Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Behind the scenes at the UK’s Environmental Change Network

Dr Andy Sier, science liaison officer
with the Environmental Change Network
Ahead of an anniversary symposium taking place in mid-May, Dr Andy Sier, ECN’s science liaison officer, looks back on the contribution of 20 years of observation and research by the Environmental Change Network.

"The only thing constant in life is change," wrote French author Fran├žois de la Rochefoucauld. This is certainly true of the environment, which is in a continual state of flux. But that change may be so slow as to be almost undetectable, so we need long-term monitoring and research programmes to gather rigorous data on our ecosystems. This is exactly what the UK’s Environmental Change Network (ECN) has been doing for the last 20 years.

ECN was established in 1992 in response to calls for more long-term, quantitative information about the state of the environment and how it was changing. Initially set up with 12 terrestrial sites, ranging from lowland farms and woodlands to upland moors and mountains, since 1994 we have also taken data from a network of lakes, rivers and streams.

At each site, scientists make a wide range of high frequency, closely located environmental measurements, using standard protocols that let us compare trends at different sites. These data are a unique resource for understanding patterns and causes of environmental change. They support a wealth of environmental research and policy decisions in areas such as climate change adaptation, air and water quality and biodiversity loss.

All these data are stored in a central database at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology containing millions of records. Since the earliest days of ECN, the data have been freely available for non-commercial use including research and teaching, with a helpful data portal that enables users to explore and plot summary data or access datasets.

What ECN monitoring has told us

So what have we learned from ECN about how the environment has changed in the last two decades? Perhaps the most significant change has been a marked reduction in the deposition of sulphur compounds – so-called "acid rain" – primarily because of changes in energy policy and greater international regulation of emissions from power stations. This is reflected in large reductions in sulphate concentrations in rainfall at ECN sites and corresponding reductions in the acidity of water in our soils, although so far we’ve not seen any clear responses in vegetation.

These aren’t just interesting observations – they have real-world impact through their contribution to policy and regulation. Acid rain observations from ECN, for example, were used in the recent Defra-funded UK Review of Transboundary Air Pollution, which was led by CEH and informs the development of UK air quality strategies.

Defra has long used ECN data on populations of invertebrates like beetles, moths and butterflies as indicators of how ecosystems are responding to climate change. For example, we’ve seen large changes in the abundance of ground beetles at ECN sites. These changes may be linked to the climate but differ in strength and direction between habitats. So we’re doing more work to understand why species respond differently to environmental change, which could benefit local habitat management practices.

A dramatic rainbow over the ECN monitoring site at Cairngorm.
Photo: Chris Andrews / CEH


Although ECN’s 20-year datasets support a wide range of research, we need to be pragmatic. To continuously monitor environmental change at a single place in detail is a major commitment. If we had more sites, took more types of measurement, or made measurements more frequently, we would undoubtedly improve our understanding of these environments, but this is unrealistic in the present economic climate.

The answer is greater integration, and for ECN this means linking up more effectively with other environmental recording programmes, including amateur enthusiasts, citizen science initiatives and socio-ecological studies.

We are therefore looking for better ways to integrate with other national datasets and to share new measurement technologies. It is critical that we work together to develop shared tools so users can easily find, combine and use the data they need. One session of our 20th Anniversary symposium is devoted to the future of long-term ecological observation and research, including coming up with ideas for these shared tools.

ECN has come a long way in the last two decades and is making significant contributions to our understanding of how and why our ecosystems are changing. Our challenge now is to ensure we get as much scientific benefit as possible from all this information in the decades to come.

Andy Sier

More information

Register for ECN’s 20th Anniversary Symposium (12/13 May, Lancaster)

ECN is coordinated by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. It is supported by a consortium of partners responsible for site-based monitoring, research and analysis.

For full details and to access data see www.ecn.ac.uk.

Related links

CEH Blog: The Moor House Archive


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Dealing with invasive non-native species - new EAC report

Updated 16 April

The Environmental Audit Committee (a UK Commons Select Committee) report on invasive non-native species was published this morning and has been widely reported within the UK media including BBC Online, the Guardian and the Daily Mail.

In response to publication Dr Helen Roy of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, "It is critical that we increase our understanding of the threat to biodiversity posed by invasive non-native species. People can play a major part through surveillance by reporting sightings of concern to the GB Non-Native Species Information Portal."

Current species alerts include Asian hornet, Killer shrimps and Quagga mussel. More information on the GB Non-Native Species Information Portal hosted by the Non-Native Species Secretariat.

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Original post

Tomorrow morning, Wednesday 16 April, the Environmental Audit Committee (a UK Commons Select Committee) will publish a report on invasive non-native species. The report concludes an inquiry by the Committee that examines the government's policy on invasive species and the implications of the European Commission's draft EU Directive on "the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species".

Dr Helen Roy from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) gave oral evidence to the committee on 22 January 2014. Dr Roy's research covers the dynamics of invasive non-native species and their effects on native biodiversity. She chairs the COST Action ALIEN Challenge project which involves 27 countries in work to ensure a fair exchange of high quality and reliable data and information on invasive non-native species. She also leads a project to produce a comprehensive information portal on non-native species in Great Britain and manages updates to the DAISIE (Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe) database. Dr Roy has previously blogged on invasive species research for us (Invasive Alien Species: From Data to Decisions) and Planet Earth Online (Aliens descend on Britain).

The Report will be available on the Committee’s website from 00.01 am approximately, on Wednesday 16 April 2014.


Dikerogammarus villosus, known as the 'killer shrimp', is an invasive non-native
species that can kill a range of native species and significantly alter ecosystems.
Photo: Michal Grabowski


Further information


COST Action ALIEN Challenge project

Non-Native Species Information Portal

DAISIE (Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe) database

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Moor House Archive

In a new guest post, Steve Prince, CEH's Head of Library and Archives explains how the Moor House ecological research archive came to be maintained by CEH.

The Moor House area of Upper Teesdale in England was one of Britain’s first National Nature Reserves (NNR), designated in 1952, although its potential as a research area was already apparent through the work of scientists such as Jim Cragg and Gordon Manley. In the early 1950s William Pearsall and Verona Conway of the Nature Conservancy oversaw the purchase of the Moor House Shooting Lodge in order to establish a field station where research into ecological relationships in a mountain and moorland ecosystem could be undertaken.

There were many Nature Conservancy research stations; sadly most are now closed, as the Moor House station was in 1982. But few retained the affection of the researchers who worked there like Moor House did, to the extent that, in 2003, English Nature (now Natural England, operators of the Reserve) hosted a 50th anniversary dinner for researchers. In 2013 there was a 60th anniversary meeting at the site.

Moor House was in the first group of National Nature Reserves when it was
designated in 1952. The Nature Conservancy soon after established a field station
at the site.


The site was supported from the Nature Conservancy’s research station at Merlewood, though Nature Conservancy staff were the minority of researchers working at Moor House – most were University-based, particularly at Durham. (The research station at Merlewood then became part of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in the early 1970s after the Nature Conservancy was reorganised.) It is the careers of such researchers that took the name of Moor House around the scientific world.

One major project based at Moor House was the UK contribution to the International Biological Programme (IBP) which ran from 1957 to 1974, looking at ecological productivity and ecosystem function. The level of research decreased after the Programme ended, although the work of monitoring at Moor House picked up again with the creation of the Environmental Change Network in 1993 (indeed much of the work since 1993 is accessible through the ECN website).  Incidentally, ECN's long-term monitoring and data will be featured at a special symposium in Lancaster in May 2014. *

Staff from another research organisation, the Freshwater Biological Association, also worked at Moor House as the site integrated an independent freshwater reserve. In 1989 much of the FBA work transferred to the newly-established Institute for Freshwater Ecology (IFE) at Windermere. In 1994 both the IFE and the ITE (Institute of Terrestrial Ecology) were linked under the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology banner, thus strengthening CEH's ties with Moor House.

Moor House is England's highest and largest terrestrial National Nature Reserve.
The site is part of the Environmental Change Network, coordinated by CEH.



The Moor House Archive is now maintained by CEH at Lancaster. Recently, attempts have been made to make earlier science outputs more accessible, in addition to what was already available. From 1960 through to 1984 an annual report, containing research updates and meteorological reports, was produced and these have been digitized. In addition, an occasional series of 13 reports were issued and these too have been digitized. Full text copies can be downloaded from the NERC Open Research Archive (NORA). Click on the ‘Search’ tab and simply type ‘Moor House’ into the title field.

The final volume of the occasional reports series was a bibliography1, compiled in 1990, of papers and other works which used Moor House data. Due to the fact that a lot of the work at Moor House was supported by Nature Conservancy and later ITE and IFE centres, CEH Library & Archives hold many of the staff reprints and copies of the journals containing the papers.

In the last year attempts to obtain copies of those papers not previously held have been largely successful. With the exception of the dissertations listed, CEH Archive holds more than 95% of the papers listed and these can be consulted at CEH Archives in Lancaster.

For more information on Moor House material, contact:

Claire Wood and Rob Rose (Moor House Archive), or Steve Prince (CEH Library & Archives)

Steve Prince

Gill, J.P. 1990 A guide to the Moor House collection, Nature Conservancy, 62pp (Aspects of the ecology of the northern Pennines, Moor House Occasional Papers, no 13)

Additional information


Environmental Change Network: Moor House

* To celebrate 20 years of terrestrial monitoring at ECN, a symposium will take place at CEH's Lancaster site in May 2014. Further information and registration details are available from the ECN website.

Friday, 11 April 2014

New iRecord Butterflies app available

The iRecord Butterflies app is available
for iOS and Android
Updated 13 April 2014

It's been a big week for butterflies. As reported on this blog on Wednesday the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme 2013 data was released a few days ago. Today the new iRecord Butterflies app is available from iTunes and the Google store.

The new app, which is free to download, guides you through the identification of any butterfly that you see in the UK. You can compare your own photo with those from the app’s extensive image library, filter species by colour, pattern and size, and see distribution maps and identification tips for each butterfly species.

I've been testing the app over the last few weeks (my most recent record a Small tortoiseshell spotted in the lane next to work on Wednesday...see the photo evidence below) and can confirm it's very easy to use. It's a fantastic addition to the iRecord app range which includes Ladybirds (launched last year) and the forthcoming Orthoptera (Grasshoppers and Crickets) app.

The main advantage of the iRecord apps over other similar products is that it provides a direct way of submitting data to the national butterfly recording schemes run by Butterfly Conservation, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the British Trust for Ornithology.

Every record you make with the app will help provide, in the words of Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation, "The essential foundation for much-needed conservation work to help the UK’s declining butterflies."

Small Tortoiseshell sighting added to the iRecord Butterflies app

Many people have had a hand in the app's development including staff at Butterfly Conservation, scientists working within the Biological Records Centre (BRC) at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), and the developer team at Nature Locator and Natural Apptitude. CEH provided funding for the project and have linked it to the iRecord system for sharing wildlife observations, developed by Biodiverse IT and the BRC.

Tomorrow is the weekend and it's forecast to be sunny in many areas of the UK, fantastic conditions for recording butterflies. Download iRecord butterflies now and give it a try!

Barnaby Smith

Update 1 - 13 April 2014

It's 6pm at the end of the first weekend since the iRecord Butterlies app went on general release. I've just glanced at the Butterfly App Info Centre on the iRecord website. In just over 48 hours 774 records of 20 species have been submitted and numbers are increasing every time I check. Great work by all of you who've been out recording over the last two days. 80 photos have accompanied these sightings.

However...team 'Butterfly' still have some way to go to get past the Ladybird recorders. Since the iRecord Ladybirds App was launched last year 6720 records of 31 species have been submitted, plus a fantastic total of 5013 photos (approximately 3 photos for every 4 records). More details are on the Ladybird App Info Centre.

One preliminary conclusion? It may be easier to photograph a ladybird than a butterfly!

Good luck with your recording!


Additional information


The new iRecord Butterflies app is available from iTunes and the Google store

Butterfly Conservation - Butterfly recording gets smart

iRecord website

Biological Records Centre at CEH

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

UK butterfly statistics 2013 – the story behind the headlines

The annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) data tables have been released over the last few days, the 38th time of such a release since the scheme began in 1976. Each year the main focus of media interest tends to be on the increases and decreases for each species compared to the previous year. This year is no different with the numbers showing that in 2013 there was an increase in abundance for the majority of species (46 out of 56) as a result of last year's warm summer. The 'good' summer of 2013 followed the "worst year on record" (in butterfly terms) in 2012. Media reporting, see the Guardian here and the Daily Mail here, has reflected this change in fortunes over the annual cycle.

The common Green-veined white butterfly had its worst year on record in 2012
but bounced back in 2013. Photo: Ross Newham

Significant decline of some species

However the annual changes don’t tell the full story. As CEH butterfly ecologist Dr Marc Botham said in the press release accompanying the 2013 statistical release:

“Annual changes are largely associated with the weather. However, the data show that a number of species have been significantly declining over the last 38 years.”

In fact over the full UKBMS series, stretching back nearly four decades, 33 species have declined, 1 has remained relatively stable, and just 22 have increased, compared to the 46 that increased in abundance between 2012 and 2013. There can also be differences in the results between the full series and the last decade. Over the last 10 years 40 species have decreased in abundance.

The migrant Clouded Yellow was seen in large numbers in 2013.
Photo: Tim Heoflich


A good example of these differences is the Clouded Yellow. The species had a fantastic year in 2013 as an influx of migrants resulted in a 4373% increase over the 2012 figures, and has also had a fantastic run over the long term (back to 1979 when the species was first recorded). However its record over the last 10 years is relatively poor when compared to other species. The species list on the Butterfly Conservation website offers the following explanation:

“Clouded Yellow - Numbers on UKBMS sites vary considerably from year to year, the huge fluctuations in the collated index plot demonstrating the good migrant years where some sites record double, sometimes triple, figure numbers. In 2000 Clouded yellow produced a three figure index on four different UKBMS sites. The data show no significant trend. However, as the collated index plot shows, there has been a large increase since monitoring began and the lack of significance is likely a result of the recent run of poor migrant years.”

Another example is the Small Tortoiseshell. Across 1755 recording sites the species had a great year in 2013 compared to 2012 but it has done much less well over the last decade, and very badly over the full series of record (back to 1976). The UKBMS factsheet - see the graph under Log Collated index - shows this long term decline. The factsheet offers some explanation:

"The data show a significant decline in the Small Tortoiseshell since 1976. Although this species does generally show annual fluctuations in abundance, the recent pattern of underlying decline has seen it regularly produce some of its lowest indices of the series."

The garden favourite Small Tortoiseshell


New analytical method

The 2013 numbers are also the first to incorporate trend estimates using a new analytical method. As the 2012 UKBMS report states:

“A paper describing the method has been published in a widely respected peer-reviewed scientific journal, Methods in Ecology and Evolution (DOI: 10.1111/2041- 210X.12053). Briefly, the method uses all butterfly counts in a season to estimate the seasonal pattern of butterfly counts for that year, and uses this to weight observed counts when calculating annual population indices and trends over time. Compared to the current analysis approach, the new method has several advantages. Firstly, it provides a more precise method for measuring butterfly trends. Secondly, it enables us to include all transect counts within the assessment of trends, thereby making more efficient use of recorders’ efforts and covering more sites within the geographic range of each species. Finally, for reporting trends in the future, we intend to combine data from traditional transects and data from the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey, enabling butterfly trends to be more representative.”

The observant among you will notice that the 2013 results from the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS), incorporated in today’s 2013 UKBMS results, were separately released in February  and showed that Farmland butterflies thrived during last years hot summer. One of my previous blogs explains the difference between the WCBS and the UKBMS.

In summary

All of the above highlights the vital importance of maintaining long-term monitoring, which is reliant on the immense dedication of thousands of volunteers, mixed with high quality analysis from the supporting scientific team at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Butterfly Conservation. It is only by continuing to do this that we can ensure the best available evidence is collected to best inform the UK’s conservation policy.

Barnaby Smith, CEH Media Relations Manager

Additional information


Data table - summary of species abundance 2013

Data table - significant difference between England, Scotland and Wales

United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring scheme

UKBMS is run by CEH and our partners in the scheme Butterfly Conservation (BC) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, and has collated records since 1976. The scheme now involves thousands of volunteers collecting data every week throughout the summer from more than 1,000 sites across the UK. CEH and BC are very grateful to all the volunteer recorders for their hard work and tenacity in walking their butterfly transects during 2013.

Slideshow of butterflies featured in 2013 butterfly statistics

In 2012 I blogged about how the UKBMS annual figures are used as indicators by Government to monitor long term changes in the UK’s biodiversity (See: Butterflies, biodiversity indicators and long-term change).

Links to CEH news stories about the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey

2013 results: Farmland butterflies thrived in 2013
2012 results: Grass-feeding butterflies defy 2012 deluge
2011 results: Small Tortoiseshell decline highlighted in new study

Links to CEH news stories about the United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring scheme


2012 results: Washout 2012 was the worst year for UK butterflies on record
2011 results: Record-breaking 2011 Spring helped some of the UK's rarer butterflies
2010 results: Rare butterflies show signs of recovery
2009 results: Fears grow for some of Britain's rarest butterflies
2008 results: UK butterfly numbers fall to new low
2007 results: Butterflies at record low after wet summer of 2007

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

IPCC report: CEH science makes key contributions

Several scientific studies led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) are cited in
'Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability', a major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which was published this week.

The report, from Working Group II of the IPCC, states that the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. It details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks.

CEH's science was cited in chapters examining Freshwater resources, Terrestrial and inland water systems, Food security and Detection and attribution of observed impacts.


CEH authors and publications referenced in the IPCC report include:

CEH Director Professor Mark Bailey said:

“The IPCC’s landmark study warns that climate change is already here and is impacting every continent on planet earth. CEH’s national capability and long-term and large-scale monitoring platforms provide early warning of environmental change and underpin management solutions for land and freshwaters across the UK and globally. Our research, such as that used in the IPCC report, provides robust evidence for policymakers to drive adaptation opportunities and build increased resilience, and shows the importance of long-term and large-scale monitoring.”

Further information on IPCC report


A changing climate creates pervasive risks but opportunities exist for effective responses - IPCC Report (United Nations Environment Programme News Centre)

Assessing and managing the effects of climate change (CEH News Blog)

Further information on CEH science


Meeting the challenges of environmental change (CEH Science Strategy 2014-2019)

Staff page of Professor Mark J Bailey

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Assessing and managing the risks of climate change

Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability report cover
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published this week, says that the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. In many cases, it warns, the world is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. There are opportunities to respond to such risks, it says, though they will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.

The report, titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, from Working Group II of the IPCC, details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks.

Responding to its publication, scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) made the following comments:

Dr Richard Harding, Senior Hydrologist
“The first report of the IPCC fifth assessment concluded that human activities were already having an impact on our climate. This second report assesses the considerable number of studies investigating the current and future impacts of these climate changes and possible adaption strategies. The report concludes that warming increases the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts. Some ecosystems and cultures are already at risk from climate change and there is a warning of irreversible changes. In the future we will see increasing water scarcity and negative impacts on food production. Climate change is increasing the risks of extreme events (flooding, high temperatures etc) and the impacts are greatest for the most disadvantaged communities.

These impacts can be moderated by reducing their rate of change by mitigation, i.e. reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and planning. The impacts from recent climate extremes show a considerable vulnerability and exposure to present day variability. This vulnerability will increase as the climate changes. The impacts, however, can be moderated by adaptive planning, by all sections of society. A first step towards this adaption is reducing our exposure to current extremes - this is a double win, giving protection now and increased resilience in the future.

This report is yet another wake-up call to take action on climate change. It illustrates that it is not too late to take action but the consequences of inaction will be wide-ranging and serious.”

Dr Stephen Thackeray, Lake ecologist and project lead of Shifting seasons, climate change & ecosystems consequences:
“The second report of the IPCC fifth assessment capitalises upon the increasing body of evidence that climate change has already had an effect upon wild plants and animals, and the wider ecosystems within which they interact. The report makes it clear that these effects may be complex because ecosystems respond to the interactive effects of a changing climate and many other stressors, such as habitat modification and pollution. It is clear that we need to understand, and plan for, these interactive effects if we are to successfully manage the natural world under ongoing climate change.”

Additional information


CEH scientists take part in research looking at the impacts of climate change on species and the environment and have an extensive network of long-term monitoring and experimental field sites. Analysis and modelling of these data provide early warning of change and are helping to deliver management solutions for land and freshwaters across the UK and globally.

Climate change is increasing the risk of extreme events.

Comma butterfly
Research involving CEH showed that the
Comma butterfly has expanded its UK range
northwards rapidly



Examples of CEH climate change research

Future Flows and Groundwater Levels project details and datasets

Shifting seasons, climate change and ecosystem consequences project details

Ecological Processes & Resilience science area 

Meeting the Challenges of Environmental Change - CEH's Science Strategy 2014-2019

Related CEH news on climate change research

Drought and climate change - an uncertain future?

Water and climate change in the UK - assessing the evidence

Climate impacts evidence for biodiversity changes in the UK's countryside

Butterfly expanding northwards with warming temperatures and changed diet

Accelerating climate change exerts strong pressure on Europe's mountain flora

Wildlife responds increasingly rapidly to climate change