Protestors against the dumping of sewage into local rivers installed satirical blue plaques in Camelford, Bodmin, Bude and other watery places on Saturday, January 28, to highlight the “shocking state of our waterways”. 

Members of Extinction Rebellion and earth protectors from other environmental groups unveiled blue plaques near the rivers Camel, Neet and Stratton during a national day of action held across the UK.

The plaques, mainly aimed at the local MP for North Cornwall, intended to highlight what the group feel is the Government’s continued failure to tighten environmental regulations and stop profit-grabbing by water companies. 

The plaques read variations on the theme of: “Scott Mann our Conservative MP voted to allow raw sewage to be dumped into the River Camel 20th October 2021.”

However, Scott Mann says these allegations are false and that he is “committed to seeing the end of combined sewer discharges over time”.

A spokesperson for XR North Cornwall said: “We’ve watched in horror as our rivers and seas have become open sewers since October 2021, when the government voted down a proposal to stop water companies pumping waste directly into our rivers and seas. They justified this by claiming that the proposal was too expensive. These plaques shine a light on the government’s failure to protect our waterways, the natural world, and all of us.

“The government’s failure to properly tackle the issue of sewage pollution has been hugely controversial. Last summer, over a hundred beaches were closed to the public after a series of sewage discharges by water companies left the sand and sea contaminated with human sewage.

“Meanwhile, only 14% of the UK’s rivers achieve “good” ecological status with pollution from agriculture, human sewage, roads, and single-used plastics creating a dangerous “chemical cocktail” in our waterways. In December the Environment Agency announced it was pushing back targets to clean up England’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters from 2027 to 2063, prompting outcry.”

Campaigner Etienne Stott, Olympic gold medal canoeist, added: “It’s disgusting, literally, to think what’s being pumped into our rivers. The government and the water companies aren’t going to clean up unless ordinary people put pressure on them. Extinction Rebellion can’t do this alone. We need everyone who cares about our rivers and seas to stand up with us and speak out. Today is just the first part of a bigger campaign to protect nature and our waterways.”

However, in response Mr Mann told the Post: “The allegation that Conservative MPs have “voted to dump sewage onto beaches” is false.

“Whist I agree that the amount of sewage discharged by water companies into our rivers and seas is unacceptable, this is the first Government to set out expectations that water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm overflows. This instruction will now be put on an enhanced legal footing.

“It is only because of the increased monitoring of storm overflows – directed by this Government – that we know how bad the problem really is. Since 2016 the number of outflows monitored has increased from 6% to 90%. That is one of the main reasons why the numbers of incidents are ‘increasing’. Furthermore, since 2008 the percentage of bathing waters rated as excellent has increased from 53% to 72%.

“Yet again, another vote recently took place in Parliament that was engineered for political purposes. The measures supported by opposition MPs would not have banned sewage overflows – as some are falsely claiming. It is estimated that the proposals would have cost £12,000-£21,000 per household. Conservative MPs have voted to amend plans, not block them. 

“We removed the sections that would have meant massive bills for households across the UK. These votes are cynical party politics at its worst, not a serious debate about solving the problem.

“I understand how emotive and important a subject this is. I am committed to seeing the end of combined sewer discharges over time and to placing the obligation for dealing with the issue squarely on the water companies — not Cornish taxpayers.”