Comedian Joe Lycett has shed light on the appalling reality of sewage being dumped in the country’s waterways as he shamed the companies responsible.

In his new Channel 4 documentary Joe Lycett vs Sewage, the comic and broadcaster demanded water companies stop paying dividends until they stop “pumping poo” into the UK’s rivers and sea.

He spoke to campaigners, workers and experts to expose the crumbling sewerage network, lack of investment, the toxic working environments and the eye-watering £1.351 billion paid in dividends by water companies in 2022-23, which equated to 11 per cent of their total revenue.

He also discovered that billions of pounds would need to be spent to build more wastewater system storage to deal with untreated sewage.

As part of his investigation, Lycett visited Aldwick beach in Bognor which has poor water quality.

There he met Clare Franklin from Bognor Bluetits Swimming Club who said members often call the beach “S***wick beach” and said she is having to cancel meet-ups more and more often due to the water quality.

Read more: Residents battle to keep floodwater from homes

He also met Bianca Carr from Clean Harbour Partnership who told a shocked Lycett that Southern Water had 16,688 spills of untreated sewage releases last year in the area.

“Using the word spill makes it sound like an accident,” she said.

“And it’s not accidental. Their systems are full.”

She also spoke about Lidsey Wastewater Treatment works in Fleet, which in April 2023 had 187 consecutive hours of sewage being pumped into the sea, nearly eight days’ worth.

The Argus: Joe Lycett spoke to a range of people including journalist John SopelJoe Lycett spoke to a range of people including journalist John Sopel (Image: Channel 4)

“I find this all pretty shocking,” said Lycett.

“You would think given how bad this stuff can be for human health that dumping sewage at the current massive scale would be illegal.”

Lycett was approached by a resident who said he does not go swimming in the sea any more “because I don’t want to swallow what I got rid of three hours ago”.

Only this week, sewage poured into the sea for nearly nine hours after a failure at Southern Water's Portobello outfall 2.5km off Peacehaven.

In January swimmers were told “not go into the water” after a sewage release affected the whole coastline around Shoreham including the River Adur for days.

Southern Water spokesman said storms overflows are not responsible for affecting water quality in the area.

"We and the EA attribute high samples to contamination in surface water drains – primarily from illegally connected facilities which should be plumbed to our network but instead go in to surface water drains, streams and ultimately the beach."

Later in the show, Lycett met a whistleblower from a water works who described a “toxic” environment where profit is prioritised over the environment and a “dilapidated” system where treatment works are being held together by “sticky tape” and “plasticine”.

He said many works have not had any investment since 1950.

“If a pump breaks down then quite easily we could be pumping poo into the environment,” he said.

“A lot of them can’t process what they’re treating.

“I work myself at a large works which is putting in excess of seven million litres of sewage every time it rains untreated into the river.

“It needs better regulation and more investment.”

He said he did not think this would happen.

“Profits come first,” he said.

Lycett also spoke to Eva Perrin from Surfers Against Sewage who said the group has received almost 2,000 sickness reports in the UK from people through its app.

The Argus: Joe Lycett with Gary Lineker on the launch of his fake podcastJoe Lycett with Gary Lineker on the launch of his fake podcast (Image: Channel 4)

At the end of the programme, Lycett took part in a stunt to launch his latest fake podcast – Turdcast – where a giant inflatable toilet dubbed the Turdis accidentally leaked fake sewage into Liverpool Docks.

The stunt was in a bid to get people talking about real sewage dumps. It had no environmental or biological impact on the area and the spillage was marine mud, it was confirmed.

At the end of the programme Lycett asked people to “write to your water company” to sign up to Joe’s Poo Promise.

“I want the water companies to stop paying dividends and invest that money improving and solving this problem,” he said.

A Southern Water spokesman said: “We’re investing £3 billion between 2020 and 2025 alone and every penny of profit since 2017 has gone back into improving our performance.

“And aside from Ford, it was Southern Water which built the string of treatment works along our coast finishing in 2013 with the giant Peacehaven works near Brighton.”