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The picturesque beach that’s been branded a ‘no go’ zone amid filthy water | UK | News

The picturesque beach that's been branded a 'no go' zone amid filthy water | UK | News

On the windswept yet sun-drenched shores of Ogmore-by-Sea in the Vale of Glamorgan, a smattering of families, dog enthusiasts and campers are drawn to the beach’s allure. The golden sands stretch out before them, punctuated by rock pools and offering vistas of Porthcawl and Merthyr Mawr it’s no wonder this spot is a favourite among south Wales’ beachgoers.

Despite its undeniable charm and natural beauty, Ogmore-by-Sea has the dubious distinction of being one of the two worst beaches in Wales for water quality, with official advice against swimming here. In 2023, both Ogmore-by-Sea beach in St Brides Major and Watch Tower Bay in Barry, recognised bathing spots, were tested by Natural Resources Wales (NRW).

Out of 109 Welsh locations, these two were the only ones to receive a ‘poor’ rating due to high bacteria levels.

The problem appears to be escalating. Recent assessments have seen the water quality at Ogmore by Sea labelled as “abnormal” by NRW, attributed to elevated bacterial counts.

While the exact cause of the pollution remains unverified, Welsh Water has expressed skepticism over concerns that the Penybont treatment works might be leaking, reports Wales Online.

However, there are other potential culprits for the pollution. Four of Wales’ most prolific sewage outflows, which release everything we flush down our toilets into the river network during heavy rain, all ultimately flow into the River Ogmore and reach the sea near the stunning beach.

An outflow on the River Llynfi in Maesteg, two outflows onto the River Garw near Bryngarw, and one at Ewenny all pour into the river. In total, they discharged sewage into the river for 17,551 hours last year.

And these are just the major ones; there are numerous smaller outflows on the Ogmore and its tributaries.

As concerns were raised for swimmers’ safety, Vale of Glamorgan council advised people not to swim at either sites. The type of bacteria that was detected came predominantly from sewage and agriculture, as well as other sources.

As you stroll from the car park to the beach, signs warning swimmers to “stay away from the sea” have been printed out on laminated A4 posters – something that dad-of-three Chris Budding did not see before he plunged into the water. Originally from Gloucestershire, Chris and his family have come here for the day.

“We just got recommended to this beach by a family friend,” he explains. “They said that this was a really nice place to come to and this is our first time here. We put our feet in the sea, which was nothing too crazy.”

“We didn’t notice it was like that, but it does seem worrying. Nothing stood out [signage], we got out of the car, paid, went to the toilets, then went down here.”

Chris and his family aren’t the only ones to venture out to the sea that day. Despite a breezy forecast, some have seemingly gone further into the sea in their swimming gear.

Upon hearing the recent news about Ogmore-by-Sea beach poor ratings, Chris said: “It’s not ideal, it makes you want to go for a good wash. It’s so easy to touch the water and then touch your face. It’s a beautiful, lovely location – it’s a shame that a place like this is affected by it. The last thing you want to do is go to a beach like this and then become ill after a family day out.”

Chris isn’t the only one to voice his concerns about people’s safety. At the beginning of June, Mark Ryan, the chairman of the Ogmore Angling Association which has more than 300 members who regularly use the waters for fishing, said that they were concerned about the children that went to the beach to swim as well as members from the angling association who used the waters for leisure purposes.

Mr Ryan has lamented the “sad state of repair” of the beach, expressing the community’s desire for action. Mat Palkowski, an avid fisherman, confesses that the troubling reports have made him “reluctant” to return to his favoured spot at Ogmore-by-Sea.

On a bright Saturday morning, Mat and his partner Beth from Llanharan decided to take their beloved dog Charlie for a seaside stroll. The pair cherish the beach as a treasured escape, a sentiment echoed by many locals.

“We do come here quite regularly,” shared Beth. “It’s nice, it’s local, it’s refreshing, the sun is shining. It’s just a nice kickstart to your day. Between here and Porthcawl, we come here around once a month. We’re quite lucky in this corner of south Wales. It’s just nice to come here in the morning with the dog.”

Despite being aware of the disconcerting news about the beach, Beth remains drawn to its allure. “In the last five years, this beach looks like it has become cleaner,” she observed.

Beth and Mat at Ogmore

Beth and Mat Palkowski from Bridgend love the beach (Image: Mark Lewis)

“We were just saying this morning how blue and clear the sea looked. So it’s not very pleasant to hear there might be sewage here.”

She remarked: “It’s such a nice stretch of beach, the sand part is always clean but you do worry with the sea and how clean that is. I wouldn’t bathe in it, I haven’t bathed in it for years – I used to bring my children here when they were younger. It’s cold for a start but also it just doesn’t look clean. I think we’ll continue to come here for walks, it hasn’t put us off coming here but I just wouldn’t want to bathe in it.”

Despite the notorious sewage discharges into the river Ogmore, Dwr Cymru Welsh Water has yet to pinpoint the exact cause of the elevated bacterial levels at Ogmore-by-Sea. Following the disclosure of abnormal bacterial levels, the company announced “no leaks or significant faults have been found” and that further probes have yielded no definitive answers.

The issue of water pollution in UK rivers and seas has recently garnered increased attention. Shocking figures reveal that Dwr Cymru Welsh Water discharged sewage into various bodies of water across Wales for over 916,000 hours in 2023.

Annabel and Dan Addams

Annabel and Dan Addams from Worcestershire spoke out about the beach (Image: Mark Lewis)

The company reported a staggering 105,943 sewage spills in the same year, with a worrying 93% classified as “significant”.

Over in England, the situation appears even more dire, with sewage discharges into rivers and seas by water companies more than doubling in 2023. The Environment Agency disclosed a total of 3.6 million hours of sewage spills, a significant jump from the 1.75 million hours recorded in 2022.

Local resident Ella MacKrill from Bristol highlighted the sadness of the situation, stating: “We go swimming and we camp a lot. We will camp near beaches or rivers or lakes, so that we can go swimming there as well.”

She added: “It can look beautiful, but you never know if it’s clean. It makes you feel really sad and you feel let down. Swimming in places like this feels like it’s the last thing you can do that is really glorious and free. So to hear about the poor rating, is a massive shame”.

Worcestershire-based couple Annabel and Dan Addams, and their pooch Arlo, couldn’t agree more. They’ve chosen the south east Wales coastline as their favourite spot.

“We love it here,” admits Annabel. “It’s quiet here and the dog can come here throughout the year. We come here in the summer with the kids as well. For the last three years, we’ve been coming here, and in the summer the kids come with us. There’s plenty of beach but it doesn’t feel commercial like other places.”

In light of recent coverage regarding the sea’s water quality, Dan expresses his disappointment, saying: “I thought this place used to be a really good one, it used to be really clean. It’s a shame because obviously someone has messed up somewhere. From what I’ve read, they still don’t know why.”

He further commented: “You’d think they would find a better way of disposing rubbish, it’s such a beautiful area and then this is happening. It just feels like laziness, cost-cutting. And it makes you wonder how long this has been going on? “.

Water quality at Ogmore-by-Sea is very poor

Water quality at Ogmore-by-Sea is very poor (Image: Mark Lewis)

Both NRW and Welsh Water are persisting with their investigation into the pollution incident. A recent statement from a Welsh Water spokesperson read: “Following over 1,200 work hours of detailed investigations, analysis, trial holes, CCTV inspections, and 3D scanning of pipes and tanks, no leaks or significant faults have been found at the site and associated assets and drainage connected to the site.”

“Furthermore, extensive dye testing where dye is put into the wastewater to trace it through the process and to pinpoint leaks has not identified any leaks within the pipework or tanks on site or along the sewer network connected to the site. Over 1,000 pots of dye have been used over the course of our investigation but it should be noted that this dye does not have any impact on the environment.”

“Dye has been observed leaving the discharge point from the works i.e. where treated wastewater is discharged via an outfall to river Ogmore and a faint discolouration was observed reaching the channel where the pollution incident was initially reported. This seems to be due to the incoming tide driving river water up into the channel and thus carrying over the dye and potentially silt from the riverbed. The wastewater treatment works is operating and discharging as normal and compliant with its permits.”

“Our initial identification of a potential leak on site was later established to be a ground water pipe unrelated to our treatment works or sewer network. No further evidence of a leak has been identified.”

Ogmore is one of two beaches slammed for poor water

Ogmore is one of two beaches slammed for poor water (Image: Mark Lewis)

“Our examination of the “sludge” in the channel where the pollution incident was reported is not consistent with the microbiology of our biological process at the wastewater treatment plant. Therefore, we do not have evidence to pinpoint this material back to our treatment plant. Since we cannot find a route from our assets into the channel, the source of the pollution and our investigations remain inconclusive and we will continue to work with Natural Resources Wales.”

Fiona Hourahine, operations manager for Natural Resources Wales added: “We’re continuing our investigation of the pollution incident on the River Ogmore that could be impacting water quality at the Ogmore-by-Sea designated bathing water.”

“Dwr Cymru Welsh Water’s investigations at the Penybont wastewater treatment works have been inconclusive and the source of the pollution has not been identified. Our officers have been assessing the environmental impact by taking regular water samples from the river and bathing water.”

“We are waiting for the results from samples taken last week. If these show no issue with water quality, we will likely remove the abnormal situation at the Ogmore-by-Sea bathing water. We will continue working with Dwr Cymru Welsh Water to try and identify what happened and monitor the area for further pollution.”

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