Rothamsted Research

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Environmental Change Network Booklet for North Wyke (2016)

During the 1980s concerns grew about the state of the environment relating to issues such as biodiversity loss, widespread air and water pollution and climate change.  The need for a national, long-term, integrated monitoring and research programme became apparent and the UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) was launched in 1992 to monitor environmental change over time.  The ECN is a collaborative multi-agency initiative supported by a consortium of 14 government departments and agencies.  North Wyke is one of 12 terrestrial sites where comparable environmental measurements are made to monitor the health of our ecosystems. The ECN with its integrated approach enables us to detect climate, atmospheric pollution and land management changes and their impact on biodiversity, soil and water quality.

The first two decades of ECN monitoring revealed marked changes in the environment at North Wyke.  Following legislative emission controls a reduction in atmospheric pollutants, particularly sulphate concentration in rainfall, was observed leading to increased soil pH.  There were also changes in plant communities and beetle and butterfly populations in localised areas possibly as a consequence of changed management practices.  Variable weather conditions contributed to substantial temporal fluctuations in butterfly and macro-moth numbers, however an overall decline in macro-moth abundance was observed demonstrating the importance of long-term monitoring to distinguish between natural episodic patterns and long term trends. 

A booklet highlighting key climate, pollution and biodiversity changes at North Wyke during the first 20 years of ECN monitoring can be downloaded here.

The ECN data has enabled us to see what components of the environment have changed at North Wyke over a 20-year period.  The long-term approach to environmental monitoring helps us to distinguish between natural inter-annual variations and longer-term trends that short term projects are unable to capture.  The environment continues to be under multiple anthropogenic pressures and the ECN is providing important information on the health of our ecosystems which can be used to inform policy makers, scientific researchers and environmental managers.