A group of organisations from across Cumbria have come together in a new partnership to ensure that Windermere, England’s largest natural lake, gets the focus it needs to face a challenging future.
Nutrients, climate change, more extreme weather patterns and the seasonal variations of the tourist population are all predicted to put the lake and its water quality under increasing pressure in the coming years. Long-term records show that the average annual surface temperature of Windermere has increased by 1.5 degrees C in the last 50 years, leading to conditions that favour the growth of algae and reduce levels of oxygen.
The Love Windermere partnership has members from a broad range of sectors with the range of expertise and influence needed to bring about action. Led by the Environment Agency, the partnership includes the Freshwater Biological Association; Lake District Foundation; Lake District National Park Authority; National Farmers Union; National Trust; South Cumbria Rivers Trust and United Utilities.
The group is developing evidence-based, long-term plans to maintain and improve water quality in the lake while balancing the needs of nature, the community and the local economy. One of the first aims of Love Windermere is to collate more scientific evidence to understand which solutions will be most effective and to help prioritise activity.
Actions are also taking place to understand what local people think. The Environment Agency recently hosted a citizens’ panel to engage with the community and raise awareness of the challenges affecting the lake. More than 20 residents got involved and gave their recommendations on where they want to see action start.
“Love Your Lake – The Big Windermere Survey”, took place on Sunday 26 June, with 100 volunteers sampling water at various points around the lake and its tributaries. The results will help experts at Lancaster University and the Freshwater Biological Association to produce the largest ever one-day snapshot of conditions in Windermere.
Other activities this summer include:
- South Cumbria Rivers Trust is working with volunteers to restore reed beds around the north of the lake, encouraging natural processes to remove nutrients from the lake sediment.
- The Lake District Foundation is working with owners of septic tanks to develop community emptying schemes and share tips about how to best manage private sewerage systems
- United Utilities is working with food outlets and restaurants in and around Windermere with tips to avoid constricting sewers with fatty waste which can lead to sewage spilling into the environment.
- South Cumbria Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency are trialling innovative technology that if successful could be used to remove nutrients from septic tank effluent at a relatively low cost.
- The Environment Agency will take samples and monitor water quality at four bathing water locations on Windermere until the end of the bathing water season in September, while farm inspections across the catchment will continue to focus on reducing diffuse pollution.
And more projects will be announced soon.
The work to improve Windermere will be a long-term challenge, and there is still much to learn about the complex issues affecting the lake. However, it is hoped that the collaborative approach demonstrated through Love Windermere could set out a blueprint for improving the health of rivers and lakes across the UK.
Lake District National Park Authority’s chief executive, Richard Leafe, said: “Windermere plays a key role in the lives of communities and visitors to the National Park, so it’s vital we work together with partners to improve the health of the lake. Love Windermere is set to be the most ambitious environmental partnership to date and we’re proud to take part. From individual action on septic tanks to working with land managers and the utility company, the programme will combine expertise with new data to tackle the current challenges and bring long term benefits to everyone who enjoys Windermere and the National Park beyond.”
Jim Ratcliffe from the Environment Agency said: “Over the past decade the Environment Agency has invested over £700K in projects to improve water quality, improve ecology and better understand the Windermere catchment. We know that much more can be achieved to improve Windermere and its catchment by working in partnership with all those who want to be part of the solution. We are committed to using our resources in the most effective way to improve Windermere to allow nature to thrive and for people to enjoy for many years to come.”
Simon Johnson, Executive Director of the Freshwater Biological Association said: “FBA is supporting Love Windermere through the provision, co-ordination and communication of independent science. This will enable the partnership and stakeholders to gain better understanding of how Windermere will respond to current and future pressures such as pollution and climate change. A strong evidence base will support the development of targeted and cost-effective interventions to improve water quality that work for nature and people.”
Sarah Swindley, CEO of the Lake District Foundation, said: “Our job at the LDF is to inspire people to care for all aspects of the Lake District. It’s only by working in partnership that we can ensure that beautiful Windermere can be enjoyed by generations to come.”
Laura Ruxton, from the National Trust, said: “As a conservation charity we recognise that water is the lifeblood of the UK’s landscapes and environment, and we are dedicated to making improvements wherever we can. As a partner in Love Windermere, we hope to make a positive impact on the lake and ensure it can be enjoyed now and in the future.”
Jayne Wilkinson, from South Cumbria Rivers Trust, said: “We work hard to monitor, protect and rehabilitate our rivers and lakes. We’re working closely with partners and local communities to adopt a catchment-based approach to restoring Windermere.”
Jo Harrison, Director of Environment Planning and Innovation from United Utilities, said: “The sewers and treatment plants around Windermere don’t just deal with sewage, they have to handle rainwater as well, and that’s why we have to factor changing weather patterns, rainfall intensity and the seasonal impact of tourism into our future thinking. In recent years we’ve upgraded to the best available treatment processes, but we will need to go further if we are to keep pace with these changing pressures. We stand alongside the other partners, and we’re committed to playing our part.”