Written by Ben Sykes, Executive Director, ECT
The Ecological Continuity Trust (ECT) was formed in 2008 as a charitable body and not-for-profit company, with core funding support from the British Ecological Society, in direct response to the loss of long-term ecological experiments (LTEs) across the UK.
Our vision was, and continues to be, the development of a strategic network of LTEs that involve genuine ecosystem manipulations in the real world and true replication for statistical purposes. That vision includes safeguarding existing high-quality experiments and data, as well as facilitating new experiments for the long-term. And we aim to ensure that experimental field ecology is at the heart of evidence-based policymaking, sustainable land use, and biodiversity improvement in a time of environmental change, thereby contributing to both science and society. To this end, ECT is unique as the only charitable body in the UK dedicated to long-term field experiments.
We define an LTE as a real-world, outdoor study that has applied true manipulative ‘treatments’ (see below) continuously for at least six years. ECT currently maintains a national register of 33 active LTEs across 30 sites in all four nations of the UK. These cover habitats ranging from grassland to woodland to upland peat bog, and experimental treatments ranging from land management techniques to manipulations designed to mimic the effects of changing climate. Our 33rd active LTE was recently added to the register in late 2020 – the Colt Park Meadows experiment now run by staff from The University of Manchester focuses on the impacts of specific land management interventions (grazing by sheep and/or cattle, hay cutting, seed addition and nutrient fertilisation) on ecosystem services, especially carbon storage and resilience to climate extremes such as drought. It has been running for over 31 years.
Many of the sites on our register have been running continuously as field experiments for decades and, in a couple of cases, for over 100 years (Park Grass and Palace Leas). Several include a restoration component, investigating in a rigorous scientific way how ‘treatments’ can lead to biodiversity gains (or losses) in different habitats. This is a major reason why the NBN and the ECT have been in recent dialogue around working together more closely. One long-term ambition might be to include data from the experiments on ECT’s register within the NBN Atlas.
If you would like to understand more about the field sites on ECT’s register, please access the sites page on our website. For more on ECT’s vision and long-term strategy, please access our Corporate Plan 2020-2030.