Memorandum submitted by the Natural Environment
1. The Natural Environment Research Council
(NERC) welcomes this opportunity to provide evidence to the Committee's
enquiry into EQUAL.
2. The Natural Environment Research Council
is the UK's leading organisation for basic, strategic and applied
research and training across the spectrum of the environmental
sciences. NERC's purpose is to support high quality scientific
research, survey, monitoring and postgraduate training with the
objective of enhancing knowledge, understanding and prediction
of the environment and its resources. NERC achieves this through
its support of scientists at universities and through its own
Centres and Surveys: the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the British
Geological Survey (BGS), the Centre for Coastal and Marine Sciences
(CCMS), the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the Southampton
Oceanography Centre (SOCa joint venture with the University
3. While NERC's role in EQUAL is limited,
we make a strong and growing contribution to human health both
through direct collaboration with the medical research community
and also through underpinning research on environmental quality.
Examples are summarised in Annex A.
4. Our evidence, which includes comments
from NERC's Centres and Surveys, and NERC's Science and Technology
Boards, is structured around the nine issues highlighted by the
1. To what extent has NERC been involved in
the EQUAL initiative?
Membership of and participation in the OST EQUAL
Working Group, providing information on relevant NERC activities
2. To what extent has EQUAL brought about
new areas of NERC funded research?
EQUAL has not specifically generated any new
areas of NERC funded research. Recent initiatives and future developments
in Environment and Health, although coincident with extending
quality of life, are primarily driven by NERC's stated objectives
of improving understanding of the impacts of both environmental
change and reductions in environmental quality.
3. How does EQUAL relate to the NERC Urban
Regeneration programme (URGENT)?
There are a number of activities within the
Urban Regeneration and the Environment programme (URGENT) that
relate to the EQUAL aims for a "built/better environment".
Although the research is not driven by the aim to extend the active
period of people's lives, it will potentially have an impact in
a number of areas. A prime example of this is research into urban
air pollution, particularly airborne particles. Particulate (PM10)
exposure is implicated in shortening the lives of susceptible
individuals. URGENT has a portfolio of projects in this area.
For example, one project is tackling dissemination of knowledge
about the urban atmosphere (and how it affects pollution dispersion)
to areas of society without specialised training. In another project,
direct health effects of particulates are being researched. URGENT
is also looking at health effects associated with recreational
use of water bodies, by quantification of existing disease burden
levels and modelling the impact of sewer outfalls. URGENT is also
carrying out research into contaminated land to investigate pollutant
transfer processes; research that has already been presented to
a European meeting of the Society for Environmental Geochemistry
4. Has the initiative identified and supported
the most appropriate research areas for confronting the challenges
of an ageing population?
See response to Questions 2 and 3.
5. Is research in this area receiving sufficient
NERC would not like to see any ring-fenced research
funding or "top down" initiatives for EQUAL that resulted
in the diversion of funds away from more broad based research
aimed at improving understanding of impacts of environmental change
on human health at all ages. For example, improving quality of
life in old age may be dependent on reducing exposure to pollutants
6. What are the key areas of research in this
initiative? What does NERC plan for EQUAL for the future?
Some examples of NERC funded research relevant
to EQUAL are set out in Annex A. NERC has no specific plans for
initiatives focussed at EQUAL.
7. Are there any highlights from the initiative
As an example of the serendipitous nature of
the outcome of many research investments, an NERC funded initiative,
BRIDGE (British Mid-Ocean Ridge Initiative) has found that young
mussels living in the toxic waters of hot springs on the seafloor
are able to repair damage to their DNA quickly. This may suggest
ways to enhance DNA repair in humans.
8. How is the initiative managed and delivered?
The management of EQUAL is principally by co-ordination
through the OST Working Group, which provides an overview of research
9. How well has the initiative been coordinated
with efforts in other Government departments which aim to address
the concerns of an ageing population?
The OST Working Group is useful in co-ordinating
research council activities and the OST provides information on
other government departments' activities and networks such as
AgeNet and Foresight. It is difficult to comment on the comprehensiveness
and effectiveness of this wider co-ordination.
10 January 2000