Sulphur dioxide is a million times more abundant in the atmosphere of Venus than that of Earth, possibly as a result of volcanism on Venus within the past billion years. A tenfold decrease in sulphur dioxide column density above Venus's clouds measured by the Pioneer Venus spacecraft during the 1970s and 1980s has been interpreted as decline following an episode of volcanogenic upwelling from the lower atmosphere. Here we report that the sulphur dioxide column density above Venus's clouds decreased by an order of magnitude between 2007 and 2012 using ultraviolet spectrometer data from the SPICAV instrument onboard the Venus Express spacecraft. This decline is similar to observations during the 1980s. We also report strong latitudinal and temporal variability in sulphur dioxide column density that is consistent with supply fluctuations from the lower atmosphere. We suggest that episodic sulphur dioxide injections to the cloud tops may be caused either by periods of increased buoyancy of volcanic plumes, or, in the absence of active volcanism, by long-period oscillations of the general atmospheric circulation. The 30-year observational record from Pioneer Venus and Venus Express confirms that episodic injections of sulphur dioxide above the clouds recur on decadal timescales, suggesting a more variable atmosphere than expected.