Lake Windemere - Bee Balogun

Lake Windermere: How sewage pollution is contaminating the UK’s beauty spots

1 minute read

We’re standing in a meadow by a quiet stream in a beautiful part of the Lake District in Cumbria. Follow this small stream and it will lead you to the breathtaking Lake Windermere, the largest lake in the Lake District, and in England. But as well as stray leaves and insects, this stream carries sewage.

The sewage flows from a nearby sewage processing plant down a storm overflow pipe to this stream, then down to Lake Windermere and from there, into the sea. Although the lake is considered to be one of the UK’s most attractive beauty spots, reports of its contamination have constantly been in the media over the last five years.

This contamination is caused by storm overflow pipes, like the one in this stream, which regularly discharge diluted sewage into our waterways, harming marine habitats and the species that rely on them.

Our Head of Policy and Advocacy Calum Duncan, travelled to Lake Windermere with our Ocean Ambassador Sarah Jackson to assess the site and the damage caused by sewage pollution.

“Although commonplace throughout Britain, storm overflow pipes are only supposed to be operated in emergency situations or extreme rainfall events”, says Calum. “However, they’re used far too routinely - in England alone, last year there were more than 464,00 discharges into the environment, amounting to more than 3.5 million hours.”

These discharges contaminate our waterways and blue spaces, like Lake Windermere,  with harmful products including invisible chemicals. This is something Sarah Jackson knows all too well.

Sarah is a champion windsurfer who recently decided to relocate much of her training to the cleaner waters of Tenerife because the health threats posed by contaminated sea water limited the number of areas she could practice, depending on the weather.

Sarah Jackson Ocean Ambassador

“There were some days when I was surfing in sewage,” she says, “it wasn’t just unpleasant, it was also health threatening.”

It opened my eyes to the problem of pollution in our waterways - sewage is especially concerning because it not only contains human waste but from forever chemicals and plastics too.

Sarah Jackson, Champion Windsurfer and Ocean Ambassador

By 2030, the Marine Conservation Society wants an end to the harm caused by sewage discharges into sensitive water bodies including bathing waters, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and shellfish waters.

“We’re calling for an end to all discharges of untreated sewage, except in true emergency conditions and extreme rainfall events,” says Calum. “Only then will the future of our beautiful becks, burns, rivers, lakes and ocean be preserved.”

We're urging politicians to prioritise the ocean

Find out more about our Ocean Manifesto