This very strongly appears to be another story of climate change and other human activities which are seriously harming Lake Windermere which is described as the jewel of the Lake District and which many people consider to be England’s greatest national park. Lake Windermere should be crystal clear but it looks like thin pea soup and Stephen Trotter, Chief Executive of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust said: “It’s a warning sign that something is going wrong”.
The lake is covered in a blue-green algae which is even visible from space and which puts dogs and swimmers at risk. It is “worse than anybody can remember” according to Matt Staniek, a local zoologist. It’s been described as a population explosion of blue-green algae. It is a microbe that thrives in polluted lakes and rivers.
The swimmers in Lake Windermere might develop rashes and they might end up vomiting and have a fever. Blue-green algae can be fatal to dogs. And when blue-green algae rots down it can be devastating to aquatic ecosystems because it starves them of oxygen.
It’s interesting to note that a recent scientific meeting in Berlin, Germany, discussed the same problem across Europe. They think that the heatwave has produced a tipping point which has been breached. They discussed the matter with Linda May of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. She said: “It seems that somehow these lakes are becoming a lot more sensitive. I have a horrible feeling this is the shape of things to come.”
So, what is causing blue-green algae in Lake Windermere and other lakes in Europe? Linda May believe that it is another example of the effects of climate change. That is one contribution. We are told that over the past 70 years the average annual surface water temperature of Lake Windermere has increased by 1.7°C. This alters the lake’s ecosystem.
The lake was created about 13,000 years ago. A species of Arctic fish, the Arctic charr, was trapped. It is considered to be a relic species but it needs cold water and as the water has heated up the fish’s numbers have dramatically decreased. Roach numbers have increased because they prefer warmer temperatures. Roach eat water fleas and water fleas eat blue-green algae. That’s another reason.
And the warmer temperatures also support blue-green algae directly because it allows the microbe to outcompete other microbes. And the drought, which is also considered to be a symptom of global warming, produces less water flow and so the algae is not flushed into the sea.
Another underlying cause is that phosphorus and nitrogen has been added from sewage treatment works to the lake and it also comes from farming and private septic tanks. Another form of damaging human activity.
In the UK the problem has also been seen in Loch Leven in Perthshire and Kinross where there are also abnormally large blue-green algae blooms.
Matt Saniek said:
“The algae is horrendous and if we don’t address it, it’s going to destroy the lake.”
It looks as if human activity in creating global warming is destroying the jewel in the crown of the Lake District. It reminds me of the destruction of the tiger by careless, self-indulgent and greedy human activity, the jewel in the crown of the iconic wild species.