Water, Air, & Soil Pollution: Focus

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 413-419

First online:

The Applicability of National Critical Loads Data in Assessing Designated Sites

  • Jane HallAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology Email author 
  • , Jackie UllyettAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • , Richard WadsworthAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • , Brian ReynoldsAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology

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Critical loads have been successfully used within Europe in the development of effects-based policies for pollution abatement, including the Second Sulphur Protocol and the Protocol to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone (CLRTAP, 1979). This success has encouraged the UK Environment Agency and Conservation Agencies to use the national critical load maps as a screening tool in assessing the threats from acidification and eutrophication to designated (Natura 2000) sites. The UK maps of critical loads are based on national-scale data sets appropriate for national-scale assessments, and were never intended for use at the site-specific level. Site-based assessments are often targeted at Special Areas of Conservation, a sub-set of the UK Natura 2000 sites. The spatial data available includes the boundaries of the sites but not the location of the designated features. Ancillary data is variable from one site to another; habitat types may be described in detail with cross-reference to classes of the National Vegetation Classification (NVC: Rodwell, 1991 et seq), but information available on soils and geology is generalised and has not been related to the habitats or species being protected. Hence it can be difficult to relate the individual sites to the national maps, even where appropriate to do so. This paper examines the underlying uncertainties in the national critical load maps showing how the maps could give misleading results if used for site-specific assessments. It also includes advice on how to determine when the national data may be appropriate as a policy-tool at the site-level.


critical loads designated sites endorsement theory national vegetation classification policy acidification eutrophication