Skip to content

Research into ecosystems: how we’re tackling the biodiversity crisis

A bee on an orchid in the wildflower meadow at Plas Newydd, Anglesey, North Wales
Orchid in the meadow at Plas Newydd, Anglesey | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

We’re working with partners to research ecosystems at 100 woodland and meadow sites across the country. The findings will help inform our work to support wildlife habitats damaged by climate change, drought and other environmental threats. Research sites include the Knepp Estate in West Sussex, an area in the South Downs and the Stonehenge landscape.

Working with a research consortium

The research consortium is being led by Cranfield University, the National Trust, Stirling University, the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Forest Research. It has secured a £2m grant from Natural Environment Research Council to explore the best ways to reverse habitat loss and degradation caused by agriculture, climate change, development and pollution.

Looking at how ecosystems function

We're investigating sites that have already undergone restoration to understand what impact different measures have had on the resilience of woodland and grassland ecosystems. Looking at how ecosystems function in terms of carbon capture, nutrient cycling and pollination will help us to identify what we need to do next for nature’s recovery.

With the increasing number of challenges our landscapes are facing we need to look forward to what will create the robust, functional and resilient ecosystems of the future.

A quote by Rosie HailsNational Trust Director of Science and Nature
Female purple hairstreak butterfly on a dead leaf at Bookham Commons, Surrey
Female purple hairstreak butterfly at Bookham Commons, Surrey | © National Trust Images/Matthew Oates

The research will help conservationists and those involved in ecosystem restoration ensure interventions – like tree planting or re-introducing species – are made to maximum benefit. It will help us with our own conservation goals of creating 25,000 hectares of priority habitats by 2025 and the establishment of 20 million trees to expand or to create new woodlands over the next decade.

Research sites

Research is under way at more than 100 sites, which are currently in the process of being restored. These include the South Downs, Knepp Estate in West Sussex and Stonehenge. Teams of scientists are exploring each of the different sites and the factors that control their development and stability.

We are trying to understand how the nuts, bolts and cogs of the ecosystems that we are interested in reassemble and function, and whether this can be done quickly – or whether we need a lot of patience with Mother Nature – who you simply cannot fool.

A quote by Professor Jim HarrisCranfield University, Lead Principal Investigator for the project
Low view of daffodils and scillas colouring the ground that surrounds trees at Waddesdon, Oxfordshire

Caring for nature

Learn about our work on nature, climate and sustainability, and find out what you can do to make a difference.

You might also be interested in

A group of hikers climb a path through woodland towards the camera

For everyone, for ever: our strategy to 2025 

Read about our strategy 'For everyone, for ever' here at the National Trust, which will take the organisation through to 2025.

A large blue butterfly resting on a clover flower at Collard hill, Somerset.

Our work for butterfly conservation 

Discover how we’re helping increase butterfly populations through habitat management and monitoring, and learn about the rare species we’re bringing back from the brink.

A couple of large white-petalled, yellow-centred daisies among other wild green grassess.

Hay meadow conservation 

Since the 1930s, over 97 per cent of the UK’s hay meadows have disappeared as a result of changes in farming practice. We are working with tenant farmers to restore pasture to hay meadow.

Wild flowers at the nature-friendly Wimpole Home Farm, Cambridgeshire

Nature-friendly farming 

Find out how we're working with farmers to investigate new, practical ways of improving farming methods to benefit farmers, nature and the environment.