, and for the acceleration of measures to upgrade sewage systems and tackle overflows.”

Sharkey said, given the huge stretches of remote and rural areas in Scotland, the overall picture may not be as bad as in more congested England.

But the campaigner told the Record: “In terms of Scotland, you invariably end up looking at population centres and that means the central belt - Glasgow through to Edinburgh - and up the east coast, in particular Aberdeen, Dundee, also up to Inverness.

“And I can see no evidence there has been the scale of investment required to deal with the growing population that has developed there over the last 30 years. It simply hasn’t happened.

“From the few monitors, the few bits of data that are available, it would be, in my opinion, indicative of there being just as big a lack of investment, and just as big a lack of treatment and processing - and therefore probably just as big a scale of sewage dumping - going on in Scotland as there is in England and Wales.

“Now, clearly, that’s a very different argument from saying the whole of Scotland has got a problem.

“Let’s face it, there’s the whole Highlands, which simply doesn’t have that kind of volume of population, which wouldn’t have that kind of pressure on your system. We all understand there might not be those kinds of issues there.

“But without doubt, when you look at the Glasgows and Edinburghs of this world, it’s a different story.”

In 2021, the largest single “overflow event” was at Dalmarnock in Glasgow, with 866,532 cubic metres of effluent dumped into the water, the equivalent of 347 Olympic pools.

The longest overflow event in duration was at Tor Na Dee in Aberdeen - where sewage spilled into the River Dee for more than four months straight - a shocking 130 days from April to September. The volume of waste was not recorded.

Sewer overflows, which release untreated sewage into rivers and coastal waters, are only intended to operate during extreme weather events.

Sharkey said: “The law is quite clear - you should not ever be using sewage overflows except in exceptional situations.”

Wet wipes and cotton buds can also end up in our seas when sewers overflow.

In December, we revealed polling which showed seven in ten Scots believe sewage and chemical pollution pose the biggest threat to the health of our waters.

A spokesman for Scottish Water said: “While we acknowledge that our monitoring coverage is not as high as in England and Wales, it is very important to note that 87 per cent of water bodies in Scotland are in good water quality condition and this compares with 16 per cent south of the border.

“We plan to invest up to £500million in Scotland’s waste water network to deliver further improvements and ensure the country’s rivers and beaches continue to improve.”

A SEPA spokeswoman said: “SEPA requires Scottish Water to continually demonstrate compliance with environmental regulations. This includes monitoring, investments, data submissions, incident and performance reporting.

“Scottish Water has approximately 3,600 combined sewer overflows, of which approximately 340 have a monitor. This will increase to 1,340 by the end of 2024.”

The Scottish Government said it was supporting this expansion with £1.3billion of lending.

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