The issue was raised at Holyrood on 22 December after Scottish Liberal Democrat climate emergency spokesperson, Liam McArthur MSP, secured a statement from environment minister Mairi McAllan.
McAllan did not respond specifically to McArthur’s request for annual sewage leak reports, however, although she said that Scottish Water was continually improving its infrastructure, with a further half a billion pounds recently earmarked.
McArthur made the request for a statement in November after we reported that government officials privately said Scotland was “way behind” England in tackling the issue of high numbers of sewage leaks via storm overflow systems.
We obtained emails between the government, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and Scottish Water, about leaks between July and October 2021, under freedom of information law.
Other emails obtained by The Ferret were addressed to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, pictured right. They came from desperate residents whose homes, streets and parks were repeatedly covered with sewage.
Raw sewage used to be taken by boat, the Garrioch Head, from Shieldhall and Dalmuir sewage works, and dumped into the sea far out in the Firth of Clyde.
Now it is brought in articulated lorries – nicknamed inevitably by locals as “shit ships” – and dumped in the Auchencarroch Hills, near Haldane in Balloch.
Believe it or not the boat, owned by Glasgow City Council and later Strathclyde Region, used to provide free days trips for pensioner groups.
Addressing parliament on 22 December, McAllan said: “Since 2010 Scottish Water has worked with Sepa to upgrade 104 wastewater treatment works and 279 storm overflows, by investing £686 million. And now they plan to go even further, investing a further half a billion pounds to improve and protect Scotland’s waste water network.”
Children playing on the polluted beach at Ganavan Sands in Oban, Argyll.
Meanwhile, better recycling of fishing equipment and changing what we flush down the toilet could help cut the amount of litter in Scotland’s waters.
These proposals are included in a consultation on an updated Marine Litter Strategy, which aims to prevent litter reaching our seas and shores, remove rubbish from the marine environment, and strengthen monitoring.
Fishing and aquaculture nets and gear abandoned along the Leven towpath at Renton are currently difficult to recycle as these are usually made of multiple materials.
Adopting a circular design, with standardised materials, would make dismantling and recycling easier. This would enable re-use of valuable materials and reduce the amount of waste that could potentially end up in the water.
The draft strategy also includes measures to prevent items like wet wipes and sanitary products from entering our seas through the sewage system.
Actions include improvements to sewage system infrastructure and an awareness campaign to promote behaviour change and highlight inappropriate flushing of sanitary items.
To help curb plastic pellet pollution, the strategy includes the development of a certification scheme for businesses handling plastic pellets, with this work to be undertaken in collaboration with the plastics industry.
Launching the consultation, Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said: “Marine litter is a global challenge and we are determined to play our full part in addressing it. That’s why we’re asking for views on a range of actions that would help cut the amount of litter and plastic in Scotland’s seas.
“Fishing litter and lost gear poses an ever-present risk to marine life, and we are working with the sector to improve waste management and recycling of gear.
“The actions we take at home can also help keep litter out of our waters. Flushing inappropriate items can cause great harm to our marine environment, and by being aware of this and changing our habits we can all protect our precious seas and wildlife.”