In 2004, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) at Lancaster secured funding via the Rural Development Service (now part of Natural England) from the Rural Enterprise Scheme jointly with the National Trust for a 12 month lake monitoring programme entitled “An investigation into the potential impacts of farming practices on Loweswater”. The aim of the CEH study was to try to improve understanding of the causes of algal blooms in the lake by analysis of monitoring data collected during an annual cycle and to provide information on ways in which the pollution problems could be addressed.

Sampling and analysis of the feeder streams to Loweswater showed that Dub Beck accounted for most of the principle nutrients entering the lake. In terms of phosphorus, land run-off was the only source of particulate phosphorus, which accounted for about 50% of the total (particulate + dissolved) phosphorus entering the lake. Land run-off (which includes any fertiliser-derived phosphorus) was the main source of total phosphorus, but only accounted for about one third of dissolved phosphorus entering the lake. It is the dissolved phosphorus present as phosphates that is available to the algae and the rest of this dissolved phosphorus came from farmyard slurry/manure (just under 50%) and septic tank discharges (about 20%).

In the spring of 2005, the phytoplankton produced a bloom dominated by cyanobacteria. This contrasted with the normal Spring pattern of dominance by diatoms that is found in many other lakes. There was also a smaller summer algal bloom which was probably largely supported by this internal cycling of nutrients from the bottom sediments. Modelling of the lake processes confirmed the dominant effect of phosphorus in controlling phytoplankton production. It was concluded that the main options for reducing phytoplankton production were:

  • to ensure that all of the septic tanks were functioning correctly
  • to reduce losses of phosphorus from animal husbandry activities, eg by restricting slurry spreading and by reducing input from slurry tanks and
  • to minimise fertiliser applications in line with the requirements for grass production.

You can read the full CEH report on farming practices here.

At about same time as this CEH study, the potential for a wider exploration of what was happening in the Loweswater catchment arose in the form of a joint Research Council funding programme, the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme (RELU). This led to scientists from CEH coming together with social scientists from Lancaster University to discuss potential joint work in the catchment. The Farmers Improvement Group provided a locus to explore the catchment from a much broader perspective both scientifically and in terms of joint working with stakeholders and regulatory/policy institutions. Before embarking on a full multi-disciplinary project, they felt that a preliminary “scoping” study to explore this potential would be beneficial and this was carried out in 2004-5 with the following aims:

  • To identify the range of factors that will need to be investigated in order to understand the catchment,
  • To identify and bring together the expertise and data required to address issues within the Loweswater catchment; and
  • To hold structured discussions at Lancaster University in order to begin the process of understanding one another’s interpretation of research visits and data findings, and how best to move forward and build from such insights.

In order to bring together questions about the responsibilities for phosphorus inputs to Loweswater and the consequent algal blooms with the responsibilities for addressing and remedying this problem, the scoping study concluded that it would be necessary to:

  • Link terrestrial and aquatic ecological knowledge,understand the role of local culture, local knowledge and understanding, social mores and relationships in shaping land and resource management in the catchment;
  • Understand the way in which institutional arrangements pertaining to agriculture, water resources, environmental protection, economic regeneration, local government, tourism and recreation shape opportunities and constraints for catchment management; and
  • Understand how economic issues for catchment residents affect resource use and management and thereby affect terrestrial and aquatic ecology.

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