Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report


44. The main sources of funding for public sector marine research in the UK are the Research Councils, primarily NERC but also to some extent the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with some relevant social science research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Other funding comes direct from Government departments and non-departmental public bodies, and via private sources, such as charities or the oil and gas industry.

45. The most recent published synthesis of marine science and technology investment across the piece was contained in the Pugh and Skinner report for IACMST, prepared in 2002. This showed that in 1999-2000, the UK spent £609m on marine-related research and development. Of this, £273m (45%) was spent by Government departments and agencies, £118m (19%) in university departments and the rest, almost £220m (36%), in the commercial sector. The table below sets out the expenditure by the public sector, with figures for 1994-5 for comparison. We note that when the 1994-95 figures are adjusted for inflation, the expenditure was £303m at 1999 prices; in other words, in real terms, funding decreased by £30m over this period.

Table 2: Summary of R&D Expenditure by Public Sector 1999-2000 (£m)

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Scottish Executive
Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries
Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions—Env
Department of Environment
Marine Safety Agency
Department of Transport
Environment Agency
National Rivers Authority
Northern Ireland Office
Northern Ireland Office
Ministry of Defence: Ministry of Defence:
Defence Evaluation and Research Agency
Defence Evaluation and Research Agency
Met Office
Met Office
Department of Trade and Industry
Department of Trade and Industry
Department for International Development
Overseas Development Agency
Health and Safety Executive
Health and Safety Executive

Source: A New Analysis of Marine-Related Activities in the UK Economy with Supporting Science and Technology, David Pugh and Leonard Skinner, IACMST Information Document No. 10, August 2002 (Pugh and Skinner)

The top spending Government department in each of these years was the Ministry of Defence, followed a long way behind by MAFF (now Defra). The NERC expenditure includes funding for its own institutes but not grants to universities.

46. The Pugh and Skinner study updated work originally undertaken in 1994-5. It was intended to be "an interim update, perhaps in anticipation of a full revision after ten years" and therefore was not so full a survey as the original work had been.[68] No further work has since been undertaken. We understand that the Crown Estate is currently conducting a study of the socio-economic indicators of marine-related activities in the UK economy, which includes research and education and training, incorporating information and techniques used previously by Pugh and Skinner. This study is expected to be available in October 2007. We regret the failure of the IACMST to follow up the Pugh and Skinner study as anticipated in the 2002 report. Up to date figures and analysis are needed to ensure that trends in expenditure on research in this important area can be monitored. We recommend that funding be identified by the sponsoring Government department for a regular survey of marine-related research and development in the UK by the IACMST or any successor body with responsibility for co-ordination in this area.

Research Councils: NERC

47. NERC is responsible for funding and carrying out scientific research in the environmental sciences, including marine science. It operates through three funding streams: responsive mode, directed programmes and centre programmes. It also provides central facilities such as research vessels and equipment, which we discuss in a later chapter.


48. Responsive mode funding is awarded to scientists on the basis of proposals for projects made outwith a NERC call for applications covering a particular area of research. From 2000 to 2004, NERC spent approximately £6.8m a year on marine research through responsive grant schemes, which equates to 16 to 22% of NERC's total responsive mode budget.[69] This has varied between a low point of £4.7m in 2001/02 and a high of £7m in 2006/07.[70]


49. Funding is also available through directed programmes which address specific themes within NERC's strategic priorities. These often result in collaborative bids which bring together NERC's centres and the universities. On average such programmes receive approximately £5-10m per programme, generally over five years, and NERC has run up to twelve programmes with a marine component since 2000. Some of these programmes have attracted international partners. Examples include RAPID, a seven-year £20m investment that aims to improve prediction of the impact of climate change which is operating in collaboration with the US, and the UK Surface-Ocean Lower-Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) programme, which has support from Germany and which has a substantial marine science element.[71]

50. The table below shows the figures for NERC spending on directed programmes in marine science from 1999/00 to 2006/07. It indicates that funding for directed programmes peaked in 2003/04 and has been declining in each year since.

Table 3: Expenditure on NERC marine-related directed programmes

Autosub Science missions
Autosub Under Ice
Developmental Ecology of Marine Animals (DEMA)
Ocean drilling Programme (ODP)
Ocean drilling programme subscription
Integrated Ocean drilling Programme (IODP) (inc subscription)
Marine Productivity
Ocean margins LINK
Rapid Climate Change (RAPID)
LINK Aquaculture
Plankton Reactivity in the Marine Environment (PRIME)
The Deep Ocean Benthic Boundary Layer (BENBO)
Marine Biofouling

Source: Ev 270


51. NERC has seven research and collaborative centres dedicated to marine research. These are as shown in the table below:

Table 4: Current organisational status of the NERC Marine Centres

The Marine Research and Collaborative Centres
contributing to Oceans 2025
InstitutionAcronymType of Centre Owning BodyCurrent Relationship with NERC since
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton(formerly Southampton Oceanography Centre) NOC
(formerly SOC)
Collaborative Centre Jointly owned
NERC and the
University of
Plymouth Marine LaboratoryPML Collaborative CentrePML (Company Limited by Guarantee with Charitable Status) 2002
Marine Biological Association of the UK, Plymouth MBAGrant in Aidfunded Body
MBA (Company Limited by Guarantee with Charitable Status) 1965
(modified 1987 & 2001)
Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Liverpool POLResearch Centre NERC1969
Scottish Association for Marine Sciences
(Dunstaffnage, Scotland)
SAMSCollaborative Centre SAMS Group
(Company Limited by Guarantee with Charitable Status)
1967 (updated 1994 and 2002)
Sea Mammal Research Unit, St Andrews (Scotland) SMRUCollaborative Centre University ofSt Andrews1996
Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science SAHFOSGrant in Aid funded body SAHFOS (Company Limited by Guarantee with charitable status) 1990

Source: Ev 206

52. Recent trends in funding for these centres are shown in the table below:

Table 5: NERC funding for marine centres

Centre for Coastal and Marine Sciences (CCMS) (excl SAMS and MBL)
Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (incl PSMSL and BODC)
NOCS (excl marine facilities of NMFD, UKORS, RSU, RVS)
Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
Sea Mammal research Unit (SMRU)

Source: Ev 269

In addition, NERC funds the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge which conducts marine-related research in the Southern Ocean, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the British Geological Survey (BGS) which both conduct some marine-related research.

53. The history of these centres is a long one, with some of them dating back to the 19th century. During that time, there have been several major reconfigurations, with amalgamations and break ups, but under the current arrangements, put in place in 2001, the centres are dispersed across the country and are mainly closely linked with universities. The three Plymouth-based centres, for example, are part of the Plymouth Marine Science Partnership in which the University of Plymouth is also a partner, while POL works with the University of Liverpool and NOCS with Southampton University. NERC described these moves as part of NERC's strategy "to encourage engagement between its researchers and the university sector to try to stimulate the younger students to come through to fill some of [the skills] gaps."[72] The centres retain "a diverse set of ownership and governance arrangements".[73] NOCS claimed that "there is strength in this diversity and the Centres work together cooperatively and in a coordinated way at the strategic level".[74] Each centre has its own area of expertise, and their directors jointly told us that "The Science Management Audits for each of the centres undertaken in 2004/5 found high quality science in all of the Centres with a high degree of differentiation between them and little or no evidence of duplication."[75] However, a review by NERC Council in 2005 found that the UK marine centres' separate research programmes were discouraging a co-ordinated research approach and jeopardising the future of long-term ocean monitoring programmes. In response, the seven marine centres designed what has become known as Oceans 2025.

The Oceans 2025 proposal

54. Oceans 2025 is a NERC-funded research programme proposed, and to be implemented, by the marine centres. It aims to deliver key strategic scientific goals in marine research and to offer improved support for long-term monitoring. It is intended to

  • increase the understanding of the size, nature and impacts of changes in the marine environment and address some of the most fundamental issues in marine science;
  • integrate a co-ordinated approach from the marine centres, with co-operation and input from Government agencies and departments, to improve the knowledge of how the seas behave and how they are changing, and the consequences for the oceans and for society: and
  • address the development of sustainable solutions for the management of marine resources for future generations.

55. Oceans 2025 will receive approximately £120m from NERC over five years, just under half of NERC's total spend on marine science,[76] although the funding for the final three years of the programme depends on the outcome of the 2007 Spending Review. Most of this funding will be spent within the NERC centres but Oceans 2025 also includes a new Strategic Ocean Funding Initiative (SOFI), which offers funding for projects where the skills required are not available within the marine centres. This opens up some of the money for universities and other partners, although it is not quite accurate to describe this, as one witness did, as "money in Oceans 2025 to work specifically with the universities"[77] since the SOFI pot of £5m (around £1m a year) is not limited to work with the higher education sector (see paragraph 71 below).

56. Oceans 2025 has been well received by the majority of the UK marine science community as a positive development for UK marine science. One of its participants, POL, described it as "a significant step forward in funding marine technology", which would enable them "to further develop the Liverpool Bay Observatory and to develop state-of-the-art telemetry systems for sea level data".[78] From outside the centres, Professor Sir Howard Dalton, speaking in his capacity as Chair of the IACMST, told us that "Oceans 2025 has made quite a big difference to the way in which we are trying to get together to try to co-ordinate activities."[79] The RSPB also welcomed Oceans 2025 as "a huge step forward in addressing the need for coherence between disciplines", although it lamented "the role of seabirds in the ecosystem" was "a glaring omission from this new integrated structure".[80]

57. Initial confusion by some in the university sector over the process by which Oceans 2025 was proposed, consulted on and ratified by NERC was resolved through our evidence sessions and a further submission from NERC.[81] In essence, Oceans 2025 is a scientific proposal similar to any other and therefore it was not appropriate to have full-scale public consultation on the details. Professor Thorpe was clear that "Oceans 2025 is the name given for our core strategic investments in marine science. It maintains the national capability to do marine science; it does not represent the totality of the funding that we devote to marine science, nor does it represent a holistic marine strategy."[82] We welcome the development of Oceans 2025 as a strategy for NERC's marine centres, particularly as a centre-driven proposal for self-organisation and better peer-group co-ordination. We accept that the universities were properly consulted. However, the apparent resentment in some quarters of the Oceans 2025 process in its early stages indicates the desire of many working in marine science for a similar strategy embracing all parts of the marine research community. We discuss this further below.


58. The major UK universities engaged in marine science (based on the number of researchers) are Southampton, Bangor, Stirling, Plymouth, Aberdeen and St Andrews. Centres of excellence in marine engineering are mainly located at former sites of shipbuilding activities (including the University of Strathclyde, the University of Edinburgh, Southampton University, the University of Newcastle and Imperial College London), although there are other institutions with an interest in this area. These universities now have expertise in marine energy-generation research. Pugh and Skinner listed 17 schools or departments with more than 40 research workers in 1999-2000.[83]

59. Professor Gideon Henderson from the University of Oxford told us that there were some areas of particular excellence in the university sector, especially in ocean chemistry, but that it was focussed in relatively few universities.[84] He described opportunities for funding marine research apart from the Research Councils as "quite small".[85] This is supported by the Pugh and Skinner analysis that in 1999-2000 68% of research funding for higher education institutions came from the public sector (government, Research Councils and the EU), 25% from the private sector (industry, industrial consortia and trade associations) and 7% from endowments, trusts and charities.[86] Of the public sector funding, the Research Councils were the single largest source, giving 35% of the total funding.[87]

60. Professor Henderson pointed out that universities were only allowed to bid for blue skies research funding from NERC and not for strategic (directed) grants.[88] He told us that "Many people in my direct field and similar fields feel that we are doing strategically important work for the country but we are not able to tap into funding for that work".[89] He also felt that the process for setting the agenda for UK marine research excluded the universities and that the sector should be involved in determining marine science strategy in the future.[90] Professor Henderson's view was supported by the President of the Challenger Society, a leading marine science learned society, who argued that "In the universities, where much of the cutting edge marine research is being done, there is an almost complete lack of national coordination or overall marine science strategy, made worse by NERC's abolition of its marine research grant committee some years ago (noting that NERC is the major funder of university research in this area)".[91]


61. There are a number of issues which were raised with us about NERC funding. These include the level of available funding, types of funding and NERC's attitude towards interdisciplinary applications. Finally, there were concerns about funding for Oceans 2025.

Levels of funding

62. The overall trend in NERC funding for marine science is shown in the table below:

Table 6: NERC funding for marine science

Expenditure heading
Ship operations
Marine centre expenditure
Directed programmes
Other directed programmes

Source: Ev 270

Looking back to 1985, NERC funding for marine science and technology rose in real terms from c£10m in 1985/86 to £30m in 1995/96, but then fell in real terms every year until at least 2003/04 as a result of the rebalancing of NERC's priorities in the later 1990s.[92] It has continued to fall since, with overall expenditure, excluding response mode grants, some £5.4m less in cash terms in 2006/07 than in 2003/04. This is reflected in evidence from one centre, SAMS, which told us that its core strategic funding from NERC "had decreased in real terms year on year for the past 10 years".[93] We note that other funds have also been available through responsive mode grants but the declining trend in NERC funding for marine science is a worrying one and we seek an explanation from NERC as to why marine science has apparently been less of a priority than other areas within the NERC remit.

Types of funding

63. In June 2006 NERC's Council announced that it would be changing the way in which it makes awards. The Funding Allocation and Budgeting (FAB) project reviewed NERC's strategic planning, funding and management processes, with the aim of improving collaborations, flexibility and performance management whilst linking scientific investment more closely with priority areas and Government spending review cycles. There will be two funding streams under FAB:

a)  National Capability Funding: research infrastructure, services and facilities, survey and monitoring, and scientific advice over long timescales. Established NERC research and collaborative centres will be allocated National Capability funding for long periods, with known levels of funding and agreed margins for flexibility so they can respond to new issues as they arise.

b)  Research Programme Funding: to support time-limited research programmes that address the science priorities defined by NERC's strategy. Most programmes will be collaborative and will build on the capability and capacity provided by research and collaborative centres and universities.[94]

Under the new arrangements, NERC intends that funding bids will be open to a wide range of research providers and that new research programme can be developed quickly where needs arise. It sees this approach as very similar to the way centres already bid into directed programmes, blue skies, and contract research opportunities.[95]

64. FAB has been welcomed by some in the community as promising "to create a funding environment that enables centres/surveys to collaborate".[96] The Oceans 2025 initiative, which aims to do precisely this, was explicitly designed to fit within the new FAB structure. POL also welcomed the proposal under FAB that "'national capability' within NERC centres and surveys (such as marine technology) be funded on a longer time-scale, such as 10 years".[97] There is a larger question as to whether NERC is the most appropriate agency to fund operational observations which we discuss later (see Chapter 6).

65. PML was more cautious about FAB, concerned that opening up funding to competition "could be damaging if taken to its logical limits".[98] We also heard concerns that the move to FAB, where budgets are restricted to shorter timescales, will mean that the annual review of science projects will be too onerous and will disadvantage UK scientists compared to those competing for funding overseas. This would mean that research cruise proposals, which often take the scientific team behind them three or more years to bring to fruition, are disadvantaged. One effect of this may be that people may prefer to leave the UK to work in other countries where it is less cumbersome to obtain funding for such projects, or where funding is secure over a longer term.

66. We also heard the perception voiced that bids for responsive mode funding from within the marine science community are proportionally less successful than those from other areas within NERC's remit. Statistics from NERC bear this out. The table below shows funding for all NERC's highly graded standard grant research proposals and for marine science standard grant proposals, from 2001 to 2006. These figures indicate that, consistently, a lower proportion of highly graded marine science proposals receive funding than the average, with the sole exception of 2003 when the two were more equally balanced. We accept that NERC acts in good faith to support the best science in awarding funding under the responsive mode and that the number of applications is small, but we believe that the apparent bias against funding for marine science applications requires investigation and explanation from NERC.

Table 7: Success rates for highly graded proposals for NERC-funding
Year Total number of funded á4/á5 graded research proposals Total number of funded á4/á5 graded MS research proposals Total number of unfunded á4 graded research proposals Percentage of unfunded á4 graded research proposals Total number of unfunded á4 graded MS research proposals Percentage of unfunded á4 graded MS research proposals
2001105 1870 4016 47
200253 924 319 50
2003122 2544 279 26
2004112 1063 3613 57
2005103 1976 4218 49
2006102 1925 207 27

Source: Ev 271

Interdisciplinary bids

67. Throughout the inquiry, the fundamental role of the oceans as one part of an integrated earth system has been highlighted by many witnesses. Increasingly, scientists from different disciplines are coming together to work on research problems, for example the interaction between oceans and the atmosphere, of which current understanding is poor. It is a matter of concern, therefore, that several witnesses considered that NERC's procedures for assessing multi- or interdisciplinary applications were inadequate. Natural England, for example, argued that some of the current practices in NERC's peer review procedures for funding UK marine science are inconsistent and favour mainstream disciplines at the expense of inter-disciplinary research:

    The perception that we are given is that in part this seems to be driven by a mismatch in peer review background (dominated by oceanography and earth science interests) set against the biological marine science focus of projects and programmes under consideration. The consequence may be to make it difficult to fund ongoing innovation or novel research in some areas of marine science.[99]

68. The NERC centre directors also reported "an ongoing perception within the community that NERC's peer review system is systematically biased against grant proposals that involve industry."[100] PML raised the specific difficulty of obtaining funding for joint NERC/MoD bids where strategic projects were being assessed as "blue skies projects" and therefore were not scoring sufficiently highly.[101] PML called for a review of such schemes.[102] One practical problem reported to us was that bids to NERC were foundering because multi-disciplinary grants required the same forms as very detailed specific bids and scientists could not properly express their intentions in the space available, so were dismissed as too vague. Research cruises are often multi-disciplinary since it is not practical for vessels to go out and examine just one research area. To solve this problem, the scientists were moving towards applying for consortia bids which permitted longer explanatory supporting submissions.

69. The marine centre directors argued that "this is an area where NERC might take a more positive and proactive approach through guidance to applicants and members of its Peer Review College as well as fostering a greater understanding of the needs of interdisciplinary research."[103] The Deputy Director, Science and Innovation, NERC, assured us that this was in hand and that "every year there are training exercises [for the peer review college], and the need to be able to be aware of and how to deal with interdisciplinary proposals is part of that training".[104] He expected that this would "be one of the aspects we would look at" in the forthcoming review of the peer review college.[105]

Oceans 2025 funding

70. NERC has only committed funding for the first two years of the Oceans 2025 programme, pending decisions on the Council's share of the Science Budget for the next five years. This has caused some uncertainty in the community, with POL warning that "A real-term cut in years 3 to 5 of the programme would seriously undermine basic research aimed at improving the predictability of climate models and assessing the impact of climate change on the UK".[106] This, they argued, would have "a disproportionately large adverse impact on the technology theme" since technology development is "long-term and costly".[107] Oceans 2025 is an important development and one which NERC should support. We recommend that NERC commit funding to the full five years of the Oceans 2025 programme in order to enable proper planning and effective organsiation. In doing so, it needs to ensure that the longer term programmes and facilities are not packaged together with the short term projects in the same project cycle so that each can be assessed against their natural lifespan.

71. There were also undercurrents of complaint in the evidence that the funding given to Oceans 2025 represented only "a modest uplift overall".[108] There are also projects and themes which were squeezed out of Oceans 2025 but which might be reintroduced under the programme's Strategic Ocean Funding Initiative (SOFI). For example, the PML proposed a new laboratory to investigate marine environment and human health which did not score well in the peer review process.[109] NERC told us that it expected to use SOFI to fund work such as this, "which Oceans 2025 should be doing but it does not have the capability to do itself, for whatever reason".[110] This pot of funds totals only £5m or 7.5% of the budget for the whole five years, and is already partially allocated to a cross-partner research effort with Defra, SEERAD and the Northern Ireland Office on sustainable marine bio-resources, "another area of Oceans 2025 which did not do particularly well during the funding process".[111] Given that SOFI is expected to foster collaboration with the universities as well, it is worrying that two such important areas are having to be funded out of such a small funding pot. We recommend that NERC review the use of the Strategic Ocean Funding Initiative, with a view to increasing the amount allocated to it within the Oceans 2025 programme and encouraging participation from universities in Oceans 2025.


72. Marine research fits into each of the three headings within NERC's current strategic priorities of earth's life-support systems, climate change and sustainable economies. NERC is currently finalising a new strategy with seven cross-cutting themes, and a strong focus on "providing the scientific evidence to address the environmental issues that society and the economy face."[112] There is also a separate funding stream for national capabilities, such as research vessels and maintaining long-term data sets.[113] Professor Thorpe told us that "We will be looking at both maintaining the marine science and technology capability overall, and that obviously is largely but not exclusively delivered by the marine centres via the Ocean 2025 Programme; but marine science appears in the thematic research programmes that cut across".[114]

73. NERC does not have a strategy specifically for marine science, instead seeing marine science as part of the whole NERC picture. This has been the position since 1994 when NERC abolished its Directorship of Science for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, established only eight years previously, to develop a coherent strategy for research in NERC's laboratories and in the universities. This left the Directors of the NERC Centres as the main source of marine expertise within the NERC community, with no official source of expertise at NERC headquarters.

74. There is longstanding concern at the implications of these arrangements for NERC's marine science portfolio. Oceans 2025 has attempted to remove the competition between the centres but that between the centres and the universities remains, leading one academic from the university sector to comment to us that "historically I would say NERC has not done a great job of co-ordination … NERC is very focused on its own institutes and it does not necessarily know what is happening in the community as a whole which is quite a lot larger than the institutes."[115] Professor Thorpe told us that "NERC investments in marine science are coherent and fit into NERC's overall strategy".[116] There are undoubted advantages in a thematic approach that goes beyond marine sciences but it is clear that a greater sense of direction and leadership on the part of NERC is desired by the marine science community. We recommend that NERC review the need for a director of science for marine and atmospheric science.

Other Research Councils


75. The BBSRC funds basic and strategic research in the non-clinical life sciences at universities and research centres. It told us that "marine biology is at the periphery of BBSRC's major interests", although it has "some interest in supporting research into marine organisms where this will allow study of interesting biological processes".[117] The BBSRC covers study of the marine environment only in its interactions with marine organisms. The BBSRC lists three areas of interest in marine biology:

  • Biotechnological exploitation of novel processes in the marine environment (e.g. novel chemistries for bioprocessing and novel enzymes from hyperthermophiles and hyperbarophiles from deep-sea vents). Access to marine organisms and the necessary equipment for their subsequent exploitation.
  • Maintaining health of farmed fish against bacterial, viral and parasitic infections.
  • Understanding the effects and the mechanisms of control of agricultural run-off into catchments and the marine environment.[118]

The amount of funding made available is small compared to NERC, as the following table shows. Nevertheless, the BBSRC is important in certain aspects of marine research such as biotechnology.

Table 8: Total Marine Science Spend for the Period 2002/03-2006/07

Table 1
Estimated Spend (£K)
Forecast spend 2006/07 (£K)

Source: Ev 248

Table 9: Marine Science Spend by Research Committee

Table 2
Estimated Spend (£K)
Forecast spend 2006/07 (£K)
Committee area
Animal Sciences
Biochemistry and Cell Biology
Biomolecular Sciences
Engineering and Biological Systems
Genes and Developmental Biology
Plant and Microbial Sciences

Source: Ev 248

Table 10: Marine Science Spend by cross-Committee Priority Area

Name of cross-Committee priority area
Awarding Committee
Estimated Spend (£K)
Forecast spend 2006/07 (£K)
Bioscience Engineering
Theoretical Biology

Source: Ev 248


76. The EPSRC is the main agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing around £650 million a year in a broad range of subjects from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering. It supports marine science (including coastal research) where there is a strong engineering or physical science element, as shown by the areas in which they are currently funding projects:

Some of the EPSRC support for marine research is cross-cutting with other Research Councils, notably the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (co-funded by NERC and ESRC) and the UK Energy Research Centre (co-funded by NERC and ESRC); programmes at these centres focus on broader environmental issues, rather than pure marine science.

77. EPSRC funding for marine-related research is mainly through the responsive mode, although some marine research is funded through managed activities specific to key themes, such as the Sustainable Power Generation and Supply Programme and the Flood Risk Management Research Consortium. The total current project commitment for marine science from the EPSRC is £12.6m (£3.3m for coastal engineering, £9.3m for marine engineering). £2.6m of this total is directed through the Supergen Marine Energy Consortium (part of a directed call for renewable energy generation research). EPSRC has also proposed that marine renewable energy be nominated as a subject for a Science and Innovation Award which is a large, long-term grant (typically £3-5 million over five years), with a commitment from the host institution to continue to support the research group once the grant has ended.[120] Further work is also supported through the recent expansion of the Marine Energy Consortium which will see increased funding of £5.5m for 2007 to 2011.[121] However, EPSRC spend on marine science is a modest fraction of its overall budget of £650m per year, as shown in the table below, with little evidence of real growth.

Table 11: EPSRC expenditure on marine science

Financial Year
Total Annual Marine Science Spend

Current EPSRC marine science research spend for financial years 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2008/09. Annual EPSRC Budget is £650m. Grants to be announced and planned future activities are not included in these figures.[122]
Source: Ev 196


78. The ESRC also funds some work in the marine area, although naturally on a much smaller scale than NERC. It has a scheme for funding interdisciplinary PhD awards and a transdisciplinary research seminar competition, both run jointly with NERC, which have seen funding awarded to marine science projects. In addition, one of ESRC's Research Centres (the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment) and two of its collaborative centres (the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the UK Energy Research Centre) also have strong marine research interests. Finally, the ESRC provided us with examples of marine-related research funded under its responsive mode in the last five years which total some £582,000.


79. Concerns were raised in evidence about several aspects of cross-council funding applications. First, POL told us that there were "unhelpful barriers for funding marine science between research councils"; they cited the example of offshore engineering which is mainly funded by EPSRC, to whom POL is prevented from bidding.[123] The same difficulty with the "apparently arbitrary way in which organisations are eligible for funding" affected PML, which is also "unable to bid for responsive mode funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council" and "has found it extraordinarily difficult to obtain funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, although there are signs that this route is opening up somewhat."[124] This also applied to the Met Office, which as a trading fund, cannot apply for money from Research Councils at all.[125] This position is even more stringent than the past regime where it was "a bit less clear whether the Met Office could take part in, say, NERC-funded projects".[126] Dr Bell of the Met Office told us that there had been projects "where collaboration between the Met Office and NERC was obviously very desirable" and where funding eventually had to come from the MoD, because of the attitude of the Research Council.[127]

80. Secondly, evidence highlighted concerns over the success of marine-related research proposals that are relevant to two or more Research Councils, in most cases jointly between NERC and BBSRC or NERC and EPSRC. We were particularly struck by BBSRC's admission that they "did not co-fund any marine science research jointly with other Research Councils in the period 2002/03-2006/07."[128] PML found this issue a "particular frustration" and argued that "a review of how to deal with interdisciplinary science is long overdue".[129]

81. Thirdly, there are areas of science which may fall into the gaps between Research Councils. The MBA highlighted "a risk that important developments in the use of products and genes from the great diversity of marine organisms is being neglected as it is an interface area between NERC and BBSRC."[130] The same could apply to aquaculture research and development.[131]

82. The umbrella body, Research Councils UK (RCUK), is working to address some of these difficulties. NERC Deputy Director, Science and Innovation, told us that changes had been made very recently but "they will not have filtered back to the community yet".[132] He explained that "There is a system now which decides not only which council would handle the proposal but also, based on the fraction in different remits of the different councils, whether it would be co-funded or funded by one council."[133] The EPSRC Research and Innovation Director agreed that "one of the problems we suffer is people remember past experiences much more strongly than the current situation".[134] She told us that "I think the situation has got much better but clearly we have to be ever vigilant".[135] We were also told by the then OSI that EPSRC and NERC collaborate on multidisciplinary research in marine science where it crosses the remit of both Research Councils, and there is a Concordat in place on responsive mode funding to support research that crosses remits.[136] We are pleased to hear of changes to ease applications across two or more councils or where it is unclear which council is responsible for a particular area. We recommend that RCUK monitor applications and inquiries to ascertain whether there has been improvement in funding interdisciplinary work in marine science areas as a result of recent changes.

83. These changes, however, do not affect the eligibility of scientists from certain bodies to apply for responsive mode grants. We have previously recommended that these should be opened to all scientists whether working in universities or Research Council Institutes.[137] We have also recommended that all scientists in RCIs should be able to apply to any Council.[138] In the specific case of marine science, we recommend that scientists working in marine research in the UK be eligible to apply for funding to any of the Research Councils, regardless of their place of employment.

Government departments

84. The MBA told us that "considerable funding is available from Government departments and agencies for policy-driven science".[139] The funding for civil purposes is mainly from Defra but several other departments are involved, including the MoD, Department of Transport, DfID and the FCO. We here concentrate on Defra and the MoD.


85. Defra is the lead Government department for marine science and policy since it has responsibility for environmental stewardship of UK waters. These policy commitments are supported by a science programme covering both monitoring and research at an annual cost of around £26 million, broken down as shown in the table below.

Table 12: Defra's Marine Science Programme

Programme Title
Summary of programme scope
Indicative budget 06/07
Sustainable Marine Fisheries R&DImpact of fishing on the marine ecosystem and appropriate mitigating measures. Environmental variability and climate change affects on fisheries productivity. Modelling tools to support strategic and tactical fisheries management decisions.
£3.0 m
Fish and Shellfish Stock Assessment, Monitoring and Management Advice Monitoring programmes to assess the status of commercially important stocks for fisheries management. Joint research with the industry on commercial fish catch rates and developing more selective and environmentally friendly fishing methods.
Sustainable Marine Environment R&D Research potential impacts of human activities on the marine environment, provide understanding of ecosystem functioning and develop tools and techniques to achieve better marine and coastal management.
Marine Monitoring and Management Advice Provision of scientific evidence (monitoring, assessment) and advice relating to environmental protection, including meeting OSPAR and licensing requirements.
Coastal Flood and Erosion Risk Management R&D Studies of coastal sediment processes for morphological prediction, beach management and design of coastal management structures, including economic, social and environmental impacts (part of the ongoing Joint Defra and Environment Agency R&D programme on Flood and Coastal Erosion risk).
Estuary Flood Risk Management R&DStudies of estuary morphology, sediment movement, economic, social and environmental impacts (part of the ongoing Joint Defra and Environment Agency R&D programme on Flood and Coastal Erosion risk management).
Wildlife & Countryside R&DResearch on marine biodiversity and habitats to underpin marine nature conservation policy development, including the Marine Bill, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs).
Climate Long-term measurements of sea surface temperature (SST) and salinity for climate models, including; Projections of sea-level rise, ocean heat uptake, thermohaline circulation and sea ice coverage; Producing a risk assessment of rapid thermohaline circulation change; Work on observations of sea surface temperature; Modelling ocean biogeochemistry and its impact on the global carbon cycle.
Water Quality Research R&DDeveloping operational models to forecast failures of faecal indicator organism limits in designated European Bathing Waters. Impacts of Intermittent discharges on microbial quality of shellfish flesh. Testing of Cost-effectiveness Methodology in Coastal and Transitional Waters.

Source: Ev 154

86. Defra funds research in universities and research institutes, such as the Oceans 2025 NERC centres, and in the public sector fisheries laboratories (see below). The Department accepted in its memorandum that "Our knowledge of the marine environment as a whole is still far from complete. We need to enhance our understanding of ecosystem structure and functioning and its vulnerability to human impacts and climate change".[140] It identified "wide-ranging" priorities for further science, "covering biology, ocean processes, socio-economic impacts, new technologies and data management. We need to develop appropriate marine ecosystem indicators, map marine habitats, develop risk analysis frameworks, extrapolate impact from the individual to the population level and assess social and economic costs and benefits of alternative policy options."[141] It was also upfront in pointing out that the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy states that "to fully comply with increasing demands for evidence .... there needs to be an additional £22m per year spent on sustained marine observations by UK Departments, Agencies and industry." Defra acknowledged that its "current marine science budget is not sufficient to meet all these needs".[142] We examine Defra's role in funding monitoring programmes in Chapter 6 of this Report.


87. The government-owned fisheries laboratories include the Fisheries Research Service (FRS), an agency of the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department, and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), an executive agency of Defra. These agencies provide research, monitoring and advisory services to underpin Government policy in their respective areas. They also conduct research not just for Government departments but also for the EU and the Research Councils and other public and private sector bodies. For example, the FRS in Scotland is participating in a NERC programme on fish toxicogenomics.[143] Cefas characterised its own research as "very applied to support the needs of the government policy divisions; it tends to be more short term than programmes managed by, for instance, NERC."[144]

88. Defra has agreed a ten year programme of flat funding for Cefas, which means a decline in real terms over that period. In order to fill the gap, Cefas has to look for other markets and become more competitive. Dr Horwood assured us that past experience of the contraction in funding since the 1960s and 1970s had shown that "this ability to go out into the wider market has enabled us to do a much richer range of research".[145] However, IMarEST, for example, were concerned that the pressure to find consultancy work to supplement Cefas's departmentally-commissioned work "tends to reduce their opportunities for novel, questions-driven marine research of the kind that is commonly found in university departments." IMarEST argued that "Any decline in fundamental research, whether in government or university labs, will be detrimental, in the long term, to the standing of the UK in the global marine science arena".[146]

89. Evidence from the NERC centres suggested that the new competitive drive at Cefas was harming the relationship between the centres and the laboratories. PML perceived that "organizations such as CEFAS are gradually shifting their focus and becoming more aggressive competitors", with its own "anecdotal experience … that CEFAS was more collaborative in past years."[147] It called for "a wide review of the fisheries laboratories and Research Council institutes in supporting UK-wide marine science".[148] Similarly, POL argued that "Collaboration between CEFAS and NERC is also lacking and this is holding back research progress in the areas of marine bio-resources and marine spatial planning."[149] POL attributes this to "funding constraints at Defra" and identifies "the potential for a major advance in marine ecosystem management through closer collaboration between CEFAS and the laboratories participating in Oceans 2025."[150] Cefas itself complained that "The relevant rules have changed recently leaving Cefas unable to access Research Council funding".[151] Only two of Cefas's current portfolio of over 500 projects are directly funded by NERC. Cefas sees this as having a negative effect on co-ordination and collaboration as a whole: "there is still an impasse of free funding flow, and therefore information, between NERC and other Government laboratories that impedes better integration".[152]

90. The NERC directors identified a need for "greater collaboration and a need to avoid any tendency for duplication of activities between CEFAS and the NERC Centres where one or the other has a particularly strong existing capability".[153] We note that in the first call for SOFI, applicants were obliged to seek partnership and endorsement from at least one NERC centre and one fisheries laboratory, which placed the onus on the applicant to co-ordinate, rather than on the institutions themselves. We asked Defra whether there was a need to review how the research centres and the laboratories could work together more effectively. We did not receive a direct answer but Defra did tell us that as a result of our evidence sessions, Cefas had approached NERC with an offer of talks on the use of the Cefas research vessel.[154] This is one small example of how better dialogue could improve the efficient use of UK marine science facilities. We recommend a review be commissioned by Defra and NERC jointly on mechanisms for improving the relationship between the marine centres and the fisheries laboratories and for encouraging collaboration and co-ordination of research effort.


91. The Ministry of Defence conducts a significant amount of defence-related marine research. Unlike in the US, where the Office of Naval Research is a major funder of marine research and development in the civil sector, most of the work sponsored by the MoD is not channelled through the public sector research route or through universities. We heard from industry witnesses that MoD funding for private sector companies had also ceased. The Association of Marine Scientific Industries told us that

IMarEST agreed that MoD funding for autonomous underwater vehicles (of military interest for mine clearance and mine hunting) "has dropped dramatically off over the last few years".[156]

92. The MoD is a member of the IACMST and claims that "there is good co-ordination between MOD and other Government Departments" in marine science and technology.[157] There is also bilateral co-ordination between NERC and the MoD through an initiative known as CAROS (Cooperative Arrangements for Search in Ocean Science), on which the UKHO is represented, along with NOCS, POL, PML, SAMS and SMRU. CAROS meets formally twice a year to discuss shared issues. Both NERC and the MoD supplied us with similar examples of how the two parties collaborate on the use of naval vessels for research.[158] In addition, the UKHO told us that "the NERC/MoD Joint Grant Scheme for funding research has been significant in terms of funding for marine science and is currently an issue for research organisations who find it difficult to secure funding from NERC by this route".[159] Interestingly, few in the science community mentioned this funding stream in evidence to our inquiry.

93. We have not examined military marine research in this inquiry but we have looked at marine-related work carried out for the MoD by the Met Office as part of the Defence Oceanographic Programme and by the UK Hydrographic Office as part of the Defence Hydrographic Programme, which we describe below. Issues relating to relations between the marine science community and MoD organisations are generally concerned with access to facilities and data and are discussed in those sections of this Report.

The Met Office

94. The Met Office contributes to marine science through its work in climate change research, seasonal forecasting, short-range ocean forecasting and marine measurements.[160] Its primary role in respect of marine science is "to use up-to-date marine science and technology to make predictions" on a climate, seasonal and short timescale.[161] It is responsible for the Hadley Centre which conducts research into the impact and likelihood of climate change. The Met Office also collaborates with NOCS, PML, POL and the Environmental Systems Science Centre in the National Centre for Ocean Forecasting (NCOF) which has the mission "to establish ocean forecasting as part of the national infrastructure based on world class research and development".[162] In 1999-2000 the Met Office spent £2.2m on marine-related research and development, down from £3m in 1994-95.[163]

95. Dr Bell of the Met Office told us that "there is quite a good and an increasingly good working relationship between the Met Office and quite a number of NERC research institutes".[164] There is a "list of 50 small collaborative projects between ourselves and the other members of NCOF, which is really helping to pull their work through into our operations".[165] The Met Office is also a member of the Marine Assessment Policy Committee which is overseeing the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy, and of the IACMST. Internationally, the Met Office contributes to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The UK Hydrographic Office

96. The UK Hydrographic Office claims not to conduct research itself but its Marine Environment Information Centre (MEIC) contributes to marine science through its management of "a significant volume of data", which is released periodically to the wider science community, via the British Oceanographic Data Centre, the National Oceanographic Data Centre (US) and, in the case of marine life observations, to Duke University in the US for dissemination via the OBIS website.[166] The MEIC also makes data available to support specific research projects such as marine mammal habitat preference modelling at SAMS.[167] In addition, UKHO told us that "We could have a role in requesting or requiring research to be done where there are gaps within the research".[168] It may be that the UKHO is adopting a rather narrow definition of research since its written evidence to us indicates that it analyses data from its own and external sources and also creates products from those data, both of which are research-driven activities.[169] In our view, its core task of managing such large quantities of data gives the UKHO a central role in working on data standards so that the data can be easily accessed and interpreted by scientists and policy-makers in the marine sector. The future structure and ownership of the UKHO is currently under review by the MoD. We recommend that the role of the UKHO as a marine research establishment be explicitly considered as part of the MoD review of the future of the Office.

Private sector

97. The private sector funds some marine-related research in public sector research bodies and also has its own research and development activities. It is very difficult to get accurate figures for spending in the latter area. Pugh and Skinner relied on data from the then OST, although this does not specifically differentiate marine-related research, except in the ship building and repair sector where £76m was spent on in-house R&D in 1999, the vast majority (£73m) defence-related.

98. Oil and gas and the extractive industries are generally considered to form the most significant sector, despite the figures from Pugh and Skinner which put it second to ship-building.[170] The size of the industry, its reliance upon exploration of the marine environment and its wealth make investment in marine-related research more of a priority than in many smaller or less directly-connected sectors. The oil and gas industry also works with researchers from academic institutions on a significant scale and produces quality research. BP told us that a major focus of its £220m total investment in 2007 in exploration and production technology research and development is the development of technologies and expertise in deepwater, including autonomous underwater vehicles.[171] It has strategic research relationships with a range of universities and academies worldwide, including Cambridge University and Imperial College. It is also developing projects aimed at gaining a better understanding of the marine environment and environmental monitoring, in close collaboration with the scientific community. For example, BP is funding DELOS (Deep ocean Environmental Long-term Observatory System) in conjunction with OceanLab Aberdeen in partnership with NOCS, Aberdeen University, Glasgow University and Texas A&M University, and has sponsored two postdoctoral posts jointly hosted by NOCS in the fields of deep-sea invertebrate taxonomy and biodiversity. The Director of SMRU told us of another oil and gas company project to study the problems of noise that the sector generates on marine life.[172] This involves a significant amount of funding over three years for peer-reviewed research that will produce outputs in the scientific literature.[173] In the environmental field, much of the information available comes from industry surveys. Dr Tew of Natural England commented that "the quality of the seabed seismic research they do is fantastic, and that is allowing the nation to map the seabed".[174]

99. Pugh and Skinner report that other industrial sectors are less likely to conduct research in-house and more likely to look to specialised research companies, such as British Maritime Technology, or to rely on the public sector to pass on results. This accords with evidence we received from IMarEST that the marine technology industry sees itself less as a direct sponsor of research activity than as a "a recipient of the benefits of that research and the benefits of data and information that are collected from public funds and a user of that information to create secondary products".[175] This underlines the importance of technology transfer in this sector, which we discuss in Chapter 8.

Overall funding

100. The overall trend in funding over the last two decades has been dispiriting to those who are concerned with the importance of studying the oceans. Cefas told us that

Witnesses in general agreed that ocean science is underfunded. Professor Sir Howard Dalton, speaking as Chairman of the IACMST, told us that "I think there is no doubt about it, it is seriously underfunded" as far as monitoring is concerned, and that in general the amount of money NERC, Defra and other funding agencies are putting in is insufficient, "judging by the value that the marine environment brings to the economy".[177] He later added that "If you look at the amount of money that we were putting into the marine environment research spend in 1994 … it is less" now than then.[178] On the NERC side, Professor Hill of NOCS asked for a "times two increase in marine science funding".[179] He was supported by Professor Liss of the Challenger Society on the basis that he believed that less than 20% of proposals to NERC for responsive mode funding were successful[180] and that there was also a need for more funds to meet the substantial costs of international programmes.[181]

101. Some witnesses identified particular areas which were in need of funds. The JNCC argued that "research funding for UK marine science needs to be increased but also rebalanced to address major shortfalls, e.g. in relation to biological resources and the effects of human impacts."[182] IMarEST pointed to the same weakness, claiming that "It is fair to say that there is shrinking budget for fisheries research, and for marine biodiversity studies".[183] Similarly, Natural England argued that funding from NERC for research into long-term ecological issues and change was inadequate, leaving itself and others to "struggle to help support through opportunistic contributions from small-scale resources".[184] It also argued for "a significant increase in funding for investigating our seas and oceans … to keep pace with the increasing demands being placed on Natural England and other agencies to produce more evidence to underpin our advice as part of Government's better regulation agenda".[185] In oral evidence, however, Dr Tew, the Natural England Chief Scientist, stressed that "there should be more money going into both" deep ocean blue skies research and near shore applied research.[186]

102. The greatest gaps in funding are for monitoring, as we discuss later, but there is also a need for money for basic science and facilities. This situation is likely to become ever more difficult as demands for both research and monitoring will rise considerably as a result of the proposals for the UK's Marine Bill and the European Marine Strategy Directive. We do not see how current funding levels will enable this challenge to be met. It would be unwise to support NOCS' call for a doubling of funds for marine science, without first obtaining a full costing of what is required. A full review of future needs for increases in funding, along the lines of the work undertaken already on marine monitoring requirements, is urgently needed. We note that at the moment, there is no organisation who could take forward such an exercise, by demanding co-operation with its work from all parts of the funding spectrum. A stronger co-ordinating body, such as we discuss below, would be better equipped to monitor the overall level of funding. Nevertheless, it is clear, even without such a detailed review, that a substantial increase in funding is necessary if marine science is to meet the challenges before it.

68   Pugh & Skinner, p 5 Back

69   Ev 180 Back

70   Ibid Back

71   Ev 180 Back

72   Q 79 Back

73   Ev 168 Back

74   Ibid Back

75   Ev 201 Back

76   Oceans 2025 information leaflet Back

77   Q 433 Back

78   Ev 103 Back

79   Q 2 Back

80   Ev 111 Back

81   Ev 237, 244 Back

82   Q 570 Back

83   Pugh & Skinner, p 31 Back

84   Q 89 Back

85   Q 94 Back

86   Pugh & Skinner, p 31 Back

87   Ibid Back

88   Ev 163 Back

89   Q 123 Back

90   Ev 163 Back

91   Ev 121 Back

92   POST Report 128, July 1999, p 10 Back

93   Ev 164 Back

94 Back

95   Ibid Back

96   Ev 103 Back

97   Ev 104 Back

98   Ev 117 Back

99   Ev 210 Back

100   Ev 201 Back

101   Ev 117 Back

102   Ibid Back

103   Ev 201 Back

104   Q 44 Back

105   Ibid Back

106   Ev 102 Back

107   Ev 104 Back

108   Ev 200 Back

109   Q 51 Back

110   Ibid Back

111   Ibid Back

112   Q 564 Back

113   Q 568 Back

114   Q 563 Back

115   Q 458 Back

116   Q 573 Back

117   Ev 167 Back

118   Ibid Back

119   Ev 195 Back

120   Ev 196 Back

121   Ev 197 Back

122   Ev 196 Back

123   Ev 103 Back

124   Ev 117 Back

125   Q 158 Back

126   Ibid Back

127   Q 158. This issue also affects the fisheries laboratories (see paragraph 89 below). Back

128   Ev 248 Back

129   Ev 117 Back

130   Ev 161 Back

131   Ibid Back

132   Q 43 Back

133   Ibid Back

134   Q 326 Back

135   Q 327 Back

136   Ev 237 Back

137   Science and Technology Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2006-07, Research Council Institutes, HC 68-I, para 37 Back

138   HC (2006-07) 68-I, para 38 Back

139   Ev 162 Back

140   Ev 150 Back

141   Ibid Back

142   Ibid Back

143   Ev 98 Back

144   Q 130 Back

145   Q 144 Back

146   Ev 231 Back

147   Ev 117-118 Back

148   Ev 118 Back

149   Ev 102 Back

150   Ev 103 Back

151   Ev 99 Back

152   Ibid Back

153   Ev 201 Back

154   Ev 263 Back

155   Q 328 Back

156   Ibid Back

157   Ev 248 Back

158   Ev 144-5; 248 Back

159   Ev 96 Back

160   Ev 176 Back

161   Q 134 Back

162   Ev 177 Back

163   Pugh & Skinner, p 21 Back

164   Q 170 Back

165   Ibid Back

166   Ev 96 Back

167   Ibid Back

168   Q 130 Back

169   Ev 95 Back

170   Pugh & Skinner; Q 22 Back

171   Ev 250 Back

172   Q 421 Back

173   Ibid Back

174   Q 426 Back

175   Q 258 Back

176   Ev 100 Back

177   Q 12 Back

178   Q 512 Back

179   Q 222 Back

180   Q 222, Figures from NERC, reproduced above in paragraph 65, indicate that this is an exaggeration of the real position. Back

181   Q 223 Back

182   Ev 40 Back

183   Ev 138 Back

184   Ev 116 Back

185   Ibid Back

186   Q 413 Back

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