Mersea Island oyster farmer joins legal bid over sewage spill

Tom Howard

Tom Haward’s family oyster business has been in operation for 253 years

An eighth-generation oyster farmer has joined a legal bid to tighten government policy on water companies dumping sewage into the sea.

The Richard Haward Oysters family business, based on Mersea Island, Essex, has been in business for 253 years.

Operations director Tom Haward said “the industry could be destroyed if water companies are not held to account”.

Anglian Water said it was investing more than £200m to reduce spills in the east of England.

Tom Howard

Mr Haward said he wanted to “defend” the fishing industry

Untreated sewage is discharged into coastal waters by storm surges, designed to prevent sewers from becoming overloaded in an emergency.

However, their use has increased in recent years as climate change has led to more rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said. (Defra).

The government has given water companies until 2050 to invest in and improve sewers to prevent them from overflowing into English waterways and coasts.

Howard, the Marine Conservation Society, activist Hugo Tagholm and the Good Law Project have filed a request for judicial review.

The group hopes to force the government to impose stricter deadlines on water companies to significantly reduce the use of overflows and expand the protection of coastal waters.

West Mersea oysters

Mr Haward said water companies are not acting fast enough

While Mr Haward’s business has not been negatively impacted by the sewage, he said it was important to “get up and shout about things like this”.

“Our oysters are safe to eat and the waters are nice and clean,” he said.

“But it’s about preventing it before it becomes a problem, as opposed to what happens and it overwhelms us and then it becomes too late to do anything about it.”

Mr. Haward said he wants to safeguard not just his family’s business but the industry as a whole.

“The industry has a legacy,” he said.

“The UK is famous for this, Mersea is very famous for this and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

West Mersea

Haward said work and investment by water companies should happen “immediately” and not for years to come

Haward said there had been “a renaissance of oyster eaters in the UK” and therefore the industry could have “an amazing future”.

“So it’s really important to safeguard it and protect it for its future,” she said.

Defra declined to comment on the legal offer.

An Anglian Water spokeswoman said: “We completely accept that Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are history, particularly as our climate changes and extreme weather are more common.

“But until they can be eradicated, they act as a necessary safety valve in old sewage systems, to protect homes and businesses from flooding during heavy rains.”

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