It has recently been rated one of the best beaches in the world. But locals fear Gorleston also has a dirty sewage secret that may cloud its new-found popularity. OWEN SENNITT reports


At any possible opportunity, Adam Williams, an outdoor instructor and die-hard water sports lover from Gorleston, dons his wetsuit and dives into the bracing North Sea to surf.

“There is nothing more levelling. It is an escape from the everyday and the chance to experience Mother Nature at its best,” he said.

Eastern Daily Press: Adam Williams, head of outdoor learning at Norwich City College and owner of Boardin Skool in GorlestonAdam Williams, head of outdoor learning at Norwich City College and owner of Boardin Skool in Gorleston (Image: Adam Williams)

The 46-year-old has spent much of his life participating in water sports. He is head of learning at City College Norwich while also running Board Skool, which offers classes in surfing and paddleboarding from Gorleston beach.

But in recent weeks there has been one issue kicking up an awful stench and making him think twice before taking the plunge into Norfolk’s coastal waters: sewage.

“When it is bad, it really stinks. No one wants to go in and if you do, it leaves your kit smelly after. It’s awful” he added.

“I know a number of people who have fallen ill from a bacterial infection picked up from being in the water.

I’m worried that if the issue is not taken care of it will put people off participating in water sports.”

Eastern Daily Press: An archive picture of uninviting surf at Gorleston BeachAn archive picture of uninviting surf at Gorleston Beach (Image: Newsquest)

According to official data from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), Gorleston’s water rating is excellent.

But its monitoring system does not account for short-term issues.

Last month, Gorleston beach - recently named one of the best in Europe - was hit with pollution safety warnings by campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), which monitors water quality across the UK.

Between March 6 and April 6, SAS recorded four pollution alerts at the coastal town.

Gorleston sits between two locations that saw some of the highest numbers of sewage discharges in the region - Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

Environment Agency data found sewage was released for a total of 194 hours in Lowestoft and 67 hours in Great Yarmouth in 2022.

When there is too much rainfall for systems to cope, water companies are allowed to discharge overflow from these pipes into our rivers and seas.

Anglian Water says such measures play a “vital role” in protecting homes and businesses from flooding.

But the company admits that this system needs to change and that it is “no longer the right solution when sewers become overloaded with rainwater”.

The issue has grown in prominence recently - helped by high profile campaigners like the former pop star Feargal Sharkey - and the government recently announced water companies would face legally binding targets to cut sewage discharges into the UK’s rivers.

Eastern Daily Press: People enjoying a day out at Gorleston Beach in the summer monthsPeople enjoying a day out at Gorleston Beach in the summer months (Image: Newsquest)

Anglian Water says it is investing more than £200 million, between 2020 and 2025, to reduce so-called 'storm spills'.

A spokeswoman said: "As part of our Get River Positive commitment we’ve promised that storm overflows will not be the reason for unhealthy watercourses in our region by 2030. And we’re working towards eliminating all serious pollutions by 2025.”

For Mr Williams, such results cannot come soon enough.

“Tides don’t just move in and out, the flow goes up and down the coastline, one way then the other," he said.

“We are right in the middle between two of the worst spots for sewage so it seems to hang around more.

“It is a real shame as it is very safe here for water sports in Gorleston and in the summer it is brilliant. But sometimes it is very dirty.

“Sewage wasn’t something that people were worried about a few years ago but they are now.

“People don’t want to pay for a lesson if they could get poorly from it.

“It could have a big impact on local businesses that rely on tourism, as after all, it is the chance to swim at the beach that draws people here.”

Eastern Daily Press: Adam Williams runs paddle board and surfing classes from Gorleston BeachAdam Williams runs paddle board and surfing classes from Gorleston Beach (Image: Adam Williams)

The impact of these water quality scares has been evident in recent weeks just a little further up the coast.

Mundesley beach, a popular destination for many, was forced to close over Easter after a burst pipe spilt sewage into the surrounding waters.

Surfers Against Sewage have been campaigning to clean up our rivers and seas from pollution since 1990.

“We should be able to use the water without fear of getting sick. It’s unacceptable that we can’t," said Izzy Ross, SAS campaigns manager.

“These are shared public spaces that we rely on for our health and wellbeing, including water sports, and unfortunately weakened ocean protections mean that the situation is only likely to get worse.”

As well as being a health risk to humans, sewage pollution is damaging the fragile ecosystems around our coast.

Eastern Daily Press: Rob Spray of Seasearch EastRob Spray of Seasearch East (Image: Newsquest)

Rob Spray, a Cromer-based conservationist who conducts regular marine life surveys as part of Seasearch East, said: “It is utterly disgusting for humans to do this to themselves and it shows a lack of forward thinking.

“Sewage should be treated on land but instead we use our oceans and rivers as a dustbin.

“Untreated waste is altering the behaviour of marine life. It can contain hormones from contraceptive drugs which are affecting population numbers.”

Defra recently announced its Plan for Water, which could see water companies face unlimited fines for dumping sewage illegally.

The plans include a £1.6 billion investment package to be spent improving the current Victorian infrastructure, as well as a potential ban on wet wipes and more restrictions on the use of ‘forever chemicals’ (PFAS) found in rivers and seas.

For Mr Spray, action needs to be taken immediately.

“We need to look after our important natural habitats for the future as they may not be there in 10-20 years," he said.

“It isn’t rocket science, if you flush waste into the sea it is obviously a bad thing.”