Sier, A. and Monteith, D. The UK Environmental Change Network after twenty years of integrated ecosystem assessment: Key findings and future perspectives
The ECN is nationally unique with respect to the range of high frequency physical, biogeochemical and biological measurements that are made in close proximity
Observations based on ECN data inform environmental policy development across a range of disciplines
- There exists a national need to improve our understanding of the processes that determine how ecosystems function and deliver ecosystem services for people.
- There is also a need to better understand how ecosystems are changing and their resilience to both short- and long-term disturbances.
- This need is served by a combination of repeated observation made over long periods (i.e. several decades), experiments and both process-based and statistical modelling.
- Various UK organisations operate a set of mostly complementary long-term observation programmes, including the Countryside Surveys (CS), the Acidifying and Eutrophying Atmospheric Pollutants network (UKEAP), the UK Upland Waters Monitoring Network (UWMN), and the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS). These are further complemented by a wealth of observations of species occurrence, often made by amateur experts and managed by the Biological Records Centre (BRC).
- The UK Environmental Change Network is one component of this spectrum of activity, with an emphasis on multi-disciplinary site-focussed monitoring.
- The ECN is nationally unique with respect to the range of high frequency physical, biogeochemical and biological measurements that are made in close proximity.
- The full potential of the ECN in the assessment of the causes and consequences of environmental change is realised only when ECN data and observations are integrated within a more spatially extensive ‘network of networks’ comprising other national and international monitoring and observation systems.
- Observations based on ECN data inform environmental policy development across a range of disciplines. ECN data covering soil and air chemistry, vegetation and invertebrates have helped inform significant policy-relevant publications.
- For example, the ECN soil solution chemistry records provided the primary evidence, reported in the UK Review of Transboundary Air Pollution (RoTAP, 2012), for soil chemical responses to reductions in acid air pollutant deposition. These data also provided evidence for links between dissolved organic carbon release from peatlands and both acid deposition and droughts.
- Similarly, ECN vegetation data have been central to the development of a new indicator of ecological impacts of nitrogen deposition, as requested by Defra to meet a call by the UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution.
- Long-term environmental monitoring programmes face conflicting pressures from the desire to maintain uninterrupted records and the need to adapt to evolving environmental concerns and policy priorities.
- Furthermore, new opportunities frequently arise from the development of new monitoring and measurement technologies, while tightening financial constraints often impose a need to increase the efficiency of data collection and management.
- The ECN must, therefore, confront a number of challenges and take advantage of several opportunities if it is to continue delivering data of value to science, land management and policy development. These challenges can be summarised as: (i) addressing emerging environmental concerns; (ii) strengthening links with other programmes and initiatives; (iii) linking ECN observations at sites with wider areas, and (iv) increasing early warning capability.
- The true worth of the ECN may only be recognised through tighter integration of observations with those generated by compatible monitoring and survey programmes that operate over differing temporal and spatial scales, both nationally and internationally.
- There is a continuing need for the network to review approaches to data capture and management in order to improve efficiency, and to augment, or in some cases replace, the current range of measurements with novel instrumentation and methods that will accelerate rates of data transfer and processing.
Reference: Sier, A. and Monteith, D. (2016). The UK Environmental Change Network after twenty years of integrated ecosystem assessment: Key findings and future perspectives. Ecological Indicators, 68, 1-12. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.02.008.