The Environment Agency, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust have launched a ‘Call of Nature’ campaign to highlight the issue of septic tanks for sewage disposal inadvertently polluting nearby water bodies.

The campaign will be targeting home and business owners that need to rely on septic tanks because their remote geographical location means they are not on the mains sewage grid.

People who have septic tanks in a designated area for water abstraction have to comply with new licensing requirements to ensure systems are properly maintained and do not cause pollution. New rules were introduced in January 2015 to simplify the way septic tanks and small sewage plants are regulated and, from 2020, discharges from a septic tank direct to a surface watercourse will not be permitted.

Charles Forman, of the Environment Agency, said: “Septic tanks can cause pollution to water if they aren’t properly maintained. In Yorkshire alone there are 78 water bodies with high phosphate levels because of septic tanks which have not been cleaned out or are leaking. High phosphate levels can lead to excess algal growth which cuts off light and uses up oxygen. In addition, ammonia from sewage is toxic to fish and other water-dwelling animals.

“It can also spread diseases, releasing bacteria, viruses and toxic chemicals into streams, rivers, lakes and ultimately the sea, spreading disease to humans.”

One of the targets of the campaign is tourists who stay in holiday cottages where residents change from week to week and who do not realise the property in not on the grid.

A new website – www.callofnatureyorkshire.info - contains information on how to look after your septic tank and signs that it is not working properly. It also contains leaflets specifically for holiday cottages and other temporary accommodation which can be printed out and displayed in the properties.

The campaign is also offering specific guidance to households and businesses and will explore new options such as community tank emptying groups.

Volunteers will be carrying out tests on local streams and rivers to check that the project is having a positive effect on water quality.

Photo: Image of Semerwater, one of North Yorkshire's largest natural lakes, by Jenny Hayward