Freshwater Umbrella

What is the Freshwater Umbrella?

The Freshwater Umbrella research programme into the recovery of aquatic ecosystems from the effects of acidification has been funded by DEFRA (previously the DOE and DETR) and the devolved agencies since 1990. The Freshwater Umbrella undertakes 3-year applied science programmes to develop the scientific background to aid DEFRA make policy decisions concerned with air pollution effects on freshwater systems in the UK.

The main focus of the current Freshwater Umbrella research programme is the role of nitrogen and its effects on freshwater ecosystems both as a eutrophier and through the leaching of nitrate from catchment soils. Further information about the various research programmes undertaken by the Freshwater Umbrella can be found in the Research section of this website.

DEFRA and the devolved agencies fund two complementary Umbrella research programmes; the Terrestrial Umbrella and the Dynamic Modelling Umbrella.

The Future of Britain's Upland Waters

The Future of Britain's Upland Waters workshop preceedings Front CoverSome of the UK's most environmentally sensitive upland lakes and streams are starting to recover from the effects of acid rain. According to new research the amount of acidic sulphur in UK waters has generally halved in the last 15 years, in turn acidity is declining and wildlife is beginning to recuperate.

The Future of Britain's Upland Waters details the proceedings of a one-day workshop held at UCL in a series of papers that review the current status of research in the ecology of upland waters in the UK. These paper stress the importance of upland waters and the threats they face, such as atmospheric pollutants and changes in land-use, and report the results of recent research on the chemistry and biology of upland waters in the UK.

In particular the report contains a summary of the main findings of 15 years of monitoring as part of the UK Acid Waters Monitoring Network (UK AWMN), a DEFRA-funded network of 22 lakes and streams established to study the success international emissions reductions and their effects. The full results of the analysis of the UK AWMN data have recently been published in a special issue of the scientific journal Environmental Pollution.

Ben Bradshaw, Fisheries and Local Environmental Quality Minister, today welcomed the research and highlighted how measures brought in by Government were starting to bear fruit. It will take time for these sensitive waters to recover from the devastating effects of acid rain. So it is extremely encouraging that today's research suggests that they are starting to recover, he said.

Adobe pdf iconDownload the Future of Britains Upland Waters report.

Policy background

Freshwater bodies in the uplands are subject to often excessive levels of atmospheric inputs, such as sulphur, nitrogen, heavy metals and POPs. These pollutants can have adverse effects on the ecological status of the water body. Reducing these adverse effects continues to be a major driver of air quality policy in the UK and internationally. In addition, there are specific conservation objectives for designated freshwater bodies, and a requirement in the EC Water Framework Directive for all freshwaters to achieve 'good ecological status' by 2016.

Atmospheric deposition of sulphur has led to the acidification of many freshwater sites in sensitive upland regions of the UK, with damaging consequences for aquatic ecosystems. International agreements under the UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) and EC Directives, have led to substantial reductions in sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions over the past thirty years, and upland waters are now starting to show a decline in in sulphate (SO42-) concentrations. The UNECE Gothenburg Protocol and the EC National Emission Ceilings Directive both contain commitments to further reduce emissions of acidic and nitrogen-containing air pollutants, from 2010.

Page last modified: 14 March 2010
Page published: 14 March 2010
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