Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 20

Submission from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


  1.  This memorandum outlines Defra's role in supporting marine science. Specifically it details Defra's need for scientific evidence in support of its marine-related policies. It also covers: our organisation of marine science and the scope and content of our programmes; our role in science co-ordination and collaboration; and our support for the skills base. Reference is made to climate change and marine reserves, two topics highlighted by the Inquiry.

  2.  Defra takes the UK lead and has a major interest in a significant number of international, European and national marine-related policy areas. Defra's policies are evidenced-based and science plays a key part in providing that evidence and in meeting statutory assessment and monitoring requirements.

  3.  Defra is a major supporter of marine science, spending approximately £26 million annually. Monitoring the marine environment helps Defra maintain an up-to-date assessment of the state of our seas and the effectiveness of our management policies. Research helps interpret the results of our monitoring programmes and assists us in adopting and developing appropriate management measures.



  4.  Our seas provide us with valuable economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits. The marine area offers an important potential source of renewable energy and our seas and coastline are enjoyed by tourists and residents for holidays and recreation. They are also home to many important species and habitats. The seabed contains important sources of minerals, including aggregates which are used by the building industry, and there are oil and gas reserves that contribute significantly to our energy requirements. The seabed may in the future be used for carbon capture and storage. The UK has an important sea fish industry with one of the largest fishing fleets and fish processing industries in Europe. An IACMST publication estimated that marine-related activities in total contributed approximately 5% of the UK's GDP.[20]

  (Appendix 1 provides a list of acronyms).

Policy drivers

  5.  The Government has principal stewardship responsibilities for this important resource. The Marine Stewardship Report Safeguarding our Seas[21] sets out our vision for managing and protecting the sea as an important ecosystem and how we plan to achieve clean, safe, healthy, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas. Delivering this vision requires regular updates of our knowledge on how the seas function and how they are impacted by human activities. Charting Progress[22] sets out our current knowledge on the state of the seas. The proposed Marine Bill[23] will help develop and implement the necessary regulation and planning regime for the sustainable use and protection of our seas, coasts, estuaries and marine wildlife.

  6.  Within the context of this vision, Defra takes the lead or has a major interest in a significant number of international, European and national marine related policy instruments, all aimed at managing human activities in order to protect marine environment (Table 1).

  7.  For the marine environment, a key policy objective is to have arrangements in place which demonstrate the extent to which our seas and coasts are achieving good environmental, ecological and chemical status. This is necessary to meet obligations under the OSPAR Convention, the Water Framework Directive and those emerging under the European Marine Strategy Directive which is currently under negotiation.

  8.  At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg (September 2002), the EU, and member states, committed to maintain and restore fish stocks to levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield by no later than 2015, and to establish representative networks of marine protected areas by 2012.

  9.  Defra therefore has many significant and wide-ranging policy responsibilities within the marine area. Our national and international policies are evidenced-based and marine science plays a key part in providing that evidence. Our science programmes, and the other evidence we draw on, contribute directly to decision making, including licence consents for human activities in the sea, fisheries management and the development of EU legislation. For these reasons we need high quality, credible science which the Department, our stakeholders and the public can have confidence in.



  10.  Defra's science programmes encompass both monitoring and research. Monitoring the marine environment helps the UK maintain an up-to-date assessment of the state of our seas and the effectiveness of our management policies. Research helps interpret the results of our monitoring programmes and assists us in developing appropriate management measures, and interpreting their effectiveness. In addition to funding the more specific policy related science, we also commission strategic research which helps us understand long-term variability in the marine environment and the concept of sustainability.

Science supported by Defra

  11.  Defra is a major supporter of marine science and annually spends approximately £26 million on marine-related science. Table 2 sets out the extensive scope and content of our programmes. Specific project details and research results are available online.[24]

  12.  For marine environment our research and monitoring programmes allow us to assess progress towards our vision of clean, safe, healthy, productive and biodiverse seas.

  13.  For marine biodiversity science is helping to underpin measures to promote strong, healthy and resilient marine ecosystems.

  14.  For water quality the reduction of diffuse water pollution from agriculture and other sources through mitigation will help to improve and protect the quality of inland waters, which will be benefit coastal and marine regions. Under the Water Framework Directive, measures advised by science will be developed for each river basin district to ensure that good ecological status is achieved and maintained.

  15.  For fisheries management, our aim is a fishing sector that is profitable and supports strong local communities, managed effectively as a full part of coherent policies for the marine environment. Our science programme enables us to assess the status of the stocks, understand key biological attributes such as migration, and the impact of fisheries measures.

  16.  For flood and coastal management Defra has a joint programme of research with the Environment Agency that includes work on the physical behaviour of estuary and coastal systems, related management approaches and their social, environmental and economic impacts.

  17.  For climate change, Defra supports a programme of research to increase our understanding of current climate change and its possible future evolution, including projections of sea-level rise, ocean heat uptake, thermohaline circulation and sea ice coverage. Defra also has a long-term commitment to international ocean monitoring programmes, which measures sea temperatures and salinity, and is a major funder of knowledge transfer through MCCIP.[25]

Programme development and quality assurance

  18.  Defra commissions marine science for the principal purpose of providing evidence to policy development. A number of measures have been adopted by Defra to ensure the science programme is fit for purpose, robust, of good quality, and delivers the necessary evidence. These measures include:

    —    In 2004 Defra embarked on a comprehensive Evidence and Innovation (E&I) review aimed at defining its science strategy for 2005-08.[26] A key part of the process involved science budget holders setting out their Statements of Need, describing strategic policy priorities, evidence needs and innovation opportunities.[27] E&I helped identify future evidence needs, and the potential for collaborative working.

    —    Individual research programmes are usually reviewed every three to five years, a process involving external experts to help us assess programme progress and set future priorities.

    —    There is a vigorous process of peer review, including evaluation of project proposals and final reports. Open competition in some research areas helps widen our contractor base.

Future challenges

  19.  The E&I review identified a number of key science requirements and challenges which the department will need to address in the coming years. 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.

  20.  Priorities for further science are wide ranging 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.

  21.  To fully comply with increasing demands for evidence, the UKMMAS[28] states that there needs to be an additional £22 million per year spent on sustained marine observations by UK Departments, Agencies and industry. We acknowledge that Defra's current marine science budget is not sufficient to meet all these needs.[29]

National and international collaboration and partnerships

  22.  Budgets are finite and collaboration with other funders within the UK and internationally is given a high priority by Defra. Examples of significant collaboration include:

    —    Charting Progress, co-ordinated by Defra, drew on scientific evidence from nearly 60 organisations across the UK. Following on from this, Defra has taken the lead on two UK-wide collaborative partnerships on marine data (MDIP)[30] and on understanding climate change impacts (MCCIP).

    —    Within the UK other government departments, devolved administrations and agencies also have an important role in developing marine policy. They similarly require scientific evidence and Defra collaborates closely with these science funders, including DTI, EA, MCA, NE, and JNCC.

    —    Defra acts as UK co-ordinator to the European GMES[31] programme. A significant part of this programme involves remote sensing of our seas using satellites.

    —    On behalf of other departments, devolved administrations and agencies, Defra leads on the development of the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS). This new strategy aims to shape the UK's ability to provide the evidence to fulfil our vision. Linked to this the Fisheries and Marine Science Customer Group, involving SEERAD, DARD NI and Defra meet annually to review departments' priorities for science in relation to fisheries and marine environment priorities and programme co-ordination.

    —    Research Councils, including NERC and ESRC, support high quality, strategic research which is potentially of use to Defra and we are seeking to further develop our links with Research Councils to enhance uptake from their programmes into policy. For example as part of NERC's Oceans 2025 programme Defra, NERC and SEERAD are developing a collaboratively funded programme "Sustainable Marine Bioresources". We are also working with NERC to safeguard long-term evidence collection.

    —    Internationally, Defra is an active participant in the European Commission funded ERA-NET (European Research Area Network) scheme. For example we co-ordinate the MariFish ERA-NET project which brings together the funders of marine fisheries research from 15 countries whose total annual spend on science exceeds €100 million.[32] Other relevant ERA-NETs in which Defra is involved include AMPERA on accidental marine pollution, BIODIVERSA on biodiversity and Defra also co-ordinates the CRUE project on flood management.[33] Through these ERA-NETs Defra is able to access results emerging from research funded across Europe, and participate with our European partners in jointly funded projects.

    —    Defra encourages its contractors to participate in Commission funded research programmes. For example in 2006 Cefas, an agency of Defra, was involved in over 30 Framework Programme projects, all of which received matching funds from Defra. Projects involve collaboration with many other research institutes. For example a project evaluating management tools involved 28 partners from more than 10 countries.

    —    Defra is an active participant and supporter of key international bodies such as ICES and OSPAR. Output from our science programmes provides evidence to these bodies, helping for example with the adoption of new detection and analysis techniques for pollutants and production of the overall Quality Status Reports. Our Agency scientists work jointly with those from other member states in the fish stock assessment process, leading to the setting of annual quotas.


  23.  Defra's support for the marine science skills base arises from its commissioning of science, as summarised in Table 2, rather than through the direct funding of training schemes. Evidence is procured from a wide contractor base, including Defra's Executive Agency Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), NERC's Marine Centres, universities with marine-related science teams, and consultancy companies.

  24.  Recognising the special role that Cefas has in the provision of science, Defra announced a plan in June 2006 to secure the long term sustainability of the agency. Under this plan Defra will fund Cefas at broadly current levels, in nominal terms, for at least 10 years. Plans also include the development of a new fit for purpose laboratory facility. Defra will benefit from the continued access to high-quality scientific services to support government policy development and maintenance of skills.

  25.  A wide range of science skills are needed in order to provide the necessary scientific evidence for policy purposes. For example our assessment of ecosystem change arising from natural or anthropogenic disturbance involves biologists, chemists, physicists, statisticians, geologists, engineers and socio-economic specialists. Skills in geographic information systems, ecosystem analysis, acoustic habitat mapping and stable isotope analysis all contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of ecosystem functioning. Climate change modelling provides prediction of future change, both globally and regionally and information on the changes we can expect in the marine environment in the future.

  26.  As an intelligent customer for science, Defra also has in-house scientists who manage the science programmes and ensure that there is a comprehensive interpretation of the results and uptake into policy. Good interpretation and communication skills are needed by staff members to disseminate results to other stakeholders and the wider public.


  27.  The Committee's inquiry includes a focus on the use of marine sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs). SSSIs are one of a number of tools that can be used to protect marine habitats and species and contribute to the attainment of healthy, functioning and resilient ecosystems. There are currently no entirely marine SSSIs in England or Wales although there are a number of intertidal and estuarine SSSIs extending below the high water mark.

  28.  Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) have been designated to afford protection to marine species and habitats of European importance. As yet there are no entirely marine sites but Defra with its conservation agencies is actively pursuing a programme to address this. Two sites, Lundy and Skomer, have been designated as marine nature reserves (MNRs) under the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales.

  29.  The collection of baseline data and the monitoring of marine sites provides invaluable information on the diversity of our marine habitats and species, how they function and the effectiveness of protected areas as a conservation measure. For this reason Defra has funded monitoring at the Lundy site over a number of years and this is providing a practical insight into how an area closed to fishing helps protect vulnerable species and habitats.

  30.  On a more general point, Defra also has an interest in the role marine protected areas (MPAs) could play in commercial fish stock recovery. In 2005 we funded a review of MPAs in temperate North Atlantic waters which concluded that MPAs are a valuable tool for the preservation and enhancement of certain critical habitats and site attached shellfish and finfish populations, but are less effective for mobile species.[34]


Policy drivers

  31.  Defra is taking a significant lead internationally in identifying the potential impact that climate change is having on our planet, and the need to adopt appropriate mitigating measures. The high priority given to climate change by the UK Prime Minister in his leadership of the G8 (January to December, 2005) and the European Union (July to December 2005) has ensured that climate issues remain high on the political agenda and climate change is now firmly established as a political priority, both domestically and globally. The detailed impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems is not yet clear and this area of research is being given high priority by Defra.

The role of marine science in understanding and predicting climate change

  32.  As with all elements of Defra's policy, science provides the evidence on which to base future developments of climate change related policies. Many aspects of our interpretation of marine science will need to take into account the potential impact of this "environmental driver". Accurate up to date information needs to be available to decision makers, managers and stakeholders, as a fundamental basis for decision making.

  33.  To help provide the necessary focus Defra leads the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP). The aim of MCCIP is to provide a co-ordination framework for the UK. It will enable the transfer of high quality evidence on marine climate change impacts, and related advice, to policy advisors and decision-makers. MCCIP (see footnote 28) will act as a focal point for evidence and enable the UK to plan for the challenges and opportunities presented by the impacts of climate change in the marine environment. The first example of this is the Annual Report Card launched in November 2006. MCCIP must draw on the output from a vast array of R&D and modeling for its impact assessment and will act as a knowledge transfer mechanism.

  34.  One impact of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere will be increasing acidification of the oceans. At the global level this needs to be modelled and predicted, and Defra is in close contact with the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) who lead work in this area in the UK.

  35.  In order to predict future climate and reduce the uncertainties in projections, it is necessary to understand the role of the Earth's oceans in the global climate system. Defra funds an £11 million per annum research programme with the Hadley Centre. Ocean modeling is an important component of the state-of-the-art climate model which is being developed and run to inform policies to address climate change.

  36.  Ocean observations are important for the detection, monitoring and attribution of climate change and the validation and the validation and further development of models. Observations funded by Defra include instruments on the satellite ENVISAT[35] (for measuring sea surface temperatures with the accuracy necessary to detect climate change) and ARGO,[36] a global network of profiling floats funded by over 20 nations worldwide. The UK component of ARGO is provided by Defra and other UK partners.


  37.  This memorandum sets out Defra's considerable interest, investment and reliance on marine science. Key summary points made in this paper include:

    —    That we have many significant and wide-ranging international, European and national policy responsibilities within the marine area.

    —    Our policies are evidence-based and science plays a key part in providing that evidence.

    —    We are a major supporter of marine science spending approximately £26million annually. In addition we draw on the evidence emerging from programmes supported by other funders as a key part of our evidence.

    —    Our science programmes encompass both monitoring and applied and strategic research.

    —    There are many future challenges in the marine area and collaboration with other marine science funders is a priority.

  We look forward to contributing further to the Science and Technology Committee's Inquiry as appropriate, and the Committee's Recommendations.

January 2007

Table 1




IMO Ballast Waters


UN Framework Convention on Climate Change/Global Climate Observing System (UNFCCC/GCOS)

Safety Of Life at Sea (SOLAS)


Bergen Declaration



Bonn Convention


Bern Convention

Ramsar Convention






The London Convention

Shellfish Waters Directive

Shellfish Harvesting Directive

Bathing Waters Directive

Water Framework Directive

European Marine Strategy and proposed Directive

European Maritime Green Paper and proposed Maritime Strategy

Birds Directive

Habitats Directive



SEA Directive


Nitrates Directive

Dangerous Substances Directive and Titanium Dioxide Directive

Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive

Common Fisheries Policy
Conservation of Seals Act

Consents Licensing

Countryside and Rights of Way Act

Environment Act 1995

Control of Pollution Act

Coast Protection Act

Wildlife and Countryside Act

Proposed Marine Bill

Table 2


Programme Title
Summary of programme scope
Indicative budget 2006-07

Sustainable Marine Fisheries R&D Impact 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 million
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.
£9.0 million
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.
£4.8 million
Marine Monitoring and Management Advice Provision of scientific evidence (monitoring, assessment) and advice relating to environmental protection, including meeting OSPAR and licensing requirements.
£5.6 million
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).
£0.4 million
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).
£0.5 million
Wildlife and
Countryside R&D
Research 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).
£0.8 million
ClimateLong-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.
£2 million
Water Quality
Research R&D
Developing 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.
£0.2 million

20   A New Analysis of Marine-Related Activities in the UK Economy with Supporting Science and Technology. D Pugh and L Skinner. IACMST Information Document No 10, August 2002. Back

21   Safeguarding our Seas Report. 2002. Back

22   Charting Progress An Integrated Assessment of the State of the UK Seas. 2005. Back

23   Marine Bill Back

24   Defra's Research Projects Back

25   MCCIP UK Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership Back

26   Defra's Evidence and Innovation needs: Sustainable marine environment Back

27   Sustainable Marine Fisheries Statements of Need Back

28   UKMMAS Back

29   MAPC Reference paper 3.8 "Delivering the UK MMAS resource requirements". November 2006. Back

30   MDIP Back

31   GMES http://www.GMES.INFO/ Back

32   MariFish ERA-NET website Back

33   CRUE ERA-NET website Back

34   Marine Protected Areas for Management of Temperate North Atlantic Fisheries. C Sweeting and N Polunin, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne Back

35 website Back

36 ARGO website. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 18 October 2007