Wild swimming has become increasingly popular in the past few years, with thousands of people around the country taking the plunge.

But while many swimmers enjoy the health benefits which come with dipping in cold water, their concerns on water quality continue to rise.

The Environment Agency released monitoring data showing raw sewage was dumped into English rivers and coasts 372,533 times last year, with discharges totalling 2,667,452 hours.

Determined to change the tide, a group of eco-conscious residents held a peaceful march from the White Bridge in Cattawade to Manningtree beach.

Mermaids Against Sewage, which is a Manningtree-based group, organised the campaign as part of the national day of action on water quality by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS).

The group came to exist after PACE (Practical Actions for Climate and Environment) member Bekki Bibko contacted a number of wild swimmers to organise a peaceful protest against Anglian Water.

On the day, there were 11 protests across the country, with each one of them targetting regional water companies.

Gazette: The mermaids often take a dip in the cold waters for health and wellbeing benefitsThe mermaids often take a dip in the cold waters for health and wellbeing benefits

Catherine Arnold, of Mistley, who is one of the organisers of the protest, said: “According to data from SAS, there were 408 unsafe Combined Sewer Overflow notifications and 294 unsafe pollution forecasts received from Anglian Water on coastal bathing waters from January 2019 to February 2022.

“In 2020 Anglian Water reported releasing sewage into rivers across England for over 390,000 hours.

“On top of this, it was announced in March that the water regulator Ofwat would start enforcement cases against five water companies, including Anglian Water, due to concerns over the way sewage treatment works.”

Under government plans, water companies in England would have to meet targets to eliminate the environmental impacts of 3,000 storm overflow outlets by 2035.

Storm overflows put untreated sewage into the seas and rivers to stop drains overflowing, for example after heavy rain.

So Catherine and the rest of the mermaids are now calling for an end to sewage pollution into UK’s bathing waters.

They would also like to see an enhanced testing regime which shows a true picture of the UK’s water quality in real time.

According to the mermaids, an increased investment in infrastructure to prevent destructive practices like this would be a step in the right direction.

Catherine added: “Ultimately we want to have clean bathing waters to swim in, paddleboard in, sail in. And for the wildlife to enjoy too.”

Catherine, together with other mermaids, loves swimming in the cold wild waters because of the health and wellbeing benefits. But she says she wants to enjoy the refreshing exercise without having to worry about the quality of the water.

She added: “To have that natural resource available for free where we can go and enjoy each other’s company we think it is a basic right it should be clean.

“It is like a reset when you get in the water – personally it just makes me feel alive.

“I like to go once or twice a week. My husband suffers from fatigue, so he finds the cold water therapy really beneficial for his health.”

A spokesman for Anglian Water has said the company accepts more needs to be done.

He added: “Data from our 2021 monitoring programme tells us our performance continues to improve, and the increasing visibility we have of combined sewer overflow (CSO) activity gives us even more opportunities to act faster in the areas where we can have most environmental benefit. But we agree that CSOs are no longer an acceptable way of dealing with flooding and overloaded sewers, we need to do more.

“Our Get River Positive commitments outline the action we are taking right now to improve the health of the waterways across our region and ensure our operations are not the reason for unhealthy rivers by end of the decade.”