Following an investigation in 2007 into the pollution sources impacting Spittal bathing water quality, the water company carried out operational improvements to the sewer network to reduce the likelihood of storm overflow spills. A combined sewer overflow (CSO) which could discharge onto the beach during heavy rainfall was removed in early 2012. Other CSOs discharge to the estuary and contribute to pollution at the bathing water when river flows are high during wet weather.
Since 1995, the Environment Agency have worked closely with Northumbrian Water to identify and deliver significant investment in the sewage infrastructure around this bathing water. Most recently, an investigation by Northumbrian water into the effects of their systems on bathing water quality has led to improvements at 2 CSOs.
In 2016 it was determined that a catchment-wide solution, considering the impact of both sewerage and diffuse sources, would be needed for Spittal to reach Good.
For the four year (2019-2022) assessment period where data is available, seaweed (macroalgae) was not assessed as being sufficient to be objectionable, but was observed as being present on 100% of visits. Environment Agency research suggests this bathing water does not have a history of large amounts of seaweed (macro algae).
Modern sewerage systems have two separate systems, one takes foul sewage to sewage treatment, the other takes rainwater runoff through surface water drains to rivers, lakes and the sea. Misconnections occur when waste water pipes are plumbed into surface water drains instead of the foul water sewerage system. This can give rise to pollution when the waste water is discharged directly to the environment through the surface water drain. For example, a washing machine or toilet may be incorrectly plumbed so that it discharges to the surface drain rather than the foul sewage drain.
For the four year (2019-2022) assessment period where data is available, phytoplankton (microscopic algae) was not noted at this site. Environment Agency research suggests this bathing water does not have a history of phytoplankton blooms.
The risks to human health from contact, ingestion or inhalation with marine algae that currently occur in UK coastal waters are considered to be low. However, some individuals may be more sensitive and display some reactions.
A common marine algae found in UK coastal waters is Phaeocystis, which is often mistaken for sewage as it forms foam and a brown scum, but it is non-toxic.
This bathing water is subject to short term pollution procedures. The Environment Agency makes a daily pollution risk forecast at this site based on the effects of rain, tide and wind on bathing water quality. These factors affect the levels of bacteria that get washed into the sea from livestock, sewage and urban drainage via rivers and streams and how they disperse.
When these factors combine to make short term pollution likely we issue a pollution risk warning on this website and the beach manager will display a sign advising against bathing at the bathing water. After a short term pollution event, levels of bacteria typically return to normal after a day or so but it’s possible to have several warning days in a row. Details of the work to reduce the sources of bacteria at this bathing water are detailed in this profile.
In 2022 7 pollution risk warnings were issued for this bathing water.
All bathing waters have the potential to be affected by a pollution incident and if this occurs a pollution risk warning will be issued with associated advice against bathing on this website.
The Tweed Estuary discharges to the sea at the north end of the bathing water. Diffuse run off from agricultural land and upstream settlements affects the bacteriological quality of the river. After heavy rain, this can have a short-term impact on bathing water quality. High river flows also shorten residence times in the estuary, exacerbating the impact of discharges from the sewerage system in and around Berwick.
Environment Agency samplers make observations of litter present on the beach at every visit, this includes assessments of sewage debris, litter and tar. At Spittal for the four year (2019-2022) assessment period where data is available, sewage debris was not noted at this site. Litter was not assessed as being sufficient to be objectionable, but was observed as being present on 93% of visits. Tarry residue was not noted at this site.
The catchment of the River Tweed is largely agricultural with a mixture of arable and livestock farming. During and after periods of heavy rainfall, runoff from agricultural areas will be greatly increased. The quality of the bathing water may be adversely affected as a result of such events. The limited data collected on sources of bacteria suggests that livestock may be a significant source, particularly when river flows are high. In 2017, SEPA carried out a catchment investigation in the River Tweed and Spittal catchment. They visited farms along the Tweed and Whiteadder and worked with farmers to ensure best practice was adhered to, for the betterment of the water quality in the catchment and Spittal bathing water. Bathing water quality has significantly improved since this investigation concluded.
The River Tweed rises over 100km to the west and drains a catchment of approx 4000 sq km. The lower part of the catchment which influences bathing water quality is predominantly devoted to arable and livestock farming. The historic town of Berwick-upon-Tweed and its satellites, Spittal and Tweedmouth, lie at the mouth of the estuary.
Seaweed (macroalgae) and phytoplankton (microscopic algae) are a natural part of the marine and freshwater environment. Below we note whether these have been recorded in quantities sufficient to be a nuisance.
The majority of sewers in England are “combined sewers” and carry both sewage and surface water from roofs and drains. A storm overflow operates during heavy rainfall when the sewerage system becomes overwhelmed by the amount of surface water. The overflow prevents sewage from backing up pipes and flooding properties and gardens. An emergency overflow will only operate infrequently, for example due to pump failure or blockage in the sewerage system.
Heavy rain falling on pavements and roads often flows into surface water drains or highway drains, ending up in local rivers and ultimately the sea. The quality of bathing water may be adversely affected as a result of such events.
It is the Environment Agency role to drive improvement of water quality at bathing waters that are at risk of failing higher standards. It is natural for water to run off the land to the sea. Water quality at a bathing water is dependent upon the type and area of land (the catchment) draining to the water and the activities undertaken in that catchment.