Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:40 UK

Alarm raised over threat to lakes

Lake Windermere
The lakes are enjoyed by many, including watersports enthusiasts

The Environment Agency says urgent action is needed to protect lakes in England and Wales. BBC environment correspondent Sarah Mukherjee reports from a conference on the topic on the shores of Lake Windermere.

The pungent smell of wild garlic and the hazy azure of bluebells assault your senses as you climb the slippery woodland path from Ambleside to Troutbeck in the Lake District.

The woods begin to thin, and you start to see sheep grazing the fells. And then you turn a corner and your heart lifts at the sight of one of the most famous lakes in the world - Windermere.

Looking out over Windermere, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. There's certainly no shortage of rain, which falls in the lake and - well, that would appear to be it.

Population increases

But those responsible for managing these habitats say there are many pressures, which reflect the problems for lakelands across England and Wales.

Population increases in the region mean more water is taken from the lakes for domestic and business use.

Changing weather patterns, and the large surface area of lakes, mean they can dry out more quickly, and temperatures can rise, affecting creatures which often thrive in a very narrow temperature range.

The vendace fish, for example, is found in the cold waters of Bassenthwaite, near Windermere. The Environment Agency has been so concerned about its survival as temperatures change that it has moved a colony to Scotland.

In other parts of the country, there are also development pressures, as local authorities look for housing land, knowing lakeside developments are attractive to housebuyers.

The breathtaking beauty of the Lake District has inspired poets and authors for hundreds of years, and today swallows skim the surface and the sun glitters on the grey-green water.

But these days, the pressures on this world-famous landscape have never been greater.

Unique species

Increasing population, pollution and the changing climate are all taking their toll on this unique environment and the wildlife it supports.

The product people come to see is this fantastic scenery
David Neale
English Lakes Hotels

"We've worked hard to clean up our rivers and beaches, and in some ways lakes have been a poor relation," says John Collins of the Environment Agency.

"And yet there are unique species in the Lakes, like the vendace fish. The ecosystems are fragile, and suffer from pollution and the changing climate."

And, conservationists say, this year, getting that balance right will become ever more important as the economic climate means many people are deciding to take their holidays in Britain. More tourists are great for business, but could have an effect on the wildlife.

Tourist boom

In the last few years, conservationists and the tourist industry here in the Lake District have realised they have to work together to protect this precious resource.

"The product people come to see is this fantastic scenery," says David Neale, group managing director of English Lakes Hotels. "We're aware that we are stewards of that as much as anyone else."

The problem of tourists potentially destroying the beauty they come to see is not a new issue here in the Lakes.

But as experts predict a boom in British holidaymaking this year, it may well be something lakeland areas have to deal with across the country.

And balancing the competing demands of those who enjoy watersports with those who want tranquillity, and, of course, the wildlife, could become an increasing challenge.



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SEE ALSO
Lakes face 'complex' challenges
19 May 09 |  Cumbria
Call to curb Windermere pollution
07 Dec 07 |  Cumbria

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