Good news for Combe Martin’s water quality

Combe Martin Beach

Combe Martin Beach - Credit: Selaine Saxby

Selaine Saxby MP recently received the good news from Environment Minister Rebecca Pow MP that the combined work of South West Water, the Environment Agency, and the community had played an important role in helping to improve the bathing water in Combe Martin. 

In the letter to Selaine, the Minister said: “I recognise and value all the work that is being done to improve water quality. Please pass on my thanks to the members of the Combe Martin Water Watch Group for continuing to champion the bathing water at Combe Martin. The coordinated work of the local community, South West Water and the EA is a great example of what can be achieved.” 

An exceptional amount of work has been done over the past few years to fight back against the river pollution. South West Water and the Environment Agency have spent millions in the area, backed up by the diligent and selfless work of Combe Martin Water Watch.

Combe Martin Beach

Combe Martin Beach - Credit: Selaine Saxby

Sea water scrubs pollutants but because of Combe Martins unique weir, which protects the beach from storm surges, the river water does not diffuse as swiftly, and therefore the beach does not clean itself like other beaches. This means that water samples are dependent on the tide, and can on occasion be worse than many other beaches. Combe Martin needs to work that much harder to keep the River Umber clean. 

The Environment Agency, along with Exmoor National Park, are already working on the next scheme to help guard against flooding and water pollution in the area, working with local farmers and planting many thousands of trees. 

Selaine Saxby, MP for North Devon, said: “This is very welcome news. Despite all of the improvements and good work, Combe Martin faced potential declassification for bathing, partially because of a lack of testing in 2020. To address this and give the community and authorities more time to do the necessary work, Ministerial help and the support of the Environment Agency was needed. 

“It would be an understatement to say that the community was worried about this, to have the beach closed to bathers because of old and out of date data would have been awful for next summer. The River Umber is improving and this letter gives the backing that we need to again, move forward.” 

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Bryan Cath, Chairman of the Combe Martin Water Watch Group, said: “Our group have been working closely with the Environment Agency (EA) and South West Water (SWW) over several years. Great improvements have been achieved especially in the last two years, making the seawater much cleaner. 

“The way the EA decides on the quality of our seawater was being skewed by the poor readings from the previous three years, not counting 2020 when no readings were taken. This did not reflect the work that had been done to improve the pollution coming from within our valley. 

“With the help from our North Devon MP Selaine Saxby, DEFRA have reconsidered Combe Martin’s position. If we get a good reading for 2021, of which we are hopeful, then the clock is reset. If we get a poor reading for 2021 then the clock starts taking into account the old readings and we have four years to improve our water quality. 

“This gives our group new vigour to continue with our work with the EA and SWW. It also means we have a good chance of improving the local economy of our village which is so reliant on our beach and water quality to attract tourists.”

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