Aerial surveys looking for pollution affecting East Anglia's coastline

Anglian Water has become the first water company in the country to take to the skies in a bid to cut pollution of our beaches and coastal waters.

The company, which provides drinking water and sewerage services to six million customers in the East of England, has been flying high-tech ‘spotter’ planes along the Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Lincolnshire coastline this season to spot sources of pollution that can harm rivers, estuaries and the sea.

The light aircraft has taken hundreds of highly-detailed photographs – both during the day and at night using thermal infrared – to pinpoint the source of any pollution problems, and the routes they take to get to the sea.

This is one of a number of projects amounting to millions of pounds of investment that the water and sewage company is pioneering to protect the coast’s bathing waters, beaches and tourist economies.

Tougher European legislation means beaches need to meet stricter criteria, or face having to put up signs warning people against going in the sea.

All bar one of the bathing waters in Anglian Water’s region meet the new tighter standards, and have done since records began. Already 91% are classed as good or excellent, but this aerial work will ensure they continue to do so and move closer to their goal of 100% excellent.

Dr Lucinda Gilfoyle, who leads Anglian Water’s coastal strategy, explained why it was now necessary to take to the skies using state-of-the-art technology and aerial surveys to deliver results on the ground.

“For decades, we’ve been spending money to protect and improve our coastline. The seas and rivers in the East of England are now cleaner than they’ve ever been.

“We’ve spent more than £300 million fixing issues that were previously affecting bathing water quality, dealing with some significant problems. What remains are smaller and harder to pinpoint sources of pollution – things that it’s easy to overlook, or simply not see, if you’re on the ground.

“Although each pollution source may seem negligible, when combined they can have a devastating impact on water quality.

“A lot of these potential contamination sources will have nothing to do with Anglian Water, but we see it as our responsibility to collaborate with coastal communities to help them address anything that poses a risk to water quality, and the wider economy that might depend on good, clean seas.”

Potential sources of pollution the team expect to document include:

• slurry from farms
• animal waste from fields washing into watercourses when it rains
• sediment disturbed through river dredging
• fouling from roosting sea birds
• trade waste
• and poorly maintained private cess pits and privately owned sewerage systems

It takes a trained eye to spot pollution from the air which is why Anglian Water has brought in experts, APEM, to carry out the aerial surveys on its behalf.

Dr Stuart Clough, Director of APEM, said: “Anglian Water is taking a ground-breaking approach to identifying hard-to-find sources of pollution and the benefits will be seen up and down the East of England coast. Our high resolution digital aerial surveys are ideal for jobs like this –fast, cost effective, safe and with a minimum of disturbance to people and wildlife.

”Unlike teams on the ground, our survey aircraft cover hundreds of square miles in a day, while the on-board cameras take thousands of ultra-high resolution images. Our expert image analysts will then pick out the tell-tale signs of pollution and pinpoint the location to allow Anglian Water to work with the necessary third parties to deal with the problem in the best way.”

Anglian Water’s Coastal Protection Team are following up on the findings identified by the APEM aerial surveys.