Sheffield Friends of the Earth fish Turds from River Don to Highlight Sewage Pollution

On Saturday 1 June Sheffield Friends of the Earth fished 4 giant inflatable emoji turds from the River Don to highlight the shocking levels of sewage dumped into our rivers and seas. We are calling for a new law to give everyone the right to live in a healthy environment.

Using the latest Environment Agency sewage overflow figures from 2023, Sheffield Friends of the Earth has calculated that Yorkshire Water had 77,761 spill events which released sewage for more than half a million hours (516,386). [1]   

The figures for Sheffield’s constituency areas are broken down in the table below. It shows that there were 5,840 spills in 2023 which lasted for a total of just under 30,000 hours [2]

Not all storm or emergency sewer overflows have EDM (Event Duration Monitoring) systems installed, so the data does not necessarily represent all the untreated sewage that has been discharged. Some of the Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) in our region are not working, including the one at Lady’s Bridge where we are holding our stunt [3].

The environmental group believes everyone deserves the right to a healthy environment. That’s why Friends of the Earth is campaigning to enshrine this in law as part of a new Environmental Rights Act [4], which would empower communities to hold regulators and public bodies to account for failing to protect our precious waterways and allowing companies to pollute with impunity – risking the health of British people, wildlife and our environment

Shaun Rumbelow from Sheffield Friends of the Earth said, “We should be able to walk along our rivers and see them alive with fish, otters and kingfishers rather than turds, wet wipes and plastic.

 “It’s ironic that we were fishing for fake turds next to an overflow pipe with a monitoring system that’s not working. This means more sh*t is entering our rivers than officially reported.”

“We urgently need a new environmental law which would grant us the right to a healthy environment and enable us to hold polluters to account. Members of the public can support our campaign by visiting our website”

Liddy Goyder, from Sheffield Friends of the Earth said, "With a General Election now only a few weeks away, all the candidates standing in Sheffield constituencies need to understand how important it is to tackle these urgent threats to our local environment with far reaching implications for our communities, our health and well-being and the local economy. We will be urging them to support our campaign".



The figure for spill events in Yorkshire relates to those from works operated by Yorkshire Water. Although that covers the vast majority of Waste Water Treatment Plants in Yorkshire there are a few operated by Northumbria Water (around the Stokesley area) and by Severn Trent (around Doncaster)



[4] An Environmental Rights Act would embed the legal right to a healthy environment into law and ensure pollution was acted on. What’s more: 

  • It would prevent the government from making any new laws that allow water pollution e.g., the current legislation that permits water companies to let sewage into the sea during storms, and would bolster laws proposed right now that would hold water companies to account
  • Public bodies (like water companies) would have to act in ways compatible with rights which means they would have a new legal responsibility that would require them to change how they deal with sewage so that it can’t flood beaches. The Environment Agency as another public body example would also have to take stronger action to fix pollution, to warn people about the risks and not just keep reporting on the declining situation.
  • Residents living in places plagued by sewage could exercise their human right to a healthy environment, access enhanced information about the sewage and challenge those polluting companies and the regulators that fail to police them in the courts.