It’s no exaggeration to say it’s affected every aspect of my life,” said Maggie Alderson, a Hastings resident who blames the polluted English Channel for an infection that caused hearing loss in one ear two years ago.

Hastings has been in the spotlight again this week for an acute problem over water supply, with more than 30,000 homes relying on bottled water because of a burst mains pipe. All the homes are now back on mains supply.

However, the East Sussex town also suffers from a chronic challenge: water pollution. Southern Water’s own “Beachbuoy” monitoring data shows hundreds of thousands of minutes of raw sewage spills into the sea at Hastings and St Leonards between December 2020 and March 2023.

Alex Ford, a professor of biology at the University of Portsmouth who analysed the figures, found that seven storm overflows run by the company at St Leonards spilt for 188,125 minutes over the period. Five at Pelham beach, Hastings’ main tourist beach, spilt for 16,259 minutes.

Alderson took comfort in sea swimming during the Covid lockdowns until she got an ear infection in 2022. When she saw a GP, the doctor’s first question was whether she was a sea swimmer. “She said, ‘you are the seventh I’ve seen this week with an ear infection’,” Alderson said. Her infection progressed to the point where her ear drum was punctured. She now wears hearing aids.

The 64-year-old novelist and journalist blames the infection on swimming in seawater contaminated with faeces. Normally, Alderson checked sewage spill maps run by the charity Surfers Against Sewage. That day she did not.

If an operation to repair her ear drum goes well she hopes to return to swimming, but would never do so without ear plugs. “I feel like one of the great joys of my life has been spoilt for me for ever,” Alderson said…