In 1989, funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (UK) enabled the establishment of a research programme developing and evaluating techniques of outdoor climate manipulation suitable for terrestrial ecosystems. This research was conducted on an area of steeply-sloping, ancient limestone pasture occupying a secure site in the South Pennines of Northern England on property owned by the Health and Safety Laboratory at Harpur Hill near Buxton in North Derbyshire.
The success of this programme led directly to the initiation in 1993 of a large-scale climate-manipulation experiment designed to test our understanding of how, in future, climate change will impact upon contrasted ecosystems of the British Isles.
The climate manipulations have been rigorously maintained and with support from the National Science Foundation (USA), the Health and Safety Laboratory, the Ecological Continuity Trust, the Peak Park Planning Authority and the Daphne Jackson Trust, the programme of experiments has been expanded through collaborations with visiting ecologists from the universities of Sheffield, Syracuse, Milan, Zurich, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Lancaster.
The ultimate objective of the BCCIL experiments is to contribute to our understanding of the processes by which ecosystems in UK (and elsewhere in the world) will be modified by future changes in climate. Some progress in this field of research can be achieved without recourse to experiments – simply by comparing the communities and ecosystems that already exist elsewhere under climatic conditions resembling those expected in future. However, to generate reliable predictions we must take account of changing patterns in land-use that may coincide with climate change and impact upon processes of community and ecosystem reconfiguration as well as the relative mobilities of species within future landscapes. These concerns illustrate the need for models of ecosystem response to climate change to be confronted by actual data from field studies and field simulations. Such experiments must be long-term and, in consequence, their number will be limited by cost.