A former park ranger has swapped her wellies for a Hi-Viz jacket in her new role as an apprentice at United Utilities.

Julie Bell, from Ulverston, has left her job as a Lake District ranger to join the water company’s 185-strong team of leakage taskforce as one of 22 new apprentices.

The 42-year-old said working for United Utilities had opened her eyes to the amount of work required to keep the region’s drinking water flowing from residents’ taps.

“All of the processes and maintenance is something I never really thought about before joining United Utilities and, I guess, I took it for granted,” she said.

“It’s definitely made me think more about the amount of water I use.

"Here in the Lake District we’ve seen one of the driest summers on record, and a lack of rain, coupled with more people visiting the Lakes or staying at home due to Covid, has led to increased demands on supply.

"In fact we’ve had to supply an extra 80 million litres of water per day this summer, compared to a pre-Covid average.

"It really brings home how precious a resource water is and that’s why my team are working hard to save it wherever we can."

With 26,000 miles of pipework criss-crossing the North West, leak detection is a constant job – and Ms Bell and her leak detective colleagues have saved 530 million litres in repaired leaks since April 2021.

“Active leakage detection prevents pipes bursting which helps keeps the taps flowing for customers – it really is a silent service,” Ms Bell said.

“As well as my trusty acoustic listening stick, used since Victorian times and still the go-to tool of choice for many leakage technicians, I use newer technology like permanent loggers used to detect sounds in the pipework, which indicate leakage.

“They go into alarm when a noise is heard and a sound file is sent over the 3G network to analysts who deploy leakage technicians to investigate further."

Ms Bell said leak detection can often be a real challenge.

“It is rare for the water from a leaking underground pipe to actually show above the surface," she said.

"Most water leaks soak down into the ground. Many pipes pre-date the computer age, and the precision GIS mapping we have now, meaning there can be inconsistencies.

"This can make it harder to pinpoint a leak when you don’t know the exact positioning of the pipework."

United Utilities network optimisation manager, Hannah Louise Wardle, added: “It’s fantastic to see the open-mindedness and enthusiasm from these new apprentices and their passion to embrace new technology to deliver a great leakage reduction.

"Our new leakage apprentices are already valuable members of the team.”