1. Monitoring at fortnightly to monthly intervals of a very shallow, lowland lake over 24 years has enabled the time course of recovery from nutrient enrichment to be investigated after high external P loading of the lake (>10 g P m−2 year−1) was reduced between 1977 and 1980.
2. The lake showed a relatively rapid response during the spring and early summer, with a reduction in phytoplankton biomass occurring after 5 years when soluble reactive phosphorus concentration was <10 μg L−1.
3. However, during the later summer the response was delayed for 15 years because of sustained remobilisation of phosphorus from the sediment. The greater water clarity in spring and a gradual shift from planktonic to benthic algal growth may be related to the reduction in internal loading after 15 years.
4. Changes in the phytoplankton community composition were also observed. Centric diatoms became less dominant in the spring, and the summer cyanobacteria populations originally dominated by non-heterocystous species (Limnothrix/Planktothrix spp.) almost disappeared. Heterocystous species (Anabaena spp. and Aphanizomenon flos-aquae) were slower to decline, but after 20 years the phytoplankton community was no longer dominated by cyanobacteria.
5. There were no substantial changes in food web structure following re-oligotrophication. Total zooplankton biomass decreased but body size of Daphnia hyalina, the largest zooplankton species in the lake, remained unchanged, suggesting that the fish population remained dominated by planktivorous species.
6. Macrophyte growth was still largely absent after 20 years, although during the spring water clarity may have become sufficient for macrophytes to re-establish.