Concerns mounting for polluted St Albans Verulamium Lake

The edge of the lake in Verulamium park where water has finally receded, only to leave an unpleasant

The edge of the lake in Verulamium park where water has finally receded, only to leave an unpleasant sight and smell - Credit: Archant

Concerns for the future of Verulamium Lake are mounting following a string of duck deaths earlier in the summer.

About 100 ducks died over July and August and many of their deaths were attributed to a strain of Avian Botulism, a paralytic disease caused by ingestion of a toxin produced by a bacteria (clostridium botulinum).

Many concerned residents have blamed the duck deaths on the poor cleanliness of the lake, and called for it to be drained and dug out.

Jon Humphrey, 61, who lives in St Albans, has been campaigning for this to happen for a number of years.

His brother, Richard Humphrey, came to St Albans in 2011 to carry out a biotic indices survey on the lake. He found low levels of aquatic life which he attributed to low oxygen levels and a build up of duck faeces.

Following pressure from the two brothers, the council carried out their own test on the water.

Jon said: “The water quality was apparently fine at the time but they [the council] didn’t take into account that the duck poo could become an incubation tank for diseases and dangerous bacteria.

“The only solution is to drain the lake and dig out the accumulated bird poo, which is far less likely to cause any damage to the membrane of the lake [compared to dredging].”

The faeces has become particularly toxic due to a poor duck diet, caused by overfeeding of bread to the ducks, which is low in nutrients and contains many chemicals which can’t be digested properly.

Jon suggested that the only other option was to fill in the lake. He added: “Obviously I don’t want that to happen, and neither does the rest of St Albans, but if you want the lake, then look after it properly.

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“Leaving it as an open sewage farm isn’t particularly nice. Seeing dead ducks on the lake isn’t going to impress visitors.”

But Cllr Daniel Chichester-Miles, St Albans council’s portfolio holder for environment, continues to insist that draining or dredging the lake is not an option.

He said that it would be too costly, it could crack the lake’s membrane and pose a risk of discovering asbestos, which might end up costing the council hundreds of thousands they could not afford and take years to rectify.

Dan Flitton, green spaces officer for the district council, said that a small part of the lake was dug out in 2005 at a cost of about £20,000 to the council because much of the water had evaporated and the silt had been exposed. It had since returned to its former state.

Cllr Chichester-Miles added: “It would be frustrating to spend public funds on draining, cleaning and refilling if the lake would return to present form within a decade.”

The pair added that the sluice gate currently remained open but due to the poor water flow from the River Ver, the lake is not being flushed out or oxygenated properly. It can also be shut by the Environment Agency at any time.

Following the strong response from the community to the issue, the council has proposed various solutions to the problem, some of which are to be rolled out within the next year.