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In the early 1980s, widespread forest decline became a matter of concern for foresters and scientists across Europe. Many countries established surveys to assess the condition of their forests. The Forestry Commission embarked on the first national survey of tree health in 1984 (Binns et al., 1985). This survey has been repeated annually, and currently assesses a total of 8735 trees of five species in 364 plots (Redfern et al., 1999). The results are reported in Information Notes issued by the Forestry Commission.
Under initiatives by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE), the various national surveys were incorporated into a large-scale pan-European survey of forest condition in 1987. This became known as the 'Level I' programme, with the major aim of monitoring crown condition changes over a long period of time in a large number of forest plots. There are now 15 European Union (EU) and 19 non-EU country participants in the Level I programme. In total, the crown condition of almost 100 000 trees are assessed annually in around 5400 plots, representing almost 200 million hectares of forest in Europe.
The Level I network provides accurate information on the extent and spatial distribution of crown condition in Britain and Europe, and a database for analysis of changes over time. However, it cannot identify cause-effect relationships. It does not determine the extent to which air pollution and other stress factors are responsible for the health, or ill health, of forest systems. To achieve this, a second series of plots for intensive monitoring of forest growth and condition, and the environmental conditions which cause them, was initiated under European legislation in 1994. This is known as the 'Level II' programme (European Commission and ICP Forests of UN/ECE,1996).
Intensive long term monitoring of forest ecosystems
Established in 1993 the Environmental Change Network (ECN) is an integrated monitoring programme, which provides a network of sites across the UK where long term comparable biological and chemical and environmental measurements are made. This will provide data to aid in the detection of environmental change and its effects on biodiversity across the UK.
Run by Forest Research on behalf of the Forestry Commission, the Alice Holt forest site is one of twelve terrestrial ECN sites.
FutMon was a EU LIFE+ project and involves 38 institutions in 24 EU countries. It aimed to create a European forest monitoring system which can serve as a basis for the provision of relevant research on forests in Europe. Building on the Level II program Forest Research ran eleven monitoring plots. This project ran through 2009 and 2010 during which time demonstration programs into tree vitality, nutrient cycling and Water budgeting were undertaken.
BioSoil forms part of the programme of the International Cooperative Programme on the Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests. It is a demonstration project including both a chemical and a biodiversity component which has described and sampled soils on a 16×16 km grid network that fall onto forested land, and was the single largest soil monitoring exercise implemented so far at the EU scale. Its primary aim was to establish an improved common European baseline of forest soils for environmental applications but it has also evaluate methodology for soil sampling across Europe.
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