The Cumbrian Lakes Research Forum is an annual event for sharing developments in lake and freshwater research, regulation and management. It also provides an opportunity for discussion among scientists, lake and land managers, Rivers Trusts, regulators, policy-makers, water industry and interested citizens. This year's meeting, in November 2020, made the transition to a virtual event. Dr Ellie Mackay, who organises the annual meeting, explains more...

Through a plethora of screen sharing, raised hands, unmuting, chat discussions, breakout rooms and Jamboards, this year’s attendees at the Cumbrian Lakes Research Forum got to hear about and discuss several fascinating developments in areas of lake and freshwater work.

This year’s talks covered aspects of fundamental and applied research, linking developments in science understanding to decision support tools, and the basis of regulatory metrics for assessing water quality, before rounding off with thought-provoking discussion on the integration of freshwaters into Nature Recovery Networks.

In the first talk of the day, Don Monteith (UKCEH) outlined how the application of a model(PDF) to predict future dissolved organic carbon concentrations was being used by Scottish Water as part of a decision support tool for the future planning of infrastructure investment.

Next up was a visit to the past to explore regional versus local drivers of water quality(PDF) as Heather Moorhouse (Lancaster University) demonstrated the fascinating insights to be gained about algal community changes in lakes across the Windermere catchment that have occurred over hundreds of years in response to human impacts on climate and nutrient enrichment.

More on a water quality monitoring theme came from Steve Thackeray (UKCEH), who provided an overview on the Cumbrian Lakes Monitoring Platform(PDF). This monitoring scheme, part of the UKSCaPE programme, integrates long-term records of change with high-frequency monitoring across four lake sites to provide insights into lake responses to long-term environmental change and process-level understanding of lake dynamics.

Both of these approaches can provide critical understanding of how lakes are responding to drivers such as climate change, and allow us to contribute to major, sometimes global, cross-ecosystem assessments of change. Steve also requested input from the Forum community on how these data can be better communicated and made available to fully exploit their potential (more on this below).

Both of these approaches can provide critical understanding of how lakes are responding to drivers such as climate change, and allow us to contribute to major, sometimes global, cross-ecosystem assessments of change.

New areas of research, innovative tools and assessment of management measures were other themes for the day. Heidrun Feuchtmayr (UKCEH) introduced us to her research on the ecological impacts of microplastics(PDF), a fast-moving field. She first demonstrated the large gap in our knowledge about the freshwater ecological impacts of microplastics, in particular highlighting the lack of realism in most impact experiments to date. Heidrun then provided some exciting preliminary results from two experimental studies that have been undertaken to address these gaps, looking at microplastic transfer within freshwater food webs.

The theme of novel techniques in freshwater science was continued in a talk by Bernd Hänfling (Hull University), providing the latest developments in the application of eDNA monitoring of UK lake fish communities(PDF). Starting with methodological developments that identify species and characterise fish abundance, Bernd went on to show how his work with colleagues at Stirling University has developed to enable the method to be incorporated into regulatory monitoring as part of the Water Framework Directive.

Lake management and restoration was the theme of a talk by Freya Olsson (UKCEH and Lancaster University), during which she showed early results from her PhD work looking at the use of water residence time manipulation for lake restoration in Elterwater(PDF). Freya’s combined approaches of analysing monitoring data and process-based modelling have enabled her to carry out a robust assessment of the impact of management measures and provide valuable lessons for future lake restoration initiatives.

The final talk of the day was given by Catherine Duigan (JNCC) who spoke about how policies to develop Nature Recovery Networks can integrate freshwaters to improve conservation outcomes(PDF) and mitigate biodiversity loss and climate change. The Nature Recovery Network is a key tool in the Defra 25-Year Environment Plan to create a network of wildlife-rich places.

Catherine spoke about how the use of resilient networks, which incorporate attributes of diversity, connectivity, extent and condition, relate to the freshwater context, highlighting the potentially vital role that freshwaters can play in establishing networked landscapes. Research priorities in this context suggest there is much more to understand about the role of networks in increasing ecological resilience and whether the current tools proposed for use can adequately capture freshwater habitats.

Discussion time was used to generate ideas and suggestions as to how research at the Cumbrian Lakes Monitoring Platform could be communicated and utilised by the wider community. This work forms part of a project on improving engagement around the Natural Environment Research Council’s National Capability funding, which supports the monitoring work. Current awareness of the platform and data generated was assessed through the use of an online questionnaire answered by Forum participants, with ideas to improve community engagement forming the main focus for later discussions.

Key recommendations were made to:

  • Improve the web presence of the monitoring platform
  • Better communicate the facility and data available
  • Provide accessible summaries of the data to inform current water quality condition in the context of historical change

The results from the questionnaire and breakout discussions have been used to write a report on engagement with the Cumbrian Lakes Monitoring Platform, with recommendations to be used to improve future community use of the facilities and data. Please get in touch if you have further suggestions or ideas!

Dr Ellie Mackay

Related links

A summary of the talks from the day can be viewed on Twitter and PDF versions of shareable talk slides are provided again below.

Final report: