Windermere Lake District: ‘iconic’ lake will be plagued by toxic blue green algae ‘for decades’ as ‘damage already done’
Campaigner Matt Staniek warns Lake Windermere is “under threat” from sewage and blue-green algae - and it is a “worrying sign” of what is to come
and live on Freeview channel 276
An “iconic” lake, the largest in England, will be plagued with blue-green algae “for decades” because of “how much damage has already been done”, Matt Staniek, a 27-year-old campaigner and zoology graduate has warned. Staniek is the founder of Save Windermere, a campaign born from the statistic that over 7,000 hours of untreated sewage was flowing into Lake Windermere in 2020.
Staniek broke his neck in a car accident, and following this went to the head of Lake Windermere in Cumbria each day for three years whilst he recovered mentally and physically. In July 2021 he started the campaign and since then he told NationalWorld he has seen “significant declines in invertebrate populations on several of the rivers feeding into Windermere.”
He added that in summer last year the lake had one of its largest blue-green algal blooms “encompassing the entire north basin” showing “just how under threat it is”. He told NationalWorld: “This is a worrying sign of what’s to come as our climate changes and the inaction of the government and the water company continues. We need a fundamental change to the way we treat our freshwater ecosystems to finally stop the key issue that is causing the decline of Windermere: sewage.”
The Save Windermere campaign says high phosphorus levels from sewage is leading to a rapid increase in toxic algae blooms which damage the wildlife and ecosystem of the river. In May comedians Steve Coogan and Lee Mack joined Staniek in a protest against the discharge of sewage in Cumbria’s Lake Windermere. According to Environment Agency data there were 246 days in 2022 when sewage was discharged by United Utilities from storm overflows into Windermere lakes.
Sewage runoff from rivers entering into Lake Windermere is a factor causing blue-green algae to bloom and take over the lake turning it a green colour. The algae can make humans ill and kill animals, while affecting fish numbers. The campaign group has joined forces with the UK Space Agency to crackdown on the lake’s pollution levels and algae blooms. It will aim to track inflows of harmful nutrients, including phosphorus, from sewage works, agriculture, and septic tanks.
‘How could we let this happen to such an incredible national asset?’
Staniek said his campaign is “fighting for the future generations’ right to a clean lake” and said the situation is due to “insufficient action by both the government and United Utilities”. He added that there has been “no sufficient investment in infrastructure capacity or infiltration reduction methods to keep up with population and tourism growth” and “the regulator has failed to hold the water companies to account”.
Lake Windermere is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of England’s most popular visitor destinations with over 12 million visitor days in a single year. Staniek said: “How could we let this happen to such an incredible national asset? It is vital that Windermere is prioritised in this national conversation. If we can achieve change for Windermere, the effects of this will benefit every other river, lake and coastline in this country.”
The campaign is demanding that there is a complete removal of all sewage discharges into the Windermere catchment by “action from the water company” and monitoring from the Environment Agency. It also wants to see the water regulator Ofwat “properly scrutinise water company performance and administer their financial incentives appropriately.” Staniek added: “And we need government to act to put an end to this national scandal.”
A spokesperson for United Utilities said: “The factors affecting water quality in Windermere are complex and, without targeted action by multiple sectors, we will not see the changes we all want. We are determined to play our part by improving our operations and their contribution to the overall health of Windermere. In the last five years we have halved the amount of phosphorus that is now entering the lake from our processes. We know there is more to be done to meet the new requirements of the Environment Act, and in the next two years we will be making an early start on a further £41m of investment around the lake.”