A Kent shoreline, near the point where humans waste are being dumped into water has seen hundreds of tomatoes.

Local conservationists call them “sewage tomatoes” because they are thought to be derived from treated sewage that was pumped into water at Pegwell Bay.

Experts claim that tomato seeds are being washed up at the beaches of popular beauty spot, as they are too small to filter through the sewage treatment process.

Experts believe that they have been fertilized by human waste and are now spouting out into rows of tomatoes plants at the bay, as well as other coasts.

Nik Mitchell was a wildlife enthusiast who found hundreds of tomatoes in his area while litter-picking.

A member of Wildlife Conservation in Kent’s local group, Mitchell posted video showing him picking up and eating so-called “sewage tomatoes”.

He posted on Facebook: “In the recent years, I have discovered things like floss, plasters and applicators, as well as earbuds going into water.

“But tomatoes is new to me. Tomatoes are an important part of the human diet, but they don’t digest well in our bodies. 

Dubbed 'sewage tomatoes' (pictured) by local conservationists, the fruits are believed to have grown from seeds in treated sewage pumped into the water near Pegwell Bay

The fruits, which are referred to as “sewage tomatoes”, (pictured), were discovered by conservationists in the area. They have been believed to be the result of seeds in the treated waste pumped into the waters near Pegwell Bay.

Experts say tomato seeds - too small to be filtered out during the sewage treatment process (pictured: Library image) - are washing up on the coastline

Experts claim that tomatoes seeds are too small to filter out in sewage treatment. (pictured, Library image).

Pegwell Bay (pictured) in Kent is a popular beauty spot used by hikers and dog walkers

Pegwell Bay in Kent, (pictured) is a well-known beauty spot that dog walkers and hikers love to visit.

“So, as untreated sewage reaches our waters, the seeds are washing up all along Thanet’s coastline. But it is in Pegwell Bay that fertile conditions exist and the seeds are able grow.

Pegwell Bay is very close to my heart and I am thrilled that hundreds upon hundreds of tomato plants have been planted. These plants are delicious for snacks while I pick litter.

Alice Toney (31-year-old mother-of-two) was also able to see the so-called “sewage tomatoes” while she lived two miles away from Pegwell Bay.

She said: ‘We went down there at the weekend for a stroll because the weather was good, and we were amazed to see tomatoes basically growing on the beach.

“I had heard of it from other residents, but it was something I did not believe until I actually saw it.

“It is alarming to see tomatoes being grown there, because the tomato pips are in people’s urine and are fertilised with human sewage. 

One wildlife enthusiast, Nik Mitchell, discovered hundreds of the tomatoes while litter picking in the area this week

Nik Mitchell, a wildlife enthusiast discovered many of these tomatoes this week while litterpicking in the region.

The possibility that birds are feeding off nearby garbage dumps and the presence of large-scale tomato farms nearby could explain the existence of tomatoes.

Experts in plant science say that it’s possible to grow tomatoes from sewage treated waste.

Louise Marsh from the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland told MailOnline that she has seen tomatoes grow in nature. Her records include sightings of tomatoes growing wild. 

They might grow in areas such as picnic areas or near treatment waste water. 

“But mowers often go over picnic areas, so there will be more tomato plants around sewage treatment areas since there isn’t as much people there.  

Meanwhile, conservation experts at The Rivers Trust also say the tomatoes could  be from sewage.

MailOnline spoke with Rebecca Duncan, spokesperson for the charity. She said that tomatoes don’t break down in their guts so they grow in sludge filtered at the sewage treatment plants. This would allow them to grow wherever untreated wastewater washes up along the coast.

Birds feeding on nearby landfill sites and the nearby presence of a large-scale tomato farm has been offered as a possible explanation for the tomatoes. But plant experts say it is possible for tomato seeds to survive the sewage treatment process. Pictured: A tomato found by Nik Mitchell

The possibility that the tomatoes are caused by birds feeding at nearby dump sites or the existence of a large-scale tomato farming operation nearby has been suggested. Experts say that it’s possible to grow tomato seeds in sewage treatment. Image: Nik Mitchell found a tomato

The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland records sightings of plants including tomatoes in the wild (pictured)

The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland keeps track of sightings of tomatoes in nature (pictured).

The tomatoes are seen growing on what appears like a storm beach.

When the waves are high, ‘things can be deposited there.

“These animals can live there for some time because they don’t often get submerged. This means that they may be salt-tolerant.  

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DEFRA, has experts who say that there’s no evidence tomato plants can be linked to sewage releases.

MailOnline was told by a spokesperson that the answer came from seabirds eating nearby garbage at landfill sites.

Are there any laws that currently prohibit water companies from releasing sewage to rivers or into the sea? 

Britain’s sewer system is still predominantly Victorian and becomes overwhelmed by excessive rainwater.  

These are the conditions under which water companies can release rainwater and less untreated waste directly into rivers or seas to prevent waste from backing up in homes and streets.

However, environmentalists believe that better infrastructure such as storage tanks at treatment facilities or nature-based solutions, such as tree planting, can be used to address the issue, which has become too severe.

More than 400,000 sewage “overflows” were reported into English waters in the last year. This was compared with 293,000 in 2019.

WWF suggests that water companies rely on sewer overflows as a way to make up for their under-capacity. 

Following treatment, waste water is usually released into the environment, whether it be out to sea, through coastal discharges or long-term outfalls. 

While the House of Lords had included the amendment to the Government’s Environment Bill into its legislation, the House of Commons rejected it and the MPs approved. 

The amendment aimed to clean up rivers by placing a new duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges into rivers.  

Southern Water who can pump treated wastewater out to sea is allowed to say that tomatoes were found near UK outfalls ‘for many decades’. 

MailOnline spoke with a spokesperson who said, “Tomatoes are able to survive by eating other animals.

‘Tomatoes have been spotted near outfalls around the country for many years and are now self-seeding – many generations have sprung up fruited and then regrown from the seeds.’ 

Southern Water says tomatoes are not linked to storm releases or pollution.

The vote comes just as environmental campaigners said last month that it was “beggars belief” that MPs rejected amending legislation to ban water companies from dumping rawsewage into Britain’s rivers.

Residents at beaches along the coast attacked Tory politicians for voting down an amendment in the Environment Bill, which would have required water companies to stop sewage from entering rivers.

Surfers Against Sewage identified 20 beaches on the Sussex/Hampshire coast that it claimed are polluted. These include Hastings and Bognor Regis as well as Saltdean, near Brighton, and Shanklin, on the Isle of Wight.

Surfers Against Sewage – which has a map of worst-hit areas – identified Herne Bay (Kent), Seaton in Cornwall, Hunstanton and Hunstanton as polluted. Therefore, it is unsafe to swim there.

The Rivers Trust provides another map showing where wastewater enters rivers. The charity also advises residents to stay away from these waterways, especially after heavy rains.

Officials from the government’s environmental department insisted that the volume and frequency of sewage being released by water companies into rivers is unacceptable. There were more than 400,000 incidents last year in Britain.

Rivers Trust’s analysis of Environment Agency statistics revealed that 86% percent of England’s river systems are in a ‘failing state’. More than half of the cases had been identified by charity Rivers Trust as being due to water companies, partly because these firms were pumping raw sewage or partial-treated into rivers.

Britain’s sewers are unable to cope with heavy rainfall, which leaves them overwhelmed. Water firms can release untreated rainwater into the rivers and sea, to prevent waste from backing up in homes and streets. 

But environmentalists argue that better infrastructure like storage tanks can prevent this.

It is harmful to wildlife as well as the health and wellbeing of wild swimmers and surfers like Jo Whiley, a radio DJ who fell ill after going for a swim in a river. 

Seven weeks ago, the Government told the wastewater plants they might dispose of partially treated sewage because of the lack of chemicals due to the lorry driver crisis.

This map from The Rivers Trust shows where sewage enters local rivers. The trust advises people to avoid entering the water immediately downstream of these discharges and avoid the overflows (brown circles), especially after it has been raining

The Rivers Trust’s map shows how sewage can enter local rivers. People should avoid entering water directly downstream from these discharges. They also need to stay clear of overflows (brown circle), particularly after rain.

Only 22 Conservatives voted against the government by supporting an amendment to Environment Bill that would have placed a legal obligation on water companies to not pump sewage into the rivers.

Campaigners argue that firms who discharge sewage into watersways need to pay a tax in order to finance the cleanup. 

Companies that dump millions of tons of sewage into Britain’s rivers, lakes and seas face calls for a tax on their profits to pay for the clean-up.

The proposals could help pay to stop water companies allowing sewage to overflow into rivers on days of heavy rain and provide a £340million fund each year for improvements.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey made the call before today’s Parliament vote on the Environment Bill, which seeks to write environmental principles into law.

The government proposes that taxpayers pay the cost of sewage system upgrades.

The proposed ‘Sewage Tax’ would be a 16 per cent levy on the pre-tax profits of water companies, which last year added up to £2.2billion.

For example, Southern Water, which makes the most profit of England’s water companies, would have paid £70million in 2020.

Thames Water, which made £434million in pre-tax profits in 2020, would also pay £70million after pumping raw sewage into the River Wey near Guildford for an estimated 1,789 hours last year.

Mr Davey said: ‘Pumping raw sewage into our treasured rivers and lakes leaves a bad taste in the mouth, particularly when these companies are raking in millions of pounds in profits. It stinks.

‘Water companies need to clean up after their mess. Why should taxpayers be left to foot the bill for water companies who have shown utter disregard for our local environments?’

Yesterday Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Government was introducing changes to the Environment Bill that would ‘mirror’ calls by the Duke of Wellington for water companies to have a legal duty to ‘progressively reduce’ the amount of sewage they dump each year.

Critics argue that it doesn’t require water companies or other entities to act quickly and allow dumping to go on for years.

Mr Eustice told Times Radio: ‘It does everything the Duke of Wellington’s amendment did, and so he recognised that this is a challenge that you wouldn’t solve overnight because the cost of removing all of these storm overflows could be up to £600 billion.

‘But that’s not to say we shouldn’t significantly reduce their use, and since the 1960s most houses’ surface water drainage has been on a different drainage system to the foul water sewage system, but often they’ve ended up being pumped back into the sewer further down the line.’

But Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, labelled the amendment a ‘political ruse’.

He said: ‘If I was a water company and every year I reduced the amount of sewage I dumped by 1/10,000th I would be making a ‘progressive reduction’ but I could carry on dumping s*** for 10,000 years.’

In its entirety, the Bill seeks to codify environmental principles into UK law after Brexit.

It is currently in the parliamentary stage known as ‘ping-pong’, where a piece of legislation moves between the Commons and Lords until agreement can be reached.


The Duke of Wellington introduced the amendment in the House of Lords. This would have forced the Government and water companies to “take all reasonable measures” to stop the overflows of the combined sewers. These leak untreated wastewater into the rivers and seas. 

Royston Smith of the Conservative Party, who opposed the amendment to the Southern Daily Echo, said that although no one wanted sewage in their rivers, it was impossible to change an outdated system. 

“Things such as illegal sewage disposal, that’s another thing. But there comes a point when the system can’t handle significant rainfall or flooding and will overflow into rivers.

Fay Jones was a Tory member of parliament and said to BBC Politics Live that he did not think this was an urgent issue. However, the problem was that the amendment was completely uncosted. It had no idea how the Victorian sewage system would be constructed across the country. Who was going the pay?

Hugo Tagholm (chief executive, Surfers Against Sewage) said that it was shocking that the government had recommended that MPs rejected progressive and ambitious amendments to protect water, air, and nature.

“Why would they not want water companies to be legally bound to respect our oceans and rivers with no sewage? It is hard to believe and does not show a willingness to become the best government. 

“It is time to think bigger and for law that puts protected nature back in public ownership, rather than allowing shareholder interests to destroy it.” 

He stated that a record number of people use our lakes, rivers and beaches for their well-being and health. Wild swimming, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding and much more – our blue spaces have never been a more important public amenity. But sewage, agricultural and human pollution continue to plague UK rivers and oceans. 

“Only 14% of England’s rivers meet the criteria for ‘Good Ecological Condition’. The UK ranks last among 30 European countries in terms of coastal water quality, even though it invested in the 1990s. Water companies have pumped raw wastewater into England’s waterways for over 3.1 million hours in 2020. 

MPs were warned in April that water companies dumped raw sewage into streams for over three million hours while making billions to shareholders.

According to the environmental audit committee, the Mogden treatment facility sent in the Thames the equivalent of 400 Olympic swimming pool-sized effluents over two days last fall.

Although sewage can only be discharged during heavy rain periods, Sharkey informed MPs that the River Chess, Chesham and Buckinghamshire plants were ‘discharging sewage continuously for 35 days’.

Peter Hammond was a retired professor of computational biology from University College London. His analysis of sewage treatment work revealed that 160 permits had been revoked by the EA in order to permit sewage discharges.

According to him, the Watchdog had only been able to prosecute 174 illegal discharge cases in the past decade.

Hammond explained to MPs that his research revealed that many treatment facilities do not maintain a minimal rate of wastewater treatment after spilling. Many illegal spillages were not reported by the EA.

“My research revealed 160 permits were violated in 2020,” said a researcher. I believe they are in order of magnitude that I think is 10 times more … than the agency have identified.’

According to the EA, there were 403.171 sewage spillages into England’s rivers or seas due to storm overflows. The EA also stated that more than 3 million hours were accounted for by sewage spillages.

While overspills caused by rain do not attract fines, in July, Southern Water was fined a record £90 million for dumping sewage off the south coast of England between 2010 and 2015.