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Twenty years of ECN monitoring at North Wyke, UK, reveals changes in biodiversity

9 June 2016

Rothamsted Research, a partner in the UK's LTER network, has published a short report that highlights key changes in climate, pollution and biodiversity during the first 20 years of monitoring at its North Wyke ECN site.            

Scientists carrying out long-term monitoring at the UK Environmental Change Network's North Wyke site, operated by Rothamsted Research, have presented trends in the site's biodiversity and environment in a new publication. The period was dominated by progressive reductions in the deposition of atmospheric pollutants, particularly sulphur, while the site experienced major year-to-year variability in weather conditions.

Environmental Change Network monitoring at North Wyke began in 1993 and has included frequent monitoring of  the weather, air, rain and soil water chemistry,  water in the river Taw, vegetation, butterflies, moths, beetles, birds, bats and frogs.This work is part of the Rothamsted Research Long-Term Experiments National Capability (LTE-NC).

Since the start of the monitoring programme, atmospheric pollutants have reduced with a particular fall in sulphate concentration in rainwater. Sulphate levels have fallen with the replacement of coal-fired power stations by those that use natural gas. With lower sulphate pollution, water in the soil, river and rain has become less acidic over time. This finding is consistent with observations at other ECN sites.

Among animals, eight butterfly species declined in abundance while two species increased, though weather conditions caused large variation between years. The scientists recorded an overall decline in larger moth species, matching the national trend. Ground beetles are useful predators of agricultural pests and weed seeds, and their numbers remained stable at one location that was consistently managed. At two other locations ground beetle numbers showed contrasting trends, indicating their sensitivity to environmental conditions.

The ECN was launched in 1992. It monitors 12 terrestrial sites and 45 sites at rivers and lakes, with a variety and distribution that enables the network to detect local, regional and national trends. It is supported by 14 independent government departments and agencies. Rothamsted Research is a founding member of the ECN, because of its long-term experiments, data and archived samples.

The author of the short report and researcher at Rothamsted North Wyke, Deborah Beaumont, said: “The Environmental Change Network 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 and 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 Environmental Change Network is providing important information on the health of our ecosystems, which can be used to inform policy-makers, scientific researchers and environmental managers.”

Further information

ECN monitoring tools