Epiphytic lichens are sensitive to deteriorating air quality, but levels of nitrogen and especially sulphur deposition have been in decline over most of Europe in recent decades. We assessed the response of epiphytic lichens to this decline, using data from long-term monitoring sites in Sweden. We analyzed 20 years of data to investigate temporal trends in lichen communities’ sensitivity to sulphur, nitrogen preference, species richness and alpha and beta diversity. We found only limited and partial evidence of recovery in the area that previously had high levels of deposition, and a decline in mean sulphur sensitivity at a northern site with low deposition levels throughout the monitoring period. The slow recolonization of sensitive species, even where environmental conditions are now suitable, is probably a result of impoverished regional species pools and the inherent limited dispersal capacity of many lichen species. We suggest due consideration of these factors in the use of epiphytic lichens as environmental indicators in a period of improving air quality.