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:
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:
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: