Much work in the ecological and environmental
sciences is today focussed on broad issues and principles. Nonetheless,
it is still true that taxon-based work is important. This appendix
describes that importance and the role of small, independent research
groups and amateurs in such work.
Because of the peculiarities of individual species
and circumstances, the general principles of ecology and related
sciences depend on a broad spectrum of empirical data: ecologists
need to establish generalisations across the spectrum. Applied
ecology especially demands knowledge of the particular.
Much of the particular knowledge that is useful
in applied ecology is established through studies based on particular
taxa. Key areas are:
1. Population monitoring.
Sir John Krebs has maintained that the BTO's
monitoring of, and associated work on, farmland birds is one of
the three fields where ecological and environmental science has
had clear influence on policy (the others being global climate
change and the hole in the ozone layer). Its influence has been
on both UK and EU agriculture policy. Furthermore, similar monitoring
of birds in other habitats has also been important and that monitoring
of other taxonomic groups has played its part in illuminating
policy. Population monitoring of various taxa is also a requirement
of both domestic and international legislation.
2. Monitoring of distributions and movements.
The importance of this is similar to that of
3. Research into the causes of change.
Monitoring is most effective when it is supplemented
by research projects into the causes of the changes that the monitoring
revealed. Work on farmland birds again provides the most obvious
4. General natural history.
To understand specific situations one needs
to know about the ecology of particular places and particular
5. Taxonomy and species identification.
No significant ecological work is possible without
being able to identify the species on which one is working. Although
the British fauna and flora is unusually well-known, there are
still many groups where taxonomic uncertainty persists and even
more where identification criteria and guides are needed.
The universities and many of the major institutes
have moved strongly away from taxon-based studies in recent decades.
Much of the current work is therefore undertaken by small independent
institutes. For birds, for example, a major part of current British
research effort is carried out by the British Trust for Ornithology,
the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (Research Department),
and the Game Conservancy Trust. The GCT also researches other
taxa. Some other groups, especially mammals and Lepidoptera, are
also studied by professionals in small, independent institutions.
Many of the taxon-based societies undertake
research that uses the skills and labour of amateurs. Some projects
are organized by professionals, with amateurs doing the fieldwork;
some are also organised and written-up by amateurs. The monitoring
programmes for British wildlife are entirely dependent on the
huge volume of amateur labour that goes into them.
Some amateurs are major researchers in their
own right, publishing in both journals and books. They are often
the chief sources of identification advice. They provide new knowledge
in natural history and taxonomy. They undertake scholarly research
of specific issues.
71 By monitoring, we do not just mean surveillance.
We mean surveillance of a system against a desired target (standard),
carried out in such a way as to illuminate the reasons why the
target is not being achieved, and linked to a mechanism for drawing
to the attention of decision-makers any failure to achieve targets
and possible reasons. Back
By "movements", we mean migrations and dispersive movements. Back
Amateurs include all of those who carry out their research without
financial reward. Some may be professionals who are working in
their spare time or after retirement. Back