Surfers Against Sewage calls for action after 37 overflows on to local beaches in the past six months

Raw sewage was discharged into the sea off North Devon beaches 37 times in the last six months.

Data from South West Water (SWW) shows there had been 15 spills at Westward Ho!; 12 at Woolacombe; six at Combe Martin; and four at Croyde since May this year.

Sewage can legally be discharged into the water from combined sewer overflows following heavy rainfall.

But despite the number of spills, the release of bathing water results this week shows North Devon has performed quite well under the new, tougher European standards.

Westward Ho!, Saunton, Lynmouth and Tunnels Ilfracombe were rated 'excellent'. Croyde, Woolacombe, Combe Martin and Hele were 'good', while Ilfracombe Wildersmouth and Instow were rated 'poor'.

Environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) said water quality needed to be tested at the right time and place to give an accurate picture.

It claims the sewerage network is still not up to scratch and is lobbying Secretary of State for the Environment Liz Truss, calling for an end to 'sewer overflow abuse'.

Andy Cummins, SAS campaigns director, said the number of spills in North Devon was 'unfortunately pretty average'.

"It's a picture we see happening across the region when we get periods of heavy rain," he said.

"Given the conditions, we would expect a sewerage system to be working effectively, stripping it of harmful pathogens and returning it clean to the environment.

"It does not mean 15 discharges at Westward Ho!; that's not acceptable."

But SWW said the South West now had some of the cleanest bathing waters in Europe.

"Before the £2billion Clean Sweep project, raw sewage from almost 40 per cent of the region's homes routinely discharged directly into the sea - not just during heavy rain, but all day, every day," it said.

"During heavy rain, the 'overflow' system operates in order to prevent homes, roads and businesses being flooded with sewage."

"The impact of this heavily diluted storm water is short-lived. To change the current combined system would require the vast majority of houses in the region to be replumbed, roads dug up and significant increases in water bills."