Surfers Against Sewage

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Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) is an environmental charity protecting the UK’s oceans, waves and beaches for all to enjoy safely and sustainably, via community action, campaigning, volunteering, conservation, education and scientific research.


Surfers Against Sewage today represents over 150,000 regular supporters and mobilises over 15,000 community volunteers & activists annually. It also has a network of 75 regional chapters led by trained SAS Representatives helping safeguard local beaches and marine environments whilst also supporting SAS's national campaign agendas.

Surfers Against Sewage current projects target coastal environmental issues including marine litter, sewage pollution, climate change, toxic chemicals, shipping, industry and coastal development.

We aim to create measurable improvements in the state of our oceans, waves and beaches through changes in public behaviour, government policy and industry practices.

The charity’s objectives are:

To undertake and promote for the benefit of the public the conservation, protection, improvement and ecologically sustainable management of the marine environment including associated land, shoreline and structures.

To advance the education of the public in the conservation, protection, improvement and ecologically sustainable management of the marine environment including associated land, shoreline and structures.

Surfers Against Sewage also believes that waves and surf spots deserve to be seen as part of UK heritage and should be afforded greater recognition and protection through political debate and legislation. SAS is working hard to raise the public awareness of these natural resources, the environmental, physical and geological factors that create waves and how they are integral to coastal ecosystems and can help support thriving, sustainable and economically successful coastal communities around the UK.

To achieve its aims SAS:

  • Influences governments on key issues affecting oceans, beaches and recreational water users and policies needed to deliver a cleaner and safer marine environment.
  • Creates volunteering opportunities for individuals and communities to be involved with activities to safeguard our seas, coastlines and beaches.
  • Educates communities on the achievable, sustainable solutions, which can help protect our waves, oceans and beaches.
  • Challenges industry to adopt better standards to protect our coastal environment.
  • Promotes scientific, economic and health evidence to support calls for a cleaner and safer marine environment.
  • Informs the general public about issues affecting UK waves, oceans and beaches, and those that use them.

Current Campaigns

Marine Litter

Surfers Against Sewage is working at community, corporate and government level to tackle the marine litter crisis. SAS’s Marine Litter Report sets out our vision to reduce UK beach litter by 50% by 2020. The report highlights the true scale of the marine litter crisis; the underlying causes and the threat marine litter poses to ecosystems, marine organisms and communities. The report also maps out practical and achievable solutions across industry, government and communities to increase action for much cleaner and safer beaches by 2020.

The catalyst for SAS’s ambitious target is the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), Europe’s current key piece of legislation supporting the protection and sustainable use of the marine environment. Over the next five-year period (2015 – 2020), SAS will collaborate with government, charities, scientists, industry, communities and individuals to work towards this radical target.

Surfers Against Sewage believes that the UK urgently needs to do more to tackle marine litter and that the MSFD offers an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration, coordination and action on the issue over the next six years. The appetite amongst coastal communities, business leaders and organisations seeking stronger and more ambitious leadership on solutions seems to be at all-time high.

Surfers Against Sewage’s Marine Litter Report offers a framework of practical and achievable solutions to help achieve significant reductions in beach litter during the MSFD timeframe.

Covering community, business and government action SAS’s recommendations broadly focus on the following measures:

  • Stopping marine litter at source – preventing it entering the environment in the first place
  • Creating a circular economy through extended producer responsibility and greater corporate accountability
  • Creating new legislation to protect the coastal environment from marine litter
  • Dramatically up-scaling marine litter education and volunteering opportunities amongst coastal communities and the general public.

Nationwide delivery of SAS beach cleans helps directly remove marine litter from the environment and raises public awareness about the issue and available solutions. Annually, SAS mobilises 15,000 community beach clean volunteers and educates thousands of individuals about the marine litter crisis through schools talks and outside events. The charity also distributes marine litter campaign materials to hundreds of businesses throughout the UK each year to help them combat the crisis with us.

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Surfers Against Sewage’s longer-term environmental initiatives including Return To Offender, Break the Bag Habit, Think Before You Flush and No Butts on the Beach aim to stop marine litter at source, which is vital in protecting the UK’s beaches by shutting down the flow of debris into our oceans, particularly single-use plastics.

Water Quality

Surfers Against Sewage is widely recognised as one of the organisations that helped significantly improve bathing water quality standards right around the UK. Established in 1990 by a group of passionate, local surfers and beach lovers in the picturesque north Cornwall villages of St Agnes and Porthtowan, the organisation created a national movement calling for improved water quality UK-wide which reflected and highlighted strong EU legislation introduced to protect the marine environment in the 1990s.

Although great improvements have been made around the coast the UK is still under threat from significant untreated human sewage discharges. That’s why water quality remains a core campaign for SAS, challenging the alarming increase in sewage discharged via combined sewer overflows and the revised European Bathing Water Directive about to strip many UK beaches of their coveted standards.


Surfers Against Sewage’s campaigns on water quality have helped change public perception, attitudes and responses to bathing water quality, not least through the recent and pioneering Safer Seas Service. This initiative has also created a step-change in the provision of sewage pollution information from the UK water industry, and strong political support for the provision of real-time pollution warnings at the UK’s most popular beaches and surf spots.

The Safer Seas Service is an effective tool in allowing water users to make the most informed decision about how, when and where they use the sea. However, it’s not a solution to address the underlying causes of these all too frequent sewage pollution incidents.

Surfers Against Sewage is calling for more urgent action to address on-going sewage pollution at our beaches including:

  • A review of how the UK implements the Bathing Water Directive, ensuring bathing water quality is tested at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, thus protecting the bathers, surfers and water users most at risk.
  • Increasing water company obligations to introduce more effective and faster investment to remove current sewer overflow assets with priority awarded to sensitive areas such as bathing waters, recreational watersports zones and Sites of Special Surfing Interest.
  • Mandatory year-round sewer overflow warnings introduced for all affected UK beaches regularly used by the public to protect public heath where the current water quality-testing regime fails to.
  • A strict, legally binding limit of 3 sewer overflow discharges per season, per sewer overflow asset. Discharges should only be acceptable in extreme weather events.
  • A ban on water companies installing all new sewer overflow assets directly impacting areas of the coastline important for public recreation or other environmentally sensitive areas.

The traditional method of funding improvements in the sewerage system is via the bill payer. Every 5 years an Asset Management Plan (AMP) is agreed between the water companies, the regulators (Defra and the Environment Agency) and OFWAT. Water bills are raised to finance the necessary work. However, there is another way, a fairer way to fund these much-needed improvements. Water companies can divert revenue away from their shareholders and increasing their investments in protecting the environment and the people that use it. In 2014 water companies made profits of £2.05 billion, handing out £1.86 billion to shareholders (and as a collective only paid £74 million in corporation tax.) The water industry has put profits ahead of protecting the environment for too long and this must change.

Surfers Against Sewage sits on a European Commission expert group reviewing the EU Bathing Water Directive, is a vocal and effective campaigning force at the Cleaner Seas Forum and the Green Seas Partnership, and consistently highlights water quality issues through these vital meetings, lobbying government and industry for improvements to protect the coastal environment and recreational water users. The campaigns team regularly briefs environment ministers on water quality issues and the solutions as we see them. These important messages are also shared with the Protect Our Waves All Party Parliamentary Group members (MPs). The charity is also very active on consultations linked to Bathing Waters, including the Department for the Environment, Farming & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) consultation on the length of the Bathing Season and the Marine Management Organisation’s Marine Spatial Plans. The issue of water quality and the health risks associated with bathing in polluted waters are also highlighted consistently in the mainstream media, from the Sunday Times to Panorama, the One Show to local news bulletins.

Community initiatives including Think Before You Flush and Fats, Oils and Greases also play a significant part in helping SAS protect UK bathing waters and marine environments. These campaigns are implemented with the support of a growing network of SAS Regional Reps stationed on most stretches of UK coastline and a fantastic supporter base!

Surfers Against Sewage are collaborating with the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health on a study investigating the range and frequency of illnesses experienced by water users after using the sea. More than 2,000 SAS supporters have volunteered for the study and the results will be published in 2016.

Protect Our Waves


Surfers Against Sewage campaigns in a number of ways to highlight and protect sites of special surfing interest. SAS is campaigning to increase public awareness and develop a greater understanding amongst policy makers that waves are a vital part of the socio-economic fabric of many UK coastal communities, and it is essential that wave-centric communities can amplify their concerns so that irreversible damage is not done to our waves, coastal environment and surfing beaches. Protect Our Waves campaigns include the POW Petition, marine spatial planning, and consultation on environmental impact assessments for coastal developments & industry. However, all SAS activity is inextricably linked to protecting our waves, oceans and beaches, from community beach cleans to schools talks.

SAS believes that three of the main steps towards achieving better protection for UK surf spots includes:

1. Increase public awareness: Geographical features such as mountains and rivers are the most tangible natural assets for people to envisage as elements that should be protected, because they are more or less fixed. The concept that a particular ‘wave’ needs protecting is, however, much more difficult. One reason for this is that when we refer to a ‘wave’, we don’t really mean just one wave. We really mean the circumstances that come together to make waves break at a particular spot on the coast, in a particular way. Saying that we need to protect the ‘right-hander at Thurso East’ is a bit like saying we must protect the ‘09:50 from Paddington to Oxford’. In reality we are not protecting any trains; rather we are protecting the circumstances that allow that service to run.

2. Become stakeholders: Surfers and other coastal water-users need an official voice within the politics of a country, in other words, become official stakeholders, this would ensure that their views are taken that much more seriously. SAS represents the UK surfing and wider water sports community on this front. A breakthrough has recently been made in Scotland, as a direct result of considerable lobbying by SAS. In February 2010, the Scottish Government recognised recreational water-users’ need for a voice on Regional Planning Partnerships within the Scottish Marine & Coastal Access Act. The amendment was forwarded by former Green Party Member of Scottish Parliament, Robin Harper, on behalf of Surfers Against Sewage. A seat on the regional planning partnerships gives recreational water-users the platform to voice any concerns relating to the marine environment and recreational wave resources. Achievements like these set a great precedent, which can be used as an example when justifying that water-users should become stakeholders in other countries. SAS is working towards better political engagement on the issue with the Protect Our Waves petition.

3. Laws to protect waves: Laws are needed to specifically protect surfing waves. In the UK, developers already have to go through an expensive and time-consuming process to get planning permission, and this includes passing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approved by stakeholders. If there were proper laws stating that surfing waves cannot be interfered with or destroyed, it would be in the developers’ own interest to avoid putting their concrete in the wrong place. At the moment, no law exists in the UK to protect surf spots, but it does in other countries including Peru. Peru has a history of surfing culture that goes back almost as far as Hawaii, and surfing is seen as a respectable and worthwhile pastime, unlike in many parts of Europe.

Protect Our Waves Petition & All Party Parliamentary Group

On October 2013, Surfers Against Sewage campaigners were accompanied by double Brit Award winner Ben Howard to deliver the the Protect Our Waves petition to No 10 Downing Street, representing the call of 55,000 surfers for better protection of UK waves, oceans and beaches. SAS also released a new economic survey highlighting the £1.8 Billion value of UK surfing to call for increased action to protect our waves.

Ben also attended a briefing event in the House of Commons sponsored by Stephen Gilbert MP (later replaced by Steve Double MP), and attended by over 20 MPs, where the new economic study revealed that surfing is worth over £1.8 billion to the UK economy, to reinforce to policy makers and MPs the need to safeguard valuable and vulnerable surfing environments & communities around the UK. The event also included 11 times European longboard champion Ben Skinner, who spoke about the UK’s world class waves.

The Protect Our Waves petition received tens of thousands of signatures of support, highlighting the importance of UK surfing resources to coastal communities nationwide. The petition called for better protection for the coastal environment and those that use it. The focus of the petition is a call for amendments to legislation to better control sewage pollution, marine litter and damaging coastal developments & industry. Surfers Against Sewage believes that waves and surf spots deserve to be seen as part of UK heritage and should be afforded greater recognition and protection through debate and legislation.

The petition enabled the formation of the Protect Our Waves All Party Parliamentary Group, bringing together more than twenty-five MPs representing the majority of the UK’s key coastal communities, to address the most urgent environmental issues highlighted by the Protect Our Waves petition – marine litter, water quality and coastal development.

The Protect Our Waves APPG provides an unprecedented platform for SAS to discuss urgent environmental threats and campaigns directly with politicians and civil servants. We will also be able to hold business and regulators to account, raise questions in the House of Commons, and suggest new and effective measures to better protect the UK’s waves, oceans and beaches. Chaired by Steve Double MP (St Austell & Newquay), the first meeting in October 2014 launched SAS’s Marine Litter Report, which sets out our vision to reduce UK beach litter by 50% by 2020. We recognise the enormous effort this will take so the report maps out practical and achievable solutions across industry, government and communities to increase action for much cleaner and safer beaches by 2020.

Climate Change

The basic science behind climate change is now accepted by the overwhelming majority of the scientific community and most scientists agree that the impact will affect the whole planet in many different ways.

Surfers Against Sewage’s Climate Change report examines the possible impacts a changing climate could have on our waves, oceans and beaches, and those that use them for recreation. The report analyses recent scientific evidence on climate change relating to water quality, predicted sea level rises, coastal erosion, storm tracks, water temperature and ocean acidification. It also looks at the emergence of the marine renewables sector as one of the solutions to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

Surfers Against Sewage is also a committed member of the Climate Coalition, the UK’s largest group of people dedicated to action on climate change and limiting its impact on the world’s poorest communities. The Climate Coalition’s combined supporter base reaches more than 11 million people over 100 organisations, from environment and development charities to unions, faith, community and women’s groups. Together we demand practical action by the UK to keep global warming as far as possible below the 2°C danger threshold.


Surfers Against Sewage was established as a single-issue campaign group in 1990 by a small collective of passionate, local surfers and beach lovers in the picturesque north coast villages of St Agnes and Porthtowan, the organisation swiftly created a well-known movement calling for improved water quality UK-wide.

The tide had really started to turn on the need to drastically improve bathing water quality with the privatisation of English water companies in 1989. This change, coupled with two key pieces of European legislation, gave a framework for the campaign, including new obligations and timescales provided by the EU Bathing Water Directive and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive – 1991. These were the real game-changer that helped provide a perfect legislative backdrop to for early SAS campaigns.

In the early 1990’s SAS became an effective catalyst for change, pressing on these key pieces of legislation, collating health evidence and connecting previously disparate groups of surfers into what became one of the best-recognised environmental campaign movements of the 1990s.

In 2012, Surfers Against Sewage took a vital step forward and was established a national marine conservation charity focused on the protection of waves, oceans, beaches, marine wildlife and coastal communities. The charity was founded by the current SAS trustees and SAS team, and reflects the evolution of the organisation and the current range of issues it works on.

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