Submission from Professor Sir John Lawton,
Chairman, Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
1. These are my personal views. The Members
of the RCEP have not considered the matter. I have not provided
a summary (as requested) because the submission is very brief.
2. The Committee will, I assume, have received
evidence from the Natural Environment Research Council on the
role of NERC and its associated Wholly-Owned and Collaborative
Centres. (The Wholly Owned centres are: British Antarctic Survey
[BAS]; British Geological Survey [BGS as a partner in the International
Ocean Drilling ProgrammeIODP]; National Oceanographic Centre,
Southampton [NOCS]; Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory. The Collaborative
Centres include the British Oceanographic Data Centre; Plymouth
Marine Laboratory [PML]; Scottish Association for Marine Science;
Sea Mammal Research Unit; and several laboratories within the
Earth Observation Centres and the NERC Centres for Atmospheric
Science). Some of NERC's Services and Facilities Laboratories
also support UK marine science.
3. NERC currently has four ocean-going research
vessels, two run through BAS, and two through NOCS. The BAS ships
are available for non-BAS work, particularly in the northern hemisphere
4. This is a complex landscape, but just
because it is complex does not mean that it is not fit for purpose.
The landscape has evolved over many years, in response to changing
demands, budgets and scientific opportunities. For example, during
my time as CE of NERC we considered the economies of scale that
might be achieved by running all four ships through one operation.
We abandoned the idea because at that time there were no obvious
economies of scale. Operational planning for use of the BAS ships
has to be intimately tied to the overall planning of BAS operations,
two, even three years ahead. Logistics demand his has to be done
within BAS; if it is not, the evidence suggested that there was
scope for considerable confusion and duplication of effort.
5. Generalising, each Wholly-Owned or Collaborative
Centre has a distinct scientific role, with very little duplication
of effort or expertise. Where there is apparent duplication, it
is usually for very good scientific reasons. But of course there
is always room for improvement. The creation of NOCS during my
time as CE was partly to provide this very large, "flagship"
laboratory with a leadership role across the UK marine laboratories,
not as a "takeover bid" but on a "first-among-equals"
basis. It is for others to judge whether this role has been fulfilled.
6. Overall, UK marine science is in excellent
shape. Over the last decade we have done, and continue to do,
world-class science in, for example:
The development of Remotely Operated
Monitoring the Themo-haline Circulation
through the RAPID programme, of fundamental importance in understanding
the impacts of climate change on the UK.
Carrying out pioneering work on sea
surfaceatmospheric coupling through the SOLAS Programme.
NERC will, I am sure have given you many other
7. One measure of this success is the number
of international collaborations involving NERC-funded UK marine
scientists. Major examples include the RAPID programme (co-funded
with the US National Science Foundation and other European partners)
and IODP. World-class scientists from other countries do not actively
seek collaboration with second division players. UK marine scientists
play in the premier league.
8. Against this positive background, during
my time at NERC (and no doubt continuing) there was severe competition
for funds to support marine science in the UK. Marine science
is generally expensive (as are most other areas of NERC science),
and with other major calls on NERC's budget, we had to make some
difficult choices. For example I had at least two requests to
fund the provision of new inshore research vessels by good UK
laboratories. No doubt the science they would have carried out
would have been excellent, but NERC did not have the funds to
support these bids. (This is not a problem unique to marine science
in the UK. Tough decisions about priorities apply across the remit
9. As I left NERC the rapidly increasing
price of oil was causing problems for BAS and for the running
of our other two ships. The deployment of all four vessels was
already extremely efficiently scheduled, with little or no capacity
to make "efficiency savings". NERC overall had therefore
to find ways of supporting these vessels by cutting other operations.
I am not privy to the current situation, but continuing high oil
price will be a constraint of UK marine science operations, unless
additional funds are forthcoming.
10. NERC was due to review its marine laboratories
after I left in April 2005. Key questions are whether the current
configuration and number of marine-related laboratories is still
fit for purpose, and whether reconfiguration would be cost-effective?
I have not seen the outcome of the review, and do not know the
answers to these questions. Unless things have changed dramatically,
my best guess is that reconfiguration (mergers, closures etc)
are unnecessary at this time, and doubtfully good value for money.
11. An alternative question is whether it
would be desirable to expand the UK's marine science capability,
for example by building on the existing cluster of marine laboratories
in Plymouth (the university, the Marine Biological Association,
PML and the Sir Alastair Hardy Foundation). At one level this
is an attractive notion. As always, the question is where will
the money come from, and what else in NERC's potential portfolio
won't get done if they fund this expansion?