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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  September 2010  /  Upland waters damaged by acid rain are beginning to recover

Upland waters damaged by acid rain are beginning to recover

Findings of authoritative ECRC-led research

Upland waters damaged by acid rain are beginning to recover

In a review of 20 years of data from the Acid Waters Monitoring Network undertaken for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environmental Change Research Centre report concludes that both chemical and biological recovery from acidification is underway.

The report nevertheless suggests that there is a long way to go before the plant and animal communities in these systems will be restored to full health, and there is also concern that other factors, such as climate change, might mask, slow or even prevent a full recovery.

Over the last 20 years there have been major reductions in the emissions of sulphur and nitrogen gases from power stations and other sources across the UK and Europe. This has caused a significant reduction in acid deposition and a consequent improvement in water quality at all acidified sites.

Aquatic plant and animal communities are now recovering, as shown by changes in diatom (algal) populations, the re-appearance of plant species at many sites, an increase in the abundance of some insect species and the reappearance of snail populations. Native brown trout, a prominent casualty of acidification, have returned to a few of the most acidified sites and have increased in abundance at others.

Despite the improvement, biological recovery is still limited and there is a concern that it might not be sustained, falling short of the targets set by the main legislative programmes.

The results of the research illustrate the importance of such a long-term monitoring network, not only in tracking responses to the reduction in acid rain but in providing early warning of overall changes in the health of the upland environment, including water quality and aquatic biodiversity, caused by these new, additional and interacting pressures.


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