Experimental sites for uplands monitoring and soil research

Scientific importance

Upland sites were traditionally exploited for livestock grazing, timber production and salmonid fisheries. But they are also of high conservation and amenity value, as well as being important for water resources and carbon storage. They often represent vulnerable ecosystems.

Our monitoring sites in north-east Wales (16 years+) and the Peak District (10 years+) contain experimental roof facilities used to study the effects of climate change within upland ecosystems. Scientists can explore the link between above and below-ground diversity and the resistance of these communities to climate change and pollution. The sites are also ideal for researchers investigating soil carbon dynamics, root turnover, hydraulics and the impact of microbial composition on these processes.

Vegetation analysis at Clocaenog uplands monitoring siteAbout the sites: characteristics and facilities

Automated retractable roofs exclude rainfall from plots to impose extended summer droughts. A similar set of insulated roofs cover the vegetation during night time, resulting in artificial warming. Our field site in England further investigates the effects of pollution on ecosystem processes. The infrastructure and long-term datasets offer unique facilities for European scientists to study effects of climate change on upland ecosystems. The projects, over the course of their lifetime, have been parts of several EU projects, including CLIMOOR, VULCAN and INCREASE.

Clocaenog, north Wales

Clocaenog is part of an upland heathland dominated by Calluna vulgaris, and has a rich moss and lichen understory. The site has high rainfall, on average 1550mm each year, and its ecosystem holds large pools of carbon. Clocaenog is the location of one of the longest running climate change experiments in the UK, with research at the site resulting in more than 50 publications to date. Several modelling exercises and cross ecosystem syntheses have used data from the experiment.

Climate change manipulations

Climate manipulations at Clocaenog comprise three untreated control plots, three dried and three warmed plots. The warming treatment raises temperatures on average by 0.7 °C. Although this is a relatively subtle increase, the number of growing degree days in the warming plots is increased by 111% compared to ambient plots. The drought treatment operates May-Sept annually, reducing summer rainfall by about 60%.

Research activities and research ideas

The following data is collected routinely at the site, and in most cases we also have a ten-year back catalogue available: climate data, soil water quality measurements, soil gaseous flux measurements, soil N transformation measurements, litter decomposition, vegetation production, nutrient status and composition changes.

Recovery roof project in the Peak District, EnglandRecovery roof site, England

The recovery roof site in the Peak District looks at pollution impacts on uplands. The Peak District is historically one of the most polluted upland areas in the country because of its proximity to large cities like Manchester and Sheffield. Facilities have been used to examine how fast and well our moorland vegetation will recover from pollution and how this will compare with changes brought about by climate change.

The Recovery roof experiment has additional treatments as well as climate change manipulations, making the experiment one of the few field sites that considers multiple drivers of change. The same team and level of support is offered for the Recovery roof experiment as at Clocaenog.


  • Automated roof technology imposing drought and warming conditions
  • Meteorological data recorded hourly at site and plot scale
  • Automated soil respiration and net ecosystem exchange equipment
  • Spectro-radiometry for canopy reflectance

Current site research

  • Fortnightly soil respiration measurements
  • Soil respiration campaigns with automated Licor system
  • Soil physical measurements such as hydrophobicity and tension
  • Litterfall
  • Assessment on the microbial community

Selected publications

  • Quantifying global soil carbon losses in response to warming. Nature (2016), doi: 10.1038/nature20150
  • Temperature response of soil respiration largely unaltered with experimental warming. PNAS (2016), doi: 10.1073/pnas.1605365113
  • Experimental evidence for drought induced alternative stable states of soil moisture. Scientific Reports (2016), doi: 10.1038/srep20018
  • Increased sensitivity to climate change in disturbed ecosystems. Nature Communications (2015), doi: 10.1038/ncomms7682
  • Contrasting effects of repeated summer drought on soil carbon efflux in hydric and mesic heathland soils. Global Change Biology (2008), doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01643.x

Work with us

  • To discuss opportunities to collaborate with CEH and use our facilities at the two sites, contact Dr Sabine Reinsch.

Facility Type: 

  • Monitoring Site

Science areas: 


Selected Publications: 

Temperature response of soil respiration largely unaltered with experimental warming
Experimental evidence for drought induced alternative stable states of soil moisture
Increased sensitivity to climate change in disturbed ecosystems
Contrasting effects of repeated summer drought on soil carbon efflux in hydric and mesic heathland soils