Wednesday, 31 October 2007

UK Approach to Conserving Biodiversity

The UK Biodiversity Partnership has published its approach to biodiversity conservation. The UK will take an Ecosystem Approach and put sustained effort into the following six priorities:

  • protecting the best sites for wildlife;
  • targeting action on priority species and habitats;
  • embedding proper consideration of biodiversity and ecosystem services in all relevant sectors of policy and decision-making;
  • engaging people, and encouraging behaviour change;
  • developing and interpreting the evidence base;
  • ensuring that the UK plays a proactive role in influencing the development of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, and contributes fully to their domestic delivery

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Environmental Monitoring

The Environmental Research Funders' Forum has published a Strategic Analysis of UK Environmental Monitoring Activity. It found that the UK monitoring community is large and fragmented. Monitoring is undertaken for a variety of reasons with the most common being long-term research and informing policy development. About a third of the activities are meeting or contributing to statutory requirements. There appears to be a lack of baseline data and data on long-term trends in specific topic areas including climate change impacts. The cost of monitoring covered by the review has been very conservatively estimated at upwards of £88 million and could be up to £500m. The lack of secure funding was identified as the major risk to long-term datasets. Other risks include organisational and staffing changes and the reliance on the volunteer continuity who collect approximately one third of the terrestrial datasets. The principle recommendation of the review is that a clear vision, strategy and framework for long-term environmental monitoring are required.

Ecological Engagement Award

The BES Ecological Engagement Award is an annual award to recognise an exceptional contribution to facilitating the use and understanding of ecology. The Award is an honorarium of £1,000 plus a certificate. The award is given annually at the BES Annual Meeting. This year's winner was Dr Tim Sparks for his contribution to the UK Phenology Network. Who should get the award in 2008? Please send your nominations by the 1st December 2007.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Taking forward the Climate Change Bill

Defra has published a Command Paper entitled ‘Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill.’ The Paper is a response to the Consultation and Parliamentary inquiries into its Draft Climate Change Bill. The Paper makes a number of changes to the Climate Change Bill, including:

  • Asking the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the Government’s target to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 should be strengthened further;
  • Asking the Committee to look at the implications of including other greenhouse gases;
  • Strengthening the role and responsibilities of the Committee on Climate Change, including by requiring the Government to seek the Committee’s advice before amending the 2020 or 2050 targets in the Bill;
  • Strengthening the Committee’s independence from Government, by confirming that it will appoint its own chief executive and staff, and increasing its analytical resources;
  • Increased transparency, by requiring the Committee to publish its analysis and advice to Government on setting five-yearly carbon budgets, which are designed to provide clarity on the UK’s route towards its reduction targets;
  • Strengthening Parliament’s ability to hold Government to account, by requiring the Government to explain its reasons to Parliament if it does not accept the Committee’s advice on the level of the carbon budget, or if it does not meet a budget or target;
  • Strengthening the country’s preparedness for climate change by requiring the Government regularly to assess the risks of climate change to the UK, and to report to Parliament on its proposals and policies for sustainable adaptation to climate change.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Response to the Marine Bill White Paper

Defra published the summary of responses to A Sea Change – a Marine Bill White Paper. Defra received a total of 8519 responses, 8085 "campaign" responses and 434 "non-campaign" responses. 82% of the responses were supportive of the Marine Bill. A number of the responses emphasised the importance of the Bill being included in the Queen's speech and that their support was dependant on the implementation of all the proposals.

Natural England Science Strategy

Natural England has published its draft science strategy ''integrated science to support integrated solutions" and action plan for consultation. To deliver an efficient and effective service the Science and Evidence Team will encourage integration in a number of ways:

  • the science programme must deliver a service to all parts of the business supply chain, from strategy to delivery, and will be driven by this imperative;
  • the science function will be visible and seen as part of the work of the whole organisation;
  • the science team will assess the adequacy of existing information before proposing new research;
  • science projects will always consider the need for interdisciplinary science;
  • the science function will explicitly integrate with that of our key partners;
  • the science team will be engaged with the wider science community.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Parliamentary evidence on badgers and bTB

Today at 3.00 pm the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee is taking evidence on "Badgers and cattle TB," which can be watched live on the internet. The Committee will first take evidence from former members of the Independent Science Group who oversaw the Randomised Badger Culling Trial. The BES has published research from members of the group in its journals. The ISG final report recommended against a badger cull to control the incidence of bovine TB (bTB). The Committee will then take evidence from the Government's Chief Science Adviser, Sir David King. Sir David has questioned the findings of the ISG and recommend that a badger cull would help to control the incidence of bTB in cattle.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Chief Science Adviser: Badger Culling

Sir David King, the Government Chief Science Adviser, has published a report on bovine TB in Cattle and Badgers. His conclusion that badger culling is an effective strategy for controlling bTB differed from the Independent Science Groups. Sir David's assessment is that:

  • Badgers are a clear source of infection for cattle. Reducing the density of badgers in those areas of England where there is a significant level of TB in cattle reduces the incidence of TB in cattle in the same area;
  • Removal of badgers is the best option available at the moment to reduce the reservoir of infection in wildlife. But in the longer term, alternative or additional means of controlling TB in badgers, such as vaccination, may become available. Research into these should continue;
  • Removal of badgers should only take place in those areas of the country where there is a high and persistent incidence of TB in cattle. The minimum overall area within which badger removal should take place is 100 km2, although increasing the area would increase the overall benefit. Badger removal programmes should be sustained (unless replaced or supplemented by alternative means of control);
  • There is some evidence of an adverse effect on the incidence of cattle TB in the area 0.5 - 1.0 km outside the removal area. This may or may not be totally related to the removal programme, and there should be monitoring outside the removal area to detect any such effect. Measures should be taken to limit the risk of such an effect;
  • After four years, the badger removal programme should be reviewed.

Monday, 22 October 2007

The Science behind the Thrown

The BBC Radio 4 programme The Science behind the Thrown examines the role of scientific advisers in government. The programme looks at the history of science policy in the UK and how it has changed since post-war period.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

2010 Biodiversity Indicators

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has produced a report aimed at policymakers to help combat the the loss of biodiversity in Europe and reach the 2010 biodiversity loss target. The EEA proposes 26 biodiversity indicators, known as Streamlining European 2010 Biodiversity Indicators (SEBI 2010) and individual indicator methodology. The EEA has been collaborating with other institutions and organisations since 2005 to establish SEBI 2010.

Marine Research Report

The House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee have released their report Investigating the Oceans, which addresses marine science in the United Kingdom. The Committee recommend the following:

  • Urge Defra to bring forward to draft Marine Bill without delay.
  • A new marine science agency should be established to coordinate marine science and research in the UK, to promote the education on marine science in schools, universities and the UK public to overcome the skill shortage in marine science.
  • Both NERC and the government need to commit to ensuring that the research vessel planned for 2011 is delivered on time and that NERC should develop a case for a new coastal vessel.
  • It is essential that the government establish Marine Protected Area (MPA) pilot sites ahead of the Bill, to assemble the necessary evidence required to develop the science needed to underpin MPA's and that MPA policy is directly linked to the draft Climate Change and Energy Bills.

Defra Science Advisory Council Meeting

Defra's Science Advisory Council (SAC) meeting yesterday covered Defra's science strategy development, social science research, Defra's animal disease strategy and climate change. The SAC announced that a sub-group would work along side Professor Robert Watson, the Chief Scientific Advisor, advising on the process of Defra's assessment on its scientific capability and capacity needs. The SAC stressed that current capacity and capability should be addressed to assess and analyse social science research as it is imperative that it is embedded into all policy decision making. Current research on ice cover in the Arctic during September 2007 was presented followed by council members welcoming Defra to fund pioneering studies on geo-engineering technologies. Concerns were made by the public regarding budget spending, whether aviation is to be included in the Climate Change Bill and adaptation to climate change.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Comprehensive Spending Review

In the 2007 Pre-Budget Report and Comprehensive Spending Review:

  • Defra will receive an average annual increase of 1.4%, increasing the total budget from £3,508 million in 2007 to £3,960 million by 2010-11. This increase will provide the delivery of an increase to £800 million spent on flood and coastal risk management, a step-change in investment for sustainable waste management and a £570 million contribution to the Environmental Transformation Fund.
  • NERC will receive an increase of 5.4% each year totalling £1.2 billion over the next three years which will assist in the Next Generation Science for Planet Earth 2007 - 2012 Strategy which will be launched in November this year. The Department for Innovation, University and Skills' budget of 18.7 billion in 2007-2008 will rise to £20.8 billion in 2010-2011, an average annual increase of 2.2%. This increase supports the Government's aim for Britain to be a world class place for science, research and innovation.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Sainsbury Review

Lord Sainsbury has published his review of the Government's science and innovation policies. The report entitled a Race to the Top calls for:

  • A new leadership role for the Technology Strategy Board Working with the RDA's the Research Councils and government departments to co-ordinate public sector support for technological innovation, leverage public sector resources and simplify access to funds for business.
  • Building on our success in knowledge transfer by giving more support through the Higher Education Innovation Fund to business-facing universities, setting targets for knowledge transfer from Research Councils, doubling the number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and extending these further to FE Colleges.
  • A major campaign to enhance the teaching of science and technology including raising the number of qualified STEM teachers, increasing the number of young people studying triple science, improving careers advice, establishing a National Science Competition, and rationalising the many schemes to inspire our young people to take up careers in science and engineering.
  • A key role for Government Departments based on an improved procurement capability, a reformed Small Business Research Initiative managed in partnership with the TSB, and consideration for the incorporation of innovation into the duties of the economic regulators.
  • Increasing the focus of RDAs on science and innovation by encouraging them to put additional resources into TSB programmes, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, high-technology clusters around world-class research universities, and proof-of-concept schemes consistent with a nationally agreed specification.

The Government has announced that it will invest £1 billion over the next three years to boost business innovation and technology development and will create a new science and innovation strategy, to help position Britain as a key knowledge economy at the forefront of 21st century innovation.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Review of Environmental Research Funding

The Environmental Researchers Funder’s Forum (ERFF) has produced a report analysing the placement of environmental research funding. The report aims to assist the UK’s primary funders of environmental research to maximise the coherence and effectiveness of research funding by identifying gaps and overlaps in the distribution of funding. Data was collated from environmental research projects funded in 2004 – 2005 by the 12 members of the ERFF including Defra, NERC, BBSRC and SEPA.

The period of 2004-2005, £263.56 million was spent on environmental research and £22.99 million was spent on environmental research training totalling a spend of £286.55 million. NERC and Defra accounted for 75% of the total spend during 2004-2005 making them the largest public funders of environmental research. Out of the 12 priority research areas that were analysed, £104 million was spent on natural resources; £95 million was spent on farming, fisheries, food, forestry and land use and £68 million was spent on climate change. The lowest spend was £6million on human health, flooding and flood defences. The allocation of funding for environmental research training coincides with the distribution of funding for research showing that natural resources gains the highest allocation of funding for both research and training.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Severn Barrage Development

Today the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) released a report on the development of the Severn Barrage. If fully exploited, SDC have suggested that the barrage will supply 10% of the UK’s electricity which will combat both current issues of climate change and energy security. The barrage would generate large quantities of low carbon electricity thus assisting in reaching the 2050 climate change reduction targets and the renewable energy targets. Despite the potential advantages of the barrage, the SDC says there are serious environmental costs that need to be addressed.

The Severn Estuary is home to unique ecosystems that are protected under national and international legislation. The estuary is an internationally important site for 65,000 migratory birds, five of which are of international importance and ten are of national importance. The estuary is designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EU Birds Directive and is a candidate Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive. Surrounding areas of the Severn Estuary are also protected under international and national statutory designations such as RAMAR, SSSI and both Local and National nature reserves. These ecosystem habitats would be directly affected by the development of the barrage. Under the EU Directives, the development must go through a series of tests which includes providing habitat compensation costing in the region of 7.5million for a new 115ha habitat.

NERC Science Champions

The Natural Environment Research Council has named its 'champions' that will encourage partnerships across the research and stakeholder communities:

  • Climate Change: Rowan Sutton
  • Biodiversity: Lloyd Peck
  • Earth System Science: Tim Jickells
  • Natural Hazards: John Rees
  • Sustainable Use of Natural Resources: Louise Heathwaite
  • Environment, Pollution and Human Health: Roy Harrison
  • Technologies: Alastair Lewis