We lost our sewage appeal

Photo: Windrush Against Sewage Pollution

We’re disappointed to have to tell you that we lost our appeal for permission for judicial review of Ofwat’s regulation of sewage releases.  This is a blow to us and we know it will be to many who supported us financially and/or morally. We’ve invested a lot of time in researching the issue and its legal background, and over £40,000 of your donations in legal fees taking the case and then taking it on to the Court of Appeal. We gave it our best shot but there is nowhere else to go.

Was it worth it?

Well, although we lost, we tried. Most judicial reviews fail but unless you take to the field you can’t win any victories. This one we lost. We lay out our scorecard overall below.

Frankly, we are surprised that we were not given permission to go to a full court hearing. We believed, and still do believe, that we had a strong and arguable case. We would have relished having a day in court to make that case.

We’d much rather win than lose – wouldn’t everyone? But we are often told, and often by those against whom we have taken legal action, that despite losing, the very act of taking a legal challenge changes the future behaviour of public bodies. We are now accustomed to being told that things would have happened, bad things, but someone said ‘What if Wild Justice got to hear of this? We’d be in court pretty quickly.’. So we guess our view is that if we keep throwing ourselves against the door then we will sometimes break through, and even when we don’t then we’ve rattled the windows as well as the doors and the residents know there is someone outside.

But we wish we could have won this case.

Our record:

This is the third challenge that we have lost at the ‘permission’ stage – and we have appealed all of them – unsuccessfully. The other two were cases on the Badger cull in England – click here – and the hopeless Defra burning regulations – click here.

There have been other cases where even just a legal letter has been enough to secure a positive change – most spectacularly in our first challenge over general licences in England back in 2019.

Some cases, where permission is granted, proceed towards a court hearing and then the other party caves in – examples include our challenge of gamebird releases in England –  click here – and our challenge of Northern Ireland general licences – click here.

Our challenge of general licences in Wales went to court and the judge found against us – click here – but his remarks were so helpful (and to be fair, Natural Resources Wales were so sensible) that after a consultation NRW brought in a suite of changes that were pretty much what we had asked for – click here. Sticking in there, and making a strong case, won the day in the end.

This is a very strong record – and for that we have to thank our legal team at Leigh Day and Matrix Chambers.  

The future:

We’ve already started some further investigations in relation to sewage discharges. We’ll let you know if anything comes of them. But we’d also like to wish others well in their actions on water quality; small organisations like Windrush Against Sewage Pollution with whom we worked closely, Surfers Against Sewage, River Action, Wild Fish and the incomparable Feargal Sharkey.

We’ll sit in a corner feeling down about this loss for a day or two and then we’ll be up again and looking for the next area where we can take legal action on behalf of wildlife. Thank you for your support.


We are awaiting the result of our challenge of the proposals for a Badger cull in Northern Ireland.