Stop water pollution in the Lake District

Stop water pollution in the Lake District

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Matt Staniek started this petition to George Eustice (UK Government) and


Lake Windermere. The jewel in the crown of the world-famous Lake District National Park and England's largest freshwater lake, is dying. Feels like betrayal, doesn't it? I can sense you’re anxiously asking yourself: How is this happening in an area of outstanding natural beauty and the UK's best known National Park? If you are already sitting at your laptop, ready to send an angrily written email, I should clarify exactly why our lake is dying. 

One of the most notable of these reasons is one that has ignited public outrage over the last few months. Sewage. Sewage entering the catchment is adding a consequential amount of  phosphorus pollution, which is the main reason for the ecological decline in Windermere. This is either entering the catchment from combined storm overflow systems (roughly 5% of the phosphorus input from United Utilities) or from over 1500 unregulated private septic tanks (estimated at 30% but believed to be far greater). Other pollutants include household products which contain high levels of phosphates (35% of United Utilities P input) as well as diffuse agricultural run off (estimated at around 30%). With pressures such as climate change and increased tourism, the quality of Windermere is going to get worse if nothing is done. Surely in a World Heritage Site named after water itself, we should hold ourselves to higher standards, and prioritise the health of our waters and environment?

I have spent the past four months campaigning to save our lake. Over a million individuals have seen my petition calling for action, and over 100,000 people have signed it. The campaign has begun a debate, but all parties want the same outcome; an end to water pollution in the Lake District World Heritage Site. 

The campaign began on fairly innocuous grounds. I frequent the head of Windermere on an almost daily basis to observe, photograph and document the wildlife that call the lake their home. However, as the years have gone by, I've noticed something worrying - a very sharp decline in biodiversity. Being a Zoologist, my scientific curiosity took over and I set out to find the cause. I decided to write down the different symptoms Windermere was exhibiting: 

  • A noticeable absence in the keystone species, such as white clawed crayfish. 

  • Fish are dying and becoming less visible due to loss of habitat. 
    A lower diversity of bird species in the lake. 

  • The thick lake and riverbed vegetation is replaced by benthic algal blooms.

  • Constant riverbed disruption from erosion further upstream.

  • Once crystal clear waters are now clouded with toxic blue green algae. 

I subsequently delved deeper into the data and found myself shocked beyond belief. Imagine my dismay when I found the Rivers Trust interactive sewage map which showed that in 2020, combined storm overflows discharged into the Windermere catchment for a total of 7,236 hours.

The correlation between sewage discharge and water quality is clear. Sewage adds phosphorus into the water, which acts as a fertiliser for algae. When we get warm water temperatures and the concentration of phosphorus is high (for example if visitor numbers are high), then we get algal bloom events. These events deplete dissolved oxygen in the lake and rivers, killing fish. The algae also sits on the river bed of our rivers, killing invertebrates and fish spawn. On lake Windermere, the effects of this phosphorus can be seen today. Invertebrate and fish numbers are plummeting with salmon and trout  in decline and the Arctic Char are now believed to be extinct in the south basin of Windermere. My fear is this will lead to the local extinction of iconic species like the otter and kingfisher, and that soon we will be left with a lake devoid of life.

The evidence is unavoidable. Data the Environment Agency collected in Windermere’s north basin in 2018 showed a phosphorus spike at around 0.075 mg/l. Following this, the lake dropped down a whole water quality classification in accordance with the Water Framework Directive. Data collected by South Cumbria Rivers Trust showed post-lockdown spikes in phosphorus closer to 10mg/l which were recorded on several occasions throughout 2020 and 2021. If this continues, we will see algal bloom events at a severity not yet witnessed. Droughts caused by climate change will combine with these phosphorus spikes causing the total ecological collapse of the country's most iconic water. 

This will not only negatively impact biodiversity, but also the local economy and human health. It is estimated by Cumbria Tourism that if water quality continues to decline it will cause a £100 million loss to the economy. .

This decline has been rapid, and for Windermere to be saved, we need to act immediately. We must find local and specific solutions to the problems we now face. This requires the following:

Collaboration. Every single person, business or organisation that relies on our beautiful waters must come together and agree there is a problem, and to find a permanent solution.

Innovation. We need innovative solutions to unprecedented problems, to help us to adapt and ensure that these do not reoccur in the future. Every stone must be turned and every avenue explored. 

Investment. I feel this is the biggest factor and one that has been ignored over the decades as Windermere has declined. The current infrastructure is inadequate and insufficient to deal with increased tourist pressure - a full overhaul of structures that are no longer fit for purpose to protect the National Park is required.

We must ensure that the protection of the environment within our National Parks is above all else. 

Some of these problems stem from lack of regulation and chronic underfunding at a national level. The Environment Agency is underfunded and understaffed, and therefore unable to carry out its duty effectively. Equally, work to decrease sewage being released into the lake may be constrained by regulatory duties to protect our water bill pricing. But how can we solve this without multi-million-pound investments, similar to the £40 million that has already been put into the catchment by United Utilities, if this was not enough to stop the issues? The effort to try and tackle this problem nationally has so far created no meaningful change - hence, action must be taken locally. Has the current level of investment been enough? No, we do not have a lake which is resilient enough to respond to the increasing pressure that climate change is going to bring year on year.

The petition was a significant step towards saving Lake Windermere. Due to the support of all those who have signed, a meeting took place between myself, United Utilities, the Environment Agency, the Lake District National Park Authority, South Cumbria Rivers Trust and the Freshwater Biological Association. Within this meeting, a plan to save Windermere started. Whilst this seems like quite a milestone and a step in the right direction, I will not be satisfied until there are adequate accountability measures and concrete plans in place to make Windermere a healthy and thriving part of our National Park. This will require commitment, funding,  immediate action and signatures on a piece of paper. I am told I will soon be provided a date from these partners by which they are going to aim to clean up Windermere. I expect this date to tell us when our lake and surrounding rivers will have the highest water quality. 

Now looking into the future I have asked myself the question. Due to the reasonable success of getting an agreement to clean up Windermere, what now of the campaign ? I want to create immediate on the ground change. I have created the Windermere Lake Recovery Community interest company (CIC) which will enable an  immediate rollout for catchment improvements to give us a buffer until infrastructural changes can be made. This work aims to target the estimated 30% diffuse agricultural phosphorus input and the 35% phosphorus input coming from the local and transient tourist industry. 

Windermere Lake Recovery will work with farmers, landowners and the local community to implement natural solutions to mitigate water pollution, allow nature recovery, prevent future flood events and droughts, thus making us more adaptable to climate change and most importantly begin the recovery of Windermere. I want to collaborate, learn and provide a blueprint for every single freshwater catchment in the country to follow our successes and learn from our failures to save our lakes and rivers. As a means of bringing in funding for the CIC, I have started a crowdfunder to help fund landowners bring about immediate tangible change. The donations will help these people perform vital tasks, such as; returning species to rich hay meadows, install flood preventing peatland, grow buffer reed bed habitats, and develop woodland pastures, all of which have a direct impact on freshwater quality. I want this fund to help conservationists to be able to reintroduce keystone species, improve terrestrial and aquatic habitats within the catchment, and work with farmers to help support the development of their decisions and enable the passage of wildlife across the landscape. Windermere Lake Recovery will also provide social media to help educate both locals and tourists on how their activity is impacting our natural environment. I now have a commitment from the National Trust who are going to support the crowd funder on their social media platforms, allow access to their volunteer network and to collaborate with myself and their tenants to impact water quality. Cumbria Wildlife Trust has followed in a similar sentiment, and the Woodland Trust has generously donated an initial 10,000 trees to the project.

Our National Parks should be the ultimate source of inspiration for our natural world,and we should be utilising this flagship site to lead the charge for our environment. I believe this should begin in the Windermere catchment. The state of our freshwater is incredibly worrying but it is also the start of something exciting. If we can utilise the Lake District’s flagship appeal, with the right collaborations and enough investment, we can take what we learn from the Windermere catchment to other freshwater rivers and lakes across the country. We can start to reduce biodiversity loss in our rivers if we fight our common foes. I have full confidence that we can save our rivers and lakes: this fight can commence in Windermere, but it must start now.

Matt Staniek BSc (Hons)

How you can help

With the tireless work of my local MP, Tim Farron, the campaign is now in the form of an Early Day Motion (EDM) and has been submitted to Parliament.  This needs MPs to sign the EDM so it can be debated in the House of Commons and made into law. 

Why does this need you?

I need you to contact your local MP and tell them to help stop water pollution in the Lake District National Park. 

With the latest rejection of the amendments to the Environment Bill our lakes and rivers need your help more than ever. 

You can simply copy the message below, but it would be great if you can tell your MP why you care about the Lake District. Do you come here to swim or take part in water sports and are concerned about how this can impact your health? Do you visit to enjoy the beauty and wildlife of our National Park? Or do you just want to see an end to water pollution?

For those that have already signed and shared I am forever grateful but the message still needs to reach as far and wide as possible and most importantly land on the desks of those in power that can put an end to this.

Share with your friends, family and encourage them to write to their MPs. Please spread the word to help save Windermere.  

Here is the link to help you find your MP.

Thank you,


“To <your MP>,

I am writing to you to ask you to add your name to the Early Day Motion- Sewage pollution in our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Windermere is becoming increasingly polluted and unless something is done now it will soon be ecologically dead. This will have severe impacts on people, businesses and wildlife. This is despite it being one of the most loved and used lakes in the Lake District and England's most iconic water. No water body in a National Park or AONB should be polluted like this. I implore you to add your name to the EDM to ensure the protection of our beautiful lakes, rivers and streams.

Yours Sincerely, 



Phone number"



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