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This paper is concerned with the application of wireless sensor network (WSN) technology to long-duration and large-scale environmental monitoring. The holy grail is a system that can be deployed and operated by domain specialists not engineers, but this remains some distance into the future. We present our views as to why this field has progressed less quickly than many envisaged it would over a decade ago. We use real examples taken from our own work in this field to illustrate the technological difficulties and challenges that are entailed in meeting end-user requirements for information gathering systems. Reliability and productivity are key concerns and influence the design choices for system hardware and software. We conclude with a discussion of long-term challenges for WSN technology in environmental monitoring and outline our vision of the future.