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Scientific challenge: 

Researchers, conservationists and decision-makers have long recognised the importance of understanding processes that determine how ecosystems function, how and why they may be changing, and how resilient they are to both short-term and more sustained disturbances. This need is served through a continuously evolving scientific understanding founded on inter-dependent disciplines of repeated observation, controlled experiments and process-based and mathematical modelling. The UK Environmental Change Network was established in 1992 as a network of instrumented sites spanning a wide range of ecosystems at which sustained long-term observations of selected physical, chemical and biological variables are made according to tightly defined protocols.

CEH coordinates the UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) the UK's long-term, multi-agency, environmental change monitoring programme.  ECN collects, analyses and interprets long-term data from a network of sites across the country.

ECN’s physical, chemical and biological datasets - some now spanning over two decades - are a unique national resource that is improving our understanding of how and why the ecological structure and functioning of natural environments change over time. The data help inform research and decision-making on important issues such as the impacts of climate change and air pollution on habitats and species, changes in natural capital and the sustainability of ecosystem functions and services.

The Environmental Change Network is the UK's formal Long-Term Ecosystem Research (LTER) network: it is a member of the International Long-Term Ecological Research network, ILTER, and of ILTER's regional network, LTER-Europe. These connections, coupled with ECN's extensive database, have enabled experts in CEH to play a leading role in environmental informatics associated with long-term ecosystem data.

Site-based monitoring and research

Since 1992, ECN has operated sites across the UK. The network currently comprises 11 terrestrial sites and 45 freshwater sites, at which ECN partner organisations make a wide range of environmental measurements. Data are sent to the ECN Data Centre, where they are checked and added to the ECN Database and made freely available for research, education and other non-commercial purposes.

The wide range of regular environmental measurements, wealth of historical data and local knowledge of site managers make terrestrial ECN sites particularly suitable as platforms for shorter term experiments and other research. A range of such activities is conducted by ECN partner organisations (including CEH) and by other research institutes and universities, and ECN welcomes proposals for additional studies.

ECN data: a unique resource

ECN data, along with related datasets, are accessible via the ECN Data Centre, which includes options for examining the data in summary form using online tools. Raw data are available on completion of an online licence.  Data are available for most ECN terrestrial sites from 1993 and from 1994 onwards for freshwater sites. There is no charge for standard data requests (unless there are specific third-party licensing arrangements in place or if a request is particularly complex).

Publication references:

See the ECN website for a longer list of selected ECN-related publications, or browse the complete ECN publications catalogue