Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 25

Submission from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)

  1.  The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) welcomes the opportunity to comment.

  2.  SAMS is a learned society, a Collaborative Centre of the Natural Environment Research Council, an Academic Partner of the UHI Millennium Institute and a charitable company limited by guarantee, with its registered office is at the Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory. The mission of SAMS is to improve understanding and stewardship of the marine environment, through research, education, maintenance of facilities and technology transfer. It is governed by an elected Council (the members of which act as Directors) according to its Memorandum and Articles of Association. Council delegates many of its duties to the Director of SAMS, who runs the organisation with the aid of the Executive Group, which includes the Deputy Director, SAMS' Company Secretary and the SAMSgroup Financial Controller.

  3.  The SAMSgroup is the structural framework in which the Council of SAMS coordinates the activities of SAMS, as a charitable research and educational organisation, with those of its wholly-owned subsidiaries; and pursues their common interests and objectives. These subsidiaries are SAMS Research Services Ltd (SRSL) and the European Centre for Marine Biotechnology Ltd (ECMB) each of which has a special niche in the strategy which focuses on the marine environment. All of these activities, however, are complimentary to the objectives of SAMS. SAMS manages over 120 staff, representing a growth of over 100% from 1996.  Current growth rate is approximately 10% compound per annum. In 2006, the annual turnover of the SAMSgroup was nearly £8 million.

  4.  This submission is prepared by the SAMS Director: Professor Graham Shimmield FIBiol FRSE, Scottish Association for Marine Science.


  5.  SAMS operates as an independent research and education institution supported by several key stakeholders—NERC, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), and the Scottish Executive (through the Enterprise network). As such it has to be flexible and adaptive to rapid changes in policy and funding from these organisations. However, its governance (Board of Trustees) and membership guarantee total independence and impartiality of evidence on marine affairs, and a scientific remit that is global in nature (SAMS has and is working in every major ocean basin of the world). As such, its academic credibility and reputation is of international significance and is the envy of many smaller countries.

  6.  With the increased responsibility of environmental affairs under devolution, the role of SAMS in Scottish marine strategy is increasingly important. It is our opinion that there is increasing pressure to ensure that the reserved role of the Research Councils is satisfactorily discharged under the devolved environmental agenda of the UK. SAMS' core strategic funding from NERC has decreased in real terms year on year for the past 10 years, whilst its involvement with the regional development agenda (and especially Highlands and Islands Enterprise) has increased.

  7.  This submission should be read in conjunction with the "Oceans 2025" submission from the joint marine directors which gives more of the history of the NERC funding and strategy for SAMS.


NERC core strategic research organization and funding

  8.  NERC funding through the core strategic mode has been vital for the long term programme of SAMS research despite the regular changes in delivery mode. Since 2001, SAMS has operated as a single management operation with both NERC and SAMS employees. Oceans 2025 represents increasing collaboration with our sister laboratories. The core programme will now represent about 28% of the total scientific activity of the Association, with the remainder funded through NERC responsive mode, Europe, the SFC (QR mode), government agencies and departments and commercial contracts to SRSL.

  9.  On 10 January 2007, NERC announced that, to deliver key strategic scientific goals, it will fund a new "Oceans 2025" research programme. This programme is designed by and will be implemented through NOCS, PML, SAMS, SMRU, POL, the MBA and SAHFOS, and will address, at a national scale, the challenges of a changing marine environment. Oceans 2025 will receive approximately £120 million from NERC over five years. Under this new programme SAMS will receive about 25% less funding than for the previous six years of strategic funding as a combination of peer review, and application of Full Economic Costing. Significantly, all work on environmental impacts of aquaculture and algal bloom dynamics will not be funded via this route.

  10.  NERC funding also contributes to the UK Culture Collection for Algae and Protozoa, and the NERC Facility for Scientific Diving, both hosted at SAMS. Both national facilities are unique, providing good examples of how combining resources (the Freshwater Collection was moved from Windermere to Oban) can provide a better facility. The CCAP is the second largest collection and biodiversity repository of its kind in the world.

Other Partnerships

  11.  Initiatives such as "pooling" amongst Scottish HEIs will allow strategic science objectives to be addressed. SAMS is playing a key role in "Marine Science Scotland" allowing a more coordinated approach to be carried out using the skills of research institutes, HEIs and the government agency (FRS, Aberdeen). The Director of SAMS is an independent member of IACMST and the Association recognises the benefit of linking government departments and agencies with the marine science providers. In Scotland, an advisory group, AGMACS (Advisory Group on Marine and Coastal Strategy) has been created to help communication on national policy.

Arctic marine research

  12.  SAMS has had Arctic polar interest right back to its founding days when William Speirs Bruce was conducting hydrographic surveys around Svalbard at the turn of the 20th century. Bruce was a founder of the Scottish Oceanographic Laboratory, which later merged with the Scottish Marine Biological Laboratory under Sir John Murray. For the past six years, NERC strategic funding has supported a range of polar studies in the European Arctic. To this, SAMS has added its role in many major EU programmes which it has coordinated (GREENICE, SITHOS), and is part of the new Integrated Project, DAMOCLES. SAMS is the only UK partner in the Marine Laboratory at Ny Alesund, Svalbard, and has dedicated funding for a 10-year contributions to this facility.

  13.  With International Polar Year, and an increasing awareness of Arctic issues, we believe that the coordination provided by NERC (through Dr Tracey Henshaw) could be augmented by a physical coordination and logistics centre, akin to the support provided by BAS for their own and HEI operations in the Antarctic. SAMS experience in Arctic polar oceanography, and its close links with all the European Arctic marine science organisations (eg the Norwegian Polar Institute), make the option of considering SAMS in this role a viable possibility.


  14.  The USA is the dominant world leader in marine science and oceanography, with a strong tradition in military support (Office of Naval Research) for the science. In Europe, organization of marine science among the three FP6 Networks of Excellence is bedevilled with a high administration overhead. Nevertheless, UK marine scientists are sought after as international partners, and all the marine institutes host major programmes and Project Offices. SAMS supports the European Census of Marine Life PO, and hosts the IP on an Ecosystem Approach to Sustainable Aquaculture (ECASA).

  15.  Over the past few years Arctic marine science coordination is improving. SAMS was a founder member of the EU Integrated Infrastructure Programme—ENVINET working in the European high Arctic. From this network has spawned our co-coordination with Norway and Canada on the IPY cluster examining Arctic marine ecosystems (PAN-AME). Regular student exchanges and sabbaticals are organised with our Norwegian colleagues in Tromso and Svalbard (UNIS—the University of Svalbard).

  16.  The UK needs to continue its role in major international programmes, currently RAPID and SOLAS are examples, but also regain the initiative to lead such programmes as happened during the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS). We believe that more investment in our scientific leaders and directors, rather than at the funding agency level is required. An example where the NERC-based decision ran counter to both international and national expectation was in the EUROCORES (ESF) programme on the deep ocean (EURODEEP). The UK is not a participant, whereas all the other major European countries have signed up. Issues over the use of national facilities (vessels and ROVs) should have been sorted out with the scientific community.


  17.  NERC requires a new ship to replace the RRS Discovery, which at the time of this submission, is unserviceable (again). The RRS James Cook is a very welcome replacement to the Charles Darwin, but the UK research fleet has reduced in size. More use of smaller capable vessels for shelf seas work, and investment in autonomous instrumentation and remote observation is one way to maintain our field capability.

  18.  Marine technology is priority strategy at SAMS and one that links directly to the Knowledge Economy strategy in Scotland, receiving support from the Enterprise network. To the traditional engineering skills (we have international expertise in satellite communications technology, sea ice drifters and underwater profilers), we can now add marine biotechnology and a growing business cluster exploring for novel compounds in marine organisms (The European Centre for Marine Biotechnology business incubator concept). Molecular biology and genetics of marine organisms requires expensive and major investment in analytical facilities. Cross-collaboration across Europe (eg Marine Genomics programme) is one way to address the low level of investment in this growing field in the UK. Laboratories like PML and SAMS offer the intellectual capability but lack the major funding investment in the new sequencing techniques.

  19.  Recruitment and retention of engineers and biotechnologists in these fields in problematic on standard university pay scales. As metrics advance to discriminate high quality innovation and application in these fields, then the funding flow should enable appropriate salary rewards to be made. In a recent recruitment round at SAMS we found that a geochemical technician at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is paid the same as a junior Professorial chair in a UK university!


  20.  In common with other science subjects we are experiencing the problems of a lack numerate skills in recruitment of PhD students and post-docs. We also recognize the need to maintain expertise in marine taxonomy, but find that obtaining the research funding to sustain this skill is very hard indeed. In the past two years, we have lost substantial knowledge in deep sea biology and taxonomy, and despite an international search, have found it hard to recruit even at professorial level.

  21.  As mentioned above, technologists and engineers need to be provided with rewards and promotions commensurate with their professional qualifications, which can be difficult in an academic career structure.

  22.  SAMS is providing the only BSc Honours degree in Marine Science in Scotland. Nevertheless recruitment is quite difficult, in part due to the delayed award of university title to the UHI Millennium Institute.


  23.  The marine context is probably the EU designated Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Such sites provide an opportunity to understand whether our understanding of ecosystem response to man's influence is correct. Designated species and habitats allow the testing of management plans and engage key stakeholders and the public. Areas closed to fishing allow research into impacts and recovery times for the marine environment. Some areas (eg military ranges) have been closed for decades (an example is the Raasay underwater range in the Minch) and now provides unique example of the underwater habitat undisturbed by bottom trawling.

January 2007

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