Save Windermere

by Matt Staniek | Save Windermere in Windermere, Cumbria, United Kingdom

Total raised £34,842

raised so far

821

supporters

Money raised will fund further data collection, campaign films, fund raising, and more to continue and expand the Save Windermere campaign.

by Matt Staniek | Save Windermere in Windermere, Cumbria, United Kingdom

 New stretch target

Money raised will go towards evidence collection, expenses associated with driving awareness to a wide demographic, general running of the campaign and, if there is funding left over, habitat restoration to improve water quality.


Updated: 15 April 2023

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Lake Windermere is dying.

Sewage is being discharged into Windermere Lake in the heart of the Lake District National Park. United Utilities are not addressing the urgent need to upgrade their infrastructure and are well documented to spill sewage illegally.

Excessively high nutrient levels are destroying England’s largest lake. The Save Windermere campaign is on a mission to return the lake to its natural state.

We demand an end to all treated and untreated sewage discharges into the Windermere catchment.

The choice is simple. If you disagree with sewage being discharged into Windermere Lake, or any of our waterways, please read on.

We cannot sit back and watch idly as Lake Windermere dies. The organisations, put in place to protect the lake, operate blindly and fail to hold polluters to account. We must start collecting the evidence no-one else is willing to collect. YOU can help me to do this and together we can shine the spotlight on the polluter and begin to reverse the degradation of Lake Windermere.

 

What's happening in Windermere?

High levels of phosphorus in the lake are leading to a rapid increase in potentially toxic algal blooms. The single largest input of phosphorous into Windermere is sewage discharges from United Utilities Wastewater Treatment Works. Algal blooms suffocate our lake and are a danger to us, our pets and our wildlife.

246 full 24-hours days of sewage discharged from storm overflows into the Windermere catchment in 2022, up from the 233 full days that United Utilities discharged for in 2021.

 


Campaign Objectives

  • Compel United Utilities to invest heavily in infrastructure to remove their input entirely.
  • Demand openness and transparency and compel United Utilities to release currently withheld data.
  • Collect further evidence of ecological damage and illegality within the catchment.
  • Hold organisations to account to ensure they are held legally responsible for their actions.
  • Further mobilise the press and influence public opinion through events, films and demonstrations.
  • Lobby Parliament, politicians, policy makers and United Utilities’ institutional investors to effect change.

How Your Money Can Help

Donations will be used to fund:

  • An independent monitoring programme to collect invaluable evidence which will underpin the campaign.
  • Enhanced scale and frequency of media, including films, produced to amplify the campaign and its core aims to an even wider demographic.
  • Incurred legal fees and other fees associated with ensuring polluters and pollution incidents are justly addressed, enabling the continuation of the campaign.

Initial donations will be used to set up the Windermere invertebrate sampling super hub, partnering with WildFish and Cumbria Wildlife Trust. This will monitor all rivers with sewage treatment works attached to them, as well as those with minimal inputs, to ensure we get an accurate overall picture of water quality in the Windermere catchment. Early benchmarking has indicated that the local sewage treatment works are having an impact on invertebrate abundance. The hub will build upon this evidence.

Cost surrounding the campaign will include:

  • £7,200 to bench mark 10 sites with a professional entomologist 
  • £444 to add 1 site to this list
  • £3,900 to train 20 individuals to sample and ID down to species level
  • £222 per sample to be analysed by accredited ecology firm.
  • £100 - £1,000+Spot water samples through out the catchment can range from [dependant on what sample is looking for i.e . total detergent to include (man made) anionic, cationic and non- ionic surfactants to soluble and reactive phosphorous and ammonia after a pollution event. Will differ with frequency also]
  • If funds permit, remote monitoring sensors can be purchased which will give us real time and remote monitoring. These cost £3,000+.
  • Film production is dependent on length and expense put into the project. i.e. the above film cost £6,000, was filmed in one day.

 

The story so far... 

United Utilities and Windermere

United Utilities is the company responsible for managing the sewage and wastewater infrastructure in the Lake District, including the Windermere catchment area. Their operations have been identified as the single largest contributor of phosphorus into the lake, and they are the key focus of the Save Windermere campaign's efforts to protect our lake now and forever.

The water industry nationally has proven time and time again that they focus on profits and shareholder dividends over the protection of the environment. 

United Utilities is one of the worst offenders. They are not taking the necessary actions required to address the excessive phosphorus that is being discharged from their assets. They fail to collect comprehensive data from their assets and prevent us from accessing their datasets, meaning we are unable to quantify the extent of their illegal and legal activity. Instead, they sit within the Love Windermere partnership, distracting from the urgent need for investment in their own infrastructure and shifting the conversation to focus on septic tanks and farmers. This is a greenwashing exercise that needs to be exposed.

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The Windermere situation is the epitome of the privatised water industry failing our freshwater. United Utilities is a £7 billion company. Their most recent investment in the catchment was between 2015-2020, where they invested £40 million. In that same period the company paid £1.6 billion in profits to their stakeholders, and in just the first 6 months of 2022, United Utilities reported a pre tax profit of £426 million. That's £2.3 million a day, meaning United Utilities made back their £40 million 5 year Windermere investment in just 17 days of last year.

We are not seeing a proportional amount of investment to cope with the tourist industry as water treatment works are built to reflect the resident population. In addition, it is well known and documented that sites frequently spill illegally. When requesting this data, the information is often withheld by United Utilities without a valid exemption.

 

Evidence Collected So Far

I have been working with two phenomenal NGO's, WildFish and Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP).

Far Sawrey

On Wilfin Beck our study found a 61% reduction in invertebrate species from above and below Far Sawrey waste water treatment works. We discovered sewage fungus growing into the beck from the waste water treatment works which indicates a continuous discharge of sewage. Coupled with this we have reintroduced the Environment Agency to the requirements of the environmental permit which it granted for the site in 1989. The permit states that "as far as reasonably practicable, the works shall be operated so as to prevent: any matter being present in the effluent which will cause the receiving water to be poisonous or injurious to fish or to their spawn, or spawning grounds or food, or otherwise cause damage to the ecology of the receiving waters; and the treated effluent from having any adverse environmental impact". The site is only built for a resident population of 250 people so does not take into consideration the impact of the increase in tourism since 1989. When an Environmental Information Regulation request was put forward to United Utilities, concerning the works, it was rejected. This site needs to be brought into the 21st Century and needs to stop destroying the ecology of Wilfin Beck.

Near Sawrey

Following a mass fish death on Cunsey beck - one of the big tributaries that feeds into Windermere - myself and the Graythwaite Estate arranged for South Cumbria Rivers Trust to sample the river above and below the works, as well as from within the discharging pipe. The results showed ammonia and phosphorus levels indicating untreated sewage was leaving the site. WASP have demonstrated the site at Near Sawrey (despite the storm tank at Near Sawrey being more than six times larger than the EA requirement and the works having an approx. capacity 7x the dry weather flow) spills illegal untreated sewage for considerable amounts of time. The illegal spilling from the site occurs in dry conditions, similar to what we saw when Cunsey Beck died, as well as before the capacity of the works has been met. United Utilities have withheld data from 2020 and from 2022, so we are unable to cross check their data.

Ambleside

For Ambleside waste water treatment works, and the focus of the campaign film, WildFish have shown that there is a 44% reduction in invertebrates from above to below United Utilities’ final treated effluent pipe. This data is coupled with evidence from WASP showing that this site spilled illegally in the years 2018, 2019, 2021 and withheld the data for 2020. The site is also built for a population equivalent of 5,000 people — anyone who knows Ambleside will know that this is simply not big enough. This deterioration of invertebrates, towards the base layer of the food chain, is on the largest main river that flow into Windermere lake.

The Impact

Wildlife

Our wildlife has already been telling us something is very wrong with Windermere.

In 1980, 855 sea trout were caught by line on the River Leven, the main outflow of Windermere's water. In 2021 this number plummeted down to just 12 individuals.

We saw a mass fish kill on Cunsey Beck just last year in which rare and protected species were killed on a single day. These species included Atlantic salmon, white clawed crayfish, European river eels, trout, pike, perch, rudd, roach and minnows.

The Arctic charr, a flagship species in Windermere, has persisted in the lake since the last ice age. They are now believed to be extinct in the South Basin of Windermere. The pressures on the species in the North basin are exactly the same - we will soon lose our charr forever.

At the lower end of the food chain, invertebrates are critical to the operation of a healthy & thriving ecosystem. We have documented:

  • 61% reduction of invertebrates on Wilfin Beck, from above to below Far Sawrey Wastewater Treatment Works.
  • 44% reduction of invertebrates on the Rothay, from above to below Ambleside Wastewater Treatment Works.

Businesses

The Windermere catchment generates £750 million from tourism each year. If someone were to get seriously ill or die as a result of pollution in Windermere, the impact on the local economy would be catastrophic.

“In the medium to long term, the continued decline in water quality may impact the economic viability of businesses that depend on a healthy Lake environment, and damage the overall reputation of the Lake District as a visitor destination.” — Cumbria Tourism 

Recreation

Algal blooms can be harmful, causing skin irritation and respiratory problems for people swimming in the lake. Windermere has 4 designated bathing sites and hosts the UK’s largest outdoor swimming event each year. If the lake is no longer safe for recreational activities, the local economy will suffer and the wellbeing of residents and visitors will be at risk.

Extensive cynobacterial blooms in 2022 were not taken seriously enough by local organisations. We worked with WildFish to analyse one bloom which showed the levels recorded in the sample sent exceeded both EA and WHO guidelines for levels of Anabaena (and Microcystis), where thresholds are set such that, if the bloom were toxic, there would be enough toxins to pose a risk to humans and other animals (e.g. dogs and cattle). On a weight for weight basis, the neuro and hepato toxins potentially produced are as toxic as cobra venom. For humans, unless drinking the water directly, the effects are likely to be diarrhoea, vomiting and skin rashes caused by a third group of compounds produced by blue-green algae called pepto-polysacharrides. If humans ingest enough algal laden water then hospitalisation and death can occur.

The Save Windermere campaign aims to address these issues and restore the lake to a healthy and enjoyable environment for all.

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We Need to Act Now

The tipping point for Windermere will be defined by our climate. Our climate is changing and as a result our lake is warming.

The average annual surface temperature of Windermere has increased by 1.7°C in the last 70 years alone. We are set to see more rainfall which is going to escalate sewage discharges, but we will also have more extended drought periods which allow the algal blooms to engulf Windermere.

Warming temperatures, more flooding and more pressure on inadequate local infrastructure is going to create an algal bloom event so big that thousands of fish will wash up dead on the shore of the lake leaving Windermere ecological dead.

Lakes across the world this year have shown that the warming climate and the total disregard for the protection of our wildlife and freshwater is killing entire ecosystems.

Here is one example of a lake in America that suffered an enormous algal bloom and fish death just last year. Read article in the Guardian.

 

What We’ve Been Doing

Now we are on a mission to return Windermere to its ecologically natural state, through the complete removal of ALL treated & untreated sewage discharges into the Windermere catchment. Our aim is to position Windermere as the poster-child for the national crisis resulting from the mismanagement of our water utilities.

We will ensure Windermere’s future - ecologically, economically and socially.

Petitions

Since I started the campaign at the end of 2021, I have worked tirelessly to stop sewage pollution in Windermere. Over this time, I have launched three petitions with a combined total of over 400,000 signatures — the latest petition launched in December 2023 now has over 62,000.

Sign the petition

Invertebrate Sampling

We have partnered with charity WildFish to launch a Windermere SmartRivers ‘superhub’ on Lake Windermere.

The scaled-up hub will sample 15 river sites located on waterbodies which flow into the lake. These sites will help pinpoint the source and scale of pollution in the catchment and monitor changes in aquatic invertebrate populations.

The Windermere ‘superhub’ will deliver an accurate picture of water quality issues downstream from United Utilities’ treatment works. This will help fill the data gap and demonstrate how the treatment works impact aquatic invertebrates – as an indicator of water quality – over time. The ‘superhub’ will target United Utilities’ infrastructure as well as private septic tanks and agricultural inputs to determine the source of pollution.

Awareness & Lobbying

We are working hard behind the scenes with policy makers, politicians and other charitable organisations to raise awareness of the issues facing Windermere and affect change at a national level. If you would like to learn more and help us spread the word, attend one of our events or show your support with our branded merchandise.

 

Why I Started Campaigning

In 2019 I broke my neck in a car accident. Whilst in a neck brace, I took up wildlife photography as a means to prevent myself from going completely insane. In this period of time, I regularly went down to the head of Windermere Lake. Once the neck brace came off I was obsessed with photography. I was going down to the head of Windermere every single morning, for two years straight. In this period, I noticed something very concerning — a sudden decline in water quality and the amount of wildlife I was seeing.

Worried that something untoward was happening in my favourite river and to my favourite animal, the otter, I started to do a little digging — that's when I discovered that United Utilities is regularly discharging thousands of hours of sewage, all of which is collecting in Windermere. That's when I dropped everything and dedicated my whole existence to put a stop to this. I still to this day, cannot believe that this is allowed to happen to England's largest lake, in a national park, world heritage site and area of outstanding natural beauty.

Those that are behind the death of Windermere must be held accountable for failing to protect this national natural treasure.

 

Campaign Media Coverage

The Guardian: Finally, there’s something to unite Britain – disgust at what is happening to our waterways and seas

The Times: Unlimited penalties for water firms that pollute

The Times: Pollution and climate change threaten Windermere’s Arctic charr

The Times: ‘Genuine problem’ with sewage pollution, admits water industry chief

iNews: Outrage as major rainfall in months triggers sewage discharges in rivers across England and Wales

BBC: Paul Whitehouse - Our Troubled Rivers

NWE Mail: Paul Whitehouse visits Windermere for new BBC show

The Westmorland Gazette: Large blob seen outside sewage outlet at Far Sawrey

iNews: Chemicals from sewage and septic tanks are killing Windermere, warn campaigners

The Times: Sewage heroes wade in where Environment Agency has lost muscle

NWE Mail: Matt Staniek submits objection to Ambleside development

The Guardian: Water firms in England urged to upgrade sewage works for new homes

The Times: Alert at Lake Windermere over toxin levels that turned water green

BBC: The pollution causing harmful algal blooms

The Westmorland Gazette: Matt Staniek campaigns to end sewage pollution in Windermere

NWE Mail: Windermere to feature in Channel 5 Michaela Strachan documentary

The Daily Mail: If Government is failing Windermere, imagine what's happening in your river

Express & Star: Pollution in Windermere ‘epitome’ of problem facing rivers and lakes

The Guardian: ‘It stinks’ - Windermere plagued by blue-green algae as ‘toxic as cobra venom’

The Telegraph: Lake Windermere is ‘as toxic as cobra venom’ owing to sewage pollution

The Independent: Sewage: Why toxic algae on Lake Windermere is only the start of what’s to come

The Times: 'Lake Windermere is Dying' - toxic algae puts swimmers at risk

BBC: Harmful algae spreads across lake in heatwave

The Westmorland Gazette: Blue green algae blooms in Windermere caught on video

The Times: Alert over toxic blue-green algae in Windermere

The Independent: Toxic algae blooms caused by heatwave turns lake and rivers green

The Express: Lake District disaster: Horror of raw sewage spilling into Windermere

Lancs Live: Windermere toxicity fears over algae that causes vomiting and diarrhoea

The Daily Mail: Stay OUT of the water: Council tells swimmers and dog-walkers don't go in algae

The Daily Mail: Pollution shame of Lake Windemere

The Times: Charity blames Windermere fish deaths on United Utilities

The Times: Sewage threatens ‘environmental catastrophe’ for Lake Windermere

BBC: Windermere on verge of 'catastrophe', campaigner warns

Country File: The numbers aren't all they seem. Is the water industry really cleaning up its act?

The Westmorland Gazette: Matt Stainek speaks out about water pollution in the Lakes

Great British Life: Windermere is dying says young ecologist Matt Staniek

BBC North West: Interview with Matt Staniek

BBC: Sewage pollution: Why has Windermere lake turned green?

ITV: Should the Lake District lose it World Heritage Site status?

Cotswold Outdoor: Saving Windermere With Environmentalist, Matt Staniek

The Telegraph: Lake Windermere could be awarded bathing water status to stop it 'dying' from sewage pollution

The Daily Mail: Lake Windermere could become ‘ecologically dead’

The Guardian: Lake District sewage could leave Windermere ‘ecologically dead’

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