By the lake 

A crack in the water mirror

All around Denmark, thousands of lakes are maintaining biodiversity and creating new lifein nature. But the plans to improve the already challenged aquatic environmentsare postponed, while climate change threatens in the horizon. 

Slowly, the lakesare at risk of being reduced to turbid and smelly water surfaces, which canhave fatal consequences for nature's plants and animals. But what about thepopulation? What significance do the lakes have to the people, and what willthey lose, if the water mirror crackled?

This is thestory of some of the Danes who are attached to the special but fragile lakesaround the country.

The free birds resting place. A flock of birds silently glides over the heads of Michael Rold (right) and Michael Juul (left) as they cycle on the gravel path along Vilsted lake. The two vagabonds, who also go by the names "Rold" and "Juul", met for the first time five years ago, at the city fest in Randers. Juul took Rold under his wing for a while, and taught him about life on the road. Since then, they have kept in touch, and traveling for periods around the country together. They are on their way to Skagen, where the summer life is slowly beginning. Along the way, Rold will show Juul a special place that he has visited before. "Often we spend the night in cities and places where there are many people and where it is very noisy, but here there is just beautiful nature and silence. It gives a peace of mind." Says Rold. Last year, the combination of hot weather and heavy rains resulted in the death of fish in several lakes around the country. Among other, approx. 80,000 tons of fish died in Fils Lake.

The EU Water Framework Directive and the Danish lakes 

The Danish lakes have been contaminated for many years due to nitrogen supply. Conditions generally improved up to the mid-00s, partly because of the wastewater treatment plants that handle urban wastewater. Nevertheless, the condition of most Danish lakes still doesn’t live up to the EU requirements that were set almost 20 years ago. 

In the year 2000, the EU Water Framework Directive was initiated. The first deadline for reaching the goals was in 2009, but it was subsequently moved to 2015, which was furthermore moved to 2021. The last opportunity to achieve the goals of the directive is in 2027. In a consultation response to the European Commission in March, The Ministry of Environment and Food declared that they want to push the deadline further than in 2027. 

The EU Water Framework Directive aim to improve the aquatic environment so that they achieve good ecological conditions. That is to create good conditions for plant and animal life, and this must be achieved by lowering nitrogen emissions from agriculture and restoring the lakes. 60 percent of Denmark is cultivated for agriculture, which means that a lot of nitrogen is spread out in the country when the fields are fertilized, which creates problems for the lakes. 

There are around 120,000 lakes in Denmark, which together cover 1.4 percent of the country. Only 0.7 percent of the country's lakes are expected to reach the goals of the EU Water Framework Directive by 2021.

Memories in the sky. There is mostly quiet in the little bird hide at Bremsboel lake, although it is the first trip of the year for the Danish Ornithological Association, but occasionally the silence is broken by a soft whisper. "Oh, is that a songlark over there?" It sounds from the shed. Ingeborg Christensen (far right), Christian Olsen (far left), Fedder Christensen (third left), and Hanne Dons (second left) have chosen to stay a little longer tonight and observe the bird life on the lake, while the sun goes down. Not far from there is the German Hassberger lake. Here, for the first time, Hanne saw black sun, which is one of the great natural phenomena to experience in the area. "The life and the patterns the birds formed in the sky. It was an amazing experience to have as a child." Says Hanne Dons.

Lakes are popular, and with around 24 million visits a year, they are among the most preferred nature types in the country. In addition to the many people, approx. 23 per cent of all the breeding birds in the country, are bound to the lakes, where they rest and eat.

Facts. When it rains, some of the nitrogen from the fields is washed out into the lakes. It starts a bloom of algae, which makes the water murky, and it sets off a vicious spiral. When the sun cannot penetrate the water, the plants on the bottom cannot live. That makes poor living conditions for the insects and fish that the birds eat. In the worst cases the lake will end up being dead or rotten.

A thoughtful sight. "It's so beautiful, especially in the summer. It almost looks like a Windows background screen." Says Faisal Mohamed, who often passes Brabrand Lake to and from work or when he is out for a walk.

He often stops and takes a picture with his cell phone, but for Faisal, it is not only the beauty of nature that catches his attention.

The passage of time at the lake provides substance for reflection. "The contrast between the life at the lake in the summer and winter reminds me of how time goes and how everything is constantly changing." Tells Faisal.

The magic of the water. "Try to stand here a little, and just feel the sounds and the nature around you ... And on an exhale come up to the mountain position." Says Birgitte Holten. Every thursday afternoon during the summer, she holds yoga classes at Almind lake. For her, the combination of directing attention to the body, out by the lake, provides a very special experience. "Turning your head off and just sensing it, gives a boost of the special nature experience you get here." Birgitte tells.

When the water temperature allows it, she invites her yoga students into the water to get the lake's special energy up close. They go out into the water, standing on a straight line in silence.
"There's something magical about having a completely unbroken surface of water around you." Says Birgitte.

Down in the lake down in the mind. "It's both a nice, but also a scary place. When I dive, I experience sides of myself that I don't on land." Says Ninna Kofod. Ninna has grown up near Fure Lake, and today works as a free diving instructor. She has been diving for ten years and has trained herself to get deep into the lake, and into her own mind. "It's such an undefinable fear of the darkness and the depths I encounter. It's a bit like in movies where there is an eerie background music, but also a tremendous calm, and it allows me to explore the fear." Ninna explains. 

It is not only the depth of the lake and her own psyche that Ninna has gained insight into through diving. Something special happens when the people she teaches lose their foothold and face their fears. "If you just can't hold your breath anymore, you might notice something you don't do on a daily basis. It's not always super pretty or nice, but I´m grateful that people dare to let me in and allow me to hold their hand while they’re afraid." Says Ninna.

Fure Lake was heavily contaminated back in the 1970s, when cities drained wastewater directly into the lake. After it was stopped, the lake slowly got better, but today it is still polluted. This is because nitrogen accumulates in the lake bottom, thereby continuing to nourish the algae long after the external nitrogen supply has been stopped.

The future of the lakes

For 30 years, a research project at Aarhus University has investigated how climate change may affect the Danish lakes in the future.

"If you don´t reduce nitrogen emissions further and the temperature and rainfall increases, then the situation will be worse, because more rain means increased leaching and the rising temperature amplifies the effect of the nitrogen, and it causes an increased bloom of algae. That's the consequence our results show. "Says Torben L. Lauridsen, a senior scientist at the Department of Bioscience.

Although conditions in the Danish lakes have improved, most of them still do not live up to EU rules on good ecological conditions. But even for the lakes that are close to the goals, climate change can have a negative impact.

"We expect to do even more for the lakes that are on the rise between good and moderate water quality in the future, to prevent them from switching to a poorer water quality." Says Torben L. Lauridsen.

 Future climate changes has not been taken into account in the current Water Framework Directive.

In addition to creating good growing conditions for algae, the increases in temperature also causes particular types of algae to gain more ground. This applies, for example, to blue-green algae that are toxic to humans and animals.

Together in the lake. The trees stand as a wreath around Almind lake, and are the only spectators to the two naked bodies in the water. Sonja Bang-Moeller puts her arm around her husband Holger Bang-Moeller, and for a moment it is as if the trembling bodies relaxes together in the cold water.
"You lose some filters and expose your inner because the body just responds and it gives a very close and honest experience of each other." Says Sonja.
When Sonja and Holger got the message that their newborn daughter would be multi-disabled, it turned everything upside down. They found it hard to find time and energy for each other, but a year ago they began bathing, and now they go swimming together in the lake two to three times a week while their daughter is in day care. "We've developed it into our thing, where we get away from home and get a pause from our daughter's disability." Holger says.

Although the couple lives close to the coast, they prefer to swim in lakes. The combination of the calm fresh water and the beauty of nature affects the mind.
"It gives me a feeling that there is nothing to worry about, and it allows us to enjoy life and each other." Tells Sonja.

Like other lakes, Almind Lake is very sensitive to nutrients. Therefore, it is not allowed to feed birds by the lake as their feces can start a bloom of algae. The lake is one of the few clean in the country, but even here there are problems with algae. Over the past few years, the municipality has prohibited guests to swim in the lake due to toxic algae.

A living alternative. "The first time my daughter and I were on the ferry, we stopped halfway and listened to the water splashing against the edge. You don't experience that in the city." Says Jan Carlos.

Jan and his daughter do not have much access to nature where they live, but as soon as the opportunity arises, they head out to Ferup lake. Today her daughter has invited a couple of friends from kindergarten on an evening out.
"I want to show my daughter an alternative to the digital world, which is very busy today, and she loves to catch tails and other animals living in the lake." Says Jan.
Last year, the combination of hot weather and heavy rains resulted in the deaths of fish in several lakes around the country. Among other things, approx. 80,000 tonnes of fish in Fil lake

Brain break in the water's edge. A fish breaks the surface of the lake and puts rings in the water, while four people stand and dig at the shore. "How deep should it be?" Asks Kaya Molsted. (second from right) "Just so your feet are well covered." Replies Charlotte Vestergaard, (number four from the right) who, together with her husband Hilbert Andersen, (far right) is developing a nature-guided meditation that ends with a grounding exercise at the lake. "The combination of grounding and the sounds and life of the lake helps turn your head off and just be present in the present." Says Charlotte.

The couple is affiliated with Myrup Bakkehus, which is a therapy and retreat house. They hope to use the idea to help mentally vulnerable young people. That's why Charlotte has asked Kaya and her friend Anna Jakobsen (far left) if they want to try the idea.

In recent years research has been conducted around the world about the impact that water areas has on the human psyche, and in New Zealand a team of researchers in 2016 proved that water areas gives a calming effect on humans. In Europe, the project 'Bluehealth' is doing similar research, exploring whether it can strengthen people's mental health when they are exposed to wather areas.

A community that heals. "Are you coming oldtimer?" asks Kirsten Johnsen (second from right) Torben Falsi, (far right) as they walk down the jetty towards Sund's lake. She has been winter bathing for three years, and is one of those who gets the others to come when "deep" is organized, as it is called in the year-round bathing association.

"We often get a cup of coffee and a small drink together afterwards." Tells Kirsten.
Karin Ostenfeldt Jensen (far left) is one of Kirsten's callers when she goes down to bathe. Karin has been through a difficult period of deaths and divorce lately.
"If I say I don't want to go, I'm told that of cause I want to go.”Karin laughs and goes on. "I've been on prozac for a few years, but I stopped taking them when I started coming here."

Unresolved fear. A whinnying sound breaks the morning silence at Lake Stendals. The forest is waking up, and the next second bird noises from a pheasant flies up between the trees. "Yes, good girl ... eeeeeasy sokka", Mette Dahl Hoffmann (left) supportively says to her horse, while she and her friend Maja-Malene Graversen (right) together ride out into the shallow lake.
Mette has previously been unlucky and has fallen off her horse, and it has created a flurry of fear in her. "Before, I could come home from a horse riding trip with my hands and feet sleeping because I was so tense." Says Mette.

A part from the beautiful nature experience, the trip in the lake is also good training for the horse. The horse lifts its legs high and activates both the back -and abdominal muscles, but the ride in the water also strengthens the bond between the horse and the owner.

Mette has worked with her fears over the years, and has learned to deal with it when it comes. "She may be afraid to go out into the water, so it's a huge statement of trust when she does it," Mette says, continuing: "It's ambivalent that something you can be so scared of, at the same time is the best thing in the world. "

Facts. Shallow lakes can release methane gas in a polluted and heated state, which is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The gas is naturally produced in lakes when organic matter decomposes, but in the deep lakes there are several processes that prevent the gases from reaching the surface. The vast majority of Danish lakes are shallow.

A sharper consciousness. Copenhagen's vibrant life buzzes in the background, while Gaura Nitai Das walks along the Damhus Lake. He has given up education, parties and girlfriends in favor of a simple existence in the Hare Krishna movement. He has been a monk for seven years. He often walks down to the lake, where there is a special energy that he uses to work with his consciousness. "The lake has a concentrated sattvic effect, and this can often be seen in the animals present. For example, you often find swans at beautiful lakes, because they also seek sattva." Says Gaura.

The term sattva derives from ancient Vedic philosophy, and signifies the quality of goodness. It is one of three qualities of nature, called sattvarajas and tamas, and can be translated into goodness, passion and ignorance.

Gaura seeks the quality of goodness to activate a higher and more peaceful consciousness.

"Consciousness is influenced by the environment you are in and vice versa, which is why it is so important. It is our consciousness that will shape the foundation for the future." Says Gaura.

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