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Twenty years of monitoring in the UK reveals trend for wetter summers, less acidic soils and increasing plant biodiversity

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The UK Environmental Change Network, of which Rothamsted Research is a founding member, releases a special issue of the journal Ecological Indicators to mark the milestone.

The UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) recently marked the first 20 years of monitoring at its terrestrial sites. The ECN was launched in 1992 to monitor UK environmental change over time, following growing concerns about biodiversity loss, climate change and widespread air and water pollution. Since then, it has recorded data continuously, at a range of terrestrial and freshwater sites, on environmental and ecological parameters. These parameters include weather, air quality and soil and water chemistry, as well the responses of plant, butterfly, moth and ground beetle communities to changes in weather patterns and local management. To mark completion of the first two decades of monitoring (covering 1993 to 2012), the ECN presents some of the diverse outputs of its research in a special issue of the journal Ecological Indicators, available here.

The main conclusion from the data is that changes in air pollution and weather patterns have had marked effects on the UK’s terrestrial environment over the 20-year period. In particular, summer rainfall increased at nearly all of the 12 sites, becoming more frequent and intense.

Air temperatures in the UK showed little overall change from 1993-2012 at the monitoring sites, though they have increased significantly since the onset of industrialisation. Meanwhile, the reduced atmospheric pollution from power stations and heavy industry over the 20-year period have caused a drop in the deposition of sulphur and acidity at all sites. This drop has led to a reduction in the acidity of non-agricultural soils, which is linked with an increase in the number of plant species that can be found in a given area (species richness). However, the monitoring found little change in levels of ammonia, which is mostly a product of agriculture, and is detrimental to sensitive plant species.

The special issue of Ecological Indicators, comprises a broad range of studies, illustrating the diverse ways that the ECN long-term monitoring and research helps to identify and measure the causes and consequences of environmental change across a range of UK habitats.

These studies include work by Tony Scott and Deborah Beaumont at Rothamsted Research. They contributed to the analysis of changes over time in plant species richness, weather, deposition of chemicals from the atmosphere, and the delivery of ecosystem services: the functions performed by natural systems that benefit humans.

Tony Scott, Site Manager for the ECN at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, said: “The studies in this special edition show the value and importance of environmental monitoring for understanding how UK ecosystems react, for better or worse, to forever changing environmental pressures.”

The ECN is a collaborative multi-agency initiative coordinated by the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and supported by 14 government departments and agencies. Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from the BBSRC, is a founding member of the ECN.

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Rothamsted Press Office

For further information, please contact:

Dr Matina Tsalavouta (matina.tsalavouta@rothamsted.ac.uk), Tel: +44 (0) 1582 938 525

About Rothamsted Research

We are the longest running agricultural research station in the world, providing cutting-edge science and innovation for over 170 years. Our mission is to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.

Our strength lies in the integrated, multidisciplinary approach to research in plant, insect and soil science.

Rothamsted Research is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In 2013-2014 Rothamsted Researched received a total of £32.9M from the BBSRC.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £509M in world-class bioscience in 2014-15. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes