Opinion: 'Staycations to UK coast were glorious but now after four years we're contemplating going abroad to get away from sewage in seas'
Just as the Easter holidays are approaching the first warnings of the year about beaches to avoid because of sewage spills are trickling out.
Whether you're holidaying in Kent, Norfolk, or Pembrokshire this year, it seems a great British seaside break may not be complete without regular checks of the water quality, writes columnist Lauren Abbott.
Days ago Surfers Against Sewage warned visitors to avoid a staggering 83 UK beaches because of raw sewage that had been dumped into rivers and seas.
I don't like using 'leak' or 'spill' because I think that sounds accidental.
Yet we know - and it's well documented - water companies are permitted to release sewage during periods of heavy rain so the system doesn't back up and pour back into people's homes.
Sounds all rather Victorian doesn't it? And that's without mentioning that campaigners say it's happening in dry weather too because our infrastructure is, well, rather Victorian.
I adore visting the coast.
But over the last couple of years we've spent many summer weeks avoiding letting the kids take a dip or we've had to vigorously wash hands with 'proper soap' brought along for the ride, when they'd so much as touched a pebble.
(FYI - no hand gel or wipe is potent enough to deal with the risk of human excrement.)
Like many families, we've been forced to abandon planned beach days, put off by the latest discharge alerts, while crabbing has had to involve an adult on patrol to ensure no small hands went from crab bucket to mouth when someone fancied sneakily snuffling a slither of ham intended for the crustaceans.
Just this week friends told us their seaside holiday in England for Easter - with a home hired specifically for its location metres from the sand - has been somewhat ruined by - yes you've guessed it - the actual beach now being somewhat out of bounds.
According to Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, Rishi Sunak will lose 'dozens of seats' at the next general election if he fails to stop sewage being pumped into our rivers and seas.
Good. This is a massive environmental crime on a huge scale and it needs to stop.
'Sewage is leaking into people's everyday lives and the best the government can suggest is an on-the-spot fine...'
If we want to ensure our coastlines remain attractive places for visitors to stay and spend money, and for businesses to thrive, then we need that kind of pressure bearing down on the government because at the moment the UK consistently ranks as one of the worst European countries for coastal water quality.
New plans suggest water companies, many with huge profits, will be required to 'explain' why sewage spillages have happened and what is being done to fix them. Ministers are also consulting on making it easier and quicker to slap polluting companies with immediate fines rather than waiting for lengthy criminal prosecutions.
But - to excuse the pun - that's somewhat wishy washy.
Sewage is leaking into people's everyday lives and the best the government can suggest is an on-the-spot fine as opposed to one that comes through the post?
Covid and lockdown should have taught us the open spaces on our doorstep are the most precious of commodities that deserve protection akin to that given to endangered species. Instead many native species, us included, are swimming in sewage.
After four years of UK seaside holidays and staycations, this year we're contemplating going abroad. For some guaranteed sun - of course - but also for a much less stressful swim in the sea.