Long-term ecological experiments test the impacts of environmental change or management on biological communities, species populations and ecosystem processes under field conditions. They are a vital part of the evidence base for decision making in conservation and land management. Many ecological process operate over periods of decades and longer so ecological experiments also need to operate over similar timescales if they are to realise their full value. It has however proved difficult to maintain many experiments for more than a few years. We commissioned this study to evaluate the extent of this problem, its causes and possible solutions.
An earlier study by the Ecological Continuity Trust provided a baseline against which to assess change and this has provided the first reliable evidence that the UK is rapidly losing a large number of long-term ecological experiments. This represents a major loss of national capability that will be hard or impossible to replace. There are no easy solution to the problem, but this report points the way to a new partnership approach with the potential to build a more sustainable future for long-term ecological experiments.