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Evidence for policy

About how ECN can inform policy- and decision-making

Science to support policymaking and the management of natural resources

ECN data provide an ecological baseline against which future changes can be judged

ECN’s data and expertise are relevant to a range of environmental policy issues including climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. Long-term monitoring can inform policies and check how well they work.

As the period of time over which ECN data have been collected lengthens, so their value as evidence for policy increases. This was recognised in a Defra survey: "“There are, however, data sets that have great potential strategically, for example the Environmental Change Network, but that need longer runs to deliver their full potential.” [1]

The value of ECN for informing policies has, of course, already been recognised. For example, a report for the Scottish Government stated “Research as part of the ECN and other upland catchments has already played an important role in shaping and monitoring the effectiveness of national and international policy on emission abatement strategies, for example in relation to atmospheric sulphur and nitrogen emission, deposition and impact assessments for the Gothenburg Protocol and its current revision.” [2]. ECN data have also helped in the interpretation of land use change data collected by the Countryside Survey.

For selected papers using ECN data and sites, we explain why the research matters

Impacts of key pressures on ecosystems

ECN data are used to aid understanding of the impacts of key pressures such as climate change and air pollution, on ecosystems and the services they deliver.

ECN data provide an ecological baseline against which future changes in these major drivers can be judged and policy/management responses developed. For example, ECN vegetation data have been used in the BICCO-Net project to help determine species most sensitive to climate change.

Our meteorological data have been compared with earlier data to detect local changes in rainfall and other climatic variables, whilst trends ECN data for butterflies and beetles[3,4] show possible influences of a changing climate.

Data from ECN terrestrial and freshwater sites clearly show the effectiveness of policies to reduce acidifying pollution ('acid rain').

LWEC Biodiversity Report CardIn 2013, the Living With Environmental Change Partnership (LWEC) published the first in a series of Report Cards providing up-to-date and agreed evidence to help people understand and manage climate change impacts. Terrestrial Biodiversity Climate Change Impacts: Report Card 2012-13 draws on a wide range of evidence sources, including published analyses of ECN data, and from findings of Defra’s BICCO-Net project (led by the British Trust for Ornithology) to which ECN also contributed. The Report Card is a 'click-through' expert report which aims to advise government policy makers, land managers, environmental consultants and researchers who need to know what the current evidence indicates and make decisions relating to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The impact of Eyjafjallajökull

Grass collection for fluoride analysis following the 2010 eruption of EyjafjallajökullFollowing the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, in 2010, ECN quickly mobilised staff at terrestrial sites to collect filter papers and grass samples. Filter papers were analysed for the presence of tell-tale ash particles, whilst the levels of substances such as hydrogen fluoride were studied in the grass samples, as part of a Defra contract. A peer-reviewed paper was published in the proceedings of the 2011 International Network of Environmental Forensics (INEF) conference[5].

Working in partnership

To support policy needs, we have established an ECN-Defra User Group, in which ECN staff meet annually with Defra representatives and other policymakers to discuss specific environmental policy areas. A number of ECN partners, including Natural England,  Natural Resources Wales and NERC-CEH are operating an additional network, the Environmental Change Biodiversity Network (ECBN). Data from this network are managed by us. ECBN is a network of long-term monitoring sites in England and Wales that increases our ability to detect, discriminate, understand and predict the effects of climate change and air pollution on biodiversity.

We have also produced a publication specifically aimed at policymakers: Climate change impacts: Evidence from ECN sites highlights some of the findings from ECN monitoring and research which provide evidence of the sensitivity of natural ecosystems in the UK to variability and change in climate.


  1. Survey of External Capabilities to meet Defra’s Strategic Requirements, 2009
  2. Strategic Research for the Scottish Government: Programme 3 - Environment - Land Use and Rural Stewardship, 2008
  3. Morecroft, et al. (2009). The UK Environmental Change Network: Emerging trends in the composition of plant and animal communities and the physical environment. Biological Conservation, 142/12: 2814 – 2832 | More...
  4. Brooks, et al. (2012). Large carabid beetle declines in a United Kingdom monitoring network increases evidence for a widespread loss in insect biodiversity. Journal of Applied Ecology, 49 (5), 1009-1019 | More...
  5. Watson, H.A., et al. (2012). Volcanic ash deposition across the UK: Evidence from Environmental Change Network sites. In Environmental Forensics: Proceedings of the 2011 INEF conference (eds. Morrison, R.D. and O'Sullivan, G.). 181-193. RSC Publishing, Cambridge, UK.