Lake Windermere (14.8 sq km), the largest in UK’s Lake District, was discovered and made famous by the Lakeland poets at the time of the Industrial Revolution. With access facilitated by the coming of the railway, it has been attracting tourists in ever larger numbers. William Wordsworth published his Guide to the Lakes in 1810, and in 1847 the Kendal and Windermere railway reached Windermere. One hundred years later, in 1951, Lake District National Park was established.
There is a wide range of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) which occur in freshwater, suspended in the water or attached to rocks, it becomes visible when it concentrates in clumps. When algae blooms occur, they can cause foaming on the shoreline, often mistaken for sewage pollution. Blue algae can produce toxins which kill wild animals, farm livestock and domestic pets. In humans, they can cause rashes and eye irritation and, if swallowed, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and muscle and joint pain.
The Freshwater Biological Association, with Lancaster University, launched a citizen science Big Windermere Survey to help assess the environmental health of Windermere. There is mounting concern about the health of the lake because of algal blooms and bacterial pollution, including faecal indicator organisms.
The Save Windermere campaign group has collected 165,000 signatures to press the government to stop allowing the pumping of sewage into Lake Windermere. “Windermere is on the cusp of ecological and biological destruction, this is due to the nutrient phosphorus being dumped into the catchment in unsustainable quantities. The most notable phosphorus input, one that we are all familiar with, is sewage. Phosphorus acts as fertiliser for algae, which in turn is destroying our fragile freshwater environment,” the campaing explains.
“Lots of phosphorus means lots of algae. Lots of algae mean dramatic changes and no oxygen in the water for fish. Fish have been and continue to die in Windermere for the past decade. Arctic charr, Atlantic salmon, sea trout, and brown trout are all in decline as a result of the rapid reduction in water quality. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, the worst is yet to come.”
The renegotiation of the post-Brexit deal between the EU and UK announced on 7th September provides renewed access to Copernicus and to EU tracking and surveillance data for land and marine environment monitoring.
The Save Windermere campaign group has partnered with Map Impact and the UK Space Agency to use satellite data to harness the power of satellite monitoring and several other geospatial data sources to develop a catchment-wide view of freshwater management and deliver crucial evidence to demonstrate the mismanagement of natural resources.
Satellite imagery will be used to examine the concentration of chlorophyll – a reliable indicator of phosphorus concentrations. Data from United Utilities indicates that the largest input of phosphorus entering Windermere is sewage discharges. Working with Map Impact this data will be correlated with data from one of the UK’s largest mobile networks, which will provide anonymised cellular data to determine the number of people within the Windermere catchment. This will make it possible to calculate the contribution of human activity – sewage discharge – to the poisoning of the lake.
Save Windermere is calling for an end to all treated and untreated sewage discharges into the Lake District’s largest and iconic lake.