Memorandum from Natural England
1.1 Natural England is a new organisation
that has been established under the Natural Environment and Rural
Communities Act 2006. It is a non-departmental public body. It
has been formed by bringing together English Nature and parts
of the Rural Development Service and the Countryside Agency.
1.2 Natural England has been charged with
the responsibility to ensure that England's unique natural environment
including its flora and fauna, land and seascapes, geology and
soils are protected and improved.
1.3 Natural England's purpose as outlined
in the Act is "to ensure that the natural environment is
conserved, enhanced, and managed for the benefit of present and
future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development".
2.1 Natural England's response contains
12 key points on investigating the oceans:
The importance Natural England
attaches to having a flourishing, well organised, managed and
quality UK marine science community.
Much has been achieved in recent
years to support the UK role in investigating the oceans and that
this is welcome.
The need for greater visibility
on what is happening in UK marine science.
The need to maintain funding
for UK marine science and now increase this in order to provide
the enhanced evidence base being required by Government to underpin
the better regulation agenda.
The need for further thought
on thematic aspects of the organisation of UK marine science.
The need for further consideration
of the peer review process for funding UK marine science.
The need to foster greater regular
collaborative marine science efforts beyond the boundaries of
The need to sustain the near-shore
ship and boat capabilities to underpin UK marine science.
The need to foster provision
and skills in knowledge transfer and taxanomic experience to underpin
UK marine science excellence.
The need to take greater opportunities
to use Marine Protected Areas to build Government, industry, research
and environmental community partnerships to understand "shifting
baselines" and to properly "benchmark" sustainable
Celebrating the recent successes
of how marine science has fed into our understanding of the impacts
of climate change on the oceans.
The need to ensure that national
capabilities that inform industry investment in technologies,
such as carbon capture and storage, are adequately resourced.
This is so financial and marine environmental risks can be understood
and adequately managed.
3.1 Natural England attaches considerable
importance to investigating the oceans and having a flourishing,
well organised, managed, and quality marine science community
in the UK to achieve this.
3.2 A strong and well-developed relationship
is required between this community, and its activities to investigate
the oceans, and agencies such as Natural England. This is because
as an evidence-based organisation we are a principle customer
for many aspects of marine science, evidence and knowledge. This
evidence base is essential so we can provide advice to Government
and others, and so we can foster and champion improved understanding,
protection and management of marine wildlife, habitats and resources.
The better regulation agenda for Government is driving a requirement
for more evidence to underpin our advice, and thus our requirement
for such information is now increasing significantly,
3.3 Our information needs for investigating
the oceans fall into four main areas:
to know what is out therethe
distribution of marine landscapes, habitats and species;
to know the rules of ocean behaviourunderstanding
functions and processes and establishing boundaries on future
to be aware of what is actually
happeningboth to inform policy but also improve predictive
to find creative and adaptive
solutionsusing knowledge to promote human well-being, improved
stewardship and ensuring the wildlife and other elements of the
resource are sustained both now and for the benefit of future
3.4 These needs match closely with similar
values set out by the NERC-funded marine science institutions
in Oceans 2025.
3.5 Natural England therefore welcomes the
opportunity to provide comments on how we are investigating the
oceans. Our response is set out by the categories established
in the terms of reference for this enquiry.
4. DETAILED RESPONSE
4.1 Organisation and funding of UK marine
science in the polar and non-polar regions
4.1.1 Significant advances have been made
in recent years on the organisation and funding of UK marine sciences.
This includes developing cooperative approaches such as the Plymouth
Marine Partnership, and also the development of stronger strategic
alliances through initiatives such as Oceans 2025. There are five
areas that we would identify as meriting further attention.
Greater visibility is needed
on what is happening in UK marine scienceOceans 2025 has
been a significant step forward but important areas of UK marine
science capabilities fall outside this programme. Visibility is
a first step to improving engagement and maximizing the value
of the work being undertaken through the end-user community. It
is still challenging for stakeholders to understand how the various
elements integrate together, who is doing what, and therefore
how to take advantage of the relevance and value of particular
aspects of their work.
Maintaining and increasing funding
for UK marine science to keep pace with the information requirements
underpinning Government's better regulation agenda. We are concerned
that economic pressures are in reality reducing funding through
universities and the outputs that they can provide (eg closure
of Port Erin Marine Laboratory). We are also concerned that, in
real terms, funding for areas of marine science of importance
to Natural England remains inadequate despite NERCs recent recognition
of the importance of such issues. This is especially in areas
studying long-term ecological issues and change. There are a variety
of reasons for this, some of which relate to "down-sizing"
pre-Oceans 2025, or because they are seen as marginal to NERC,
or not "complex" or "exciting" enough. They
are nevertheless some of the areas of highest policy and management
relevance that need a sustained and adequate funding base, and
that as a result Natural England and others struggle to help support
through opportunistic contributions from small-scale resources.
Set against this is the need a significant increase in funding
for investigating our seas and oceans. This is 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.
Further alignment of UK marine
science. Oceans 2025 as been a significant step towards implementing
a major UK strategic programme, whilst recognising the individual
selling points of the institutes concerned. We are concerned that
key research interests still appear isolated from these core efforts,
eg research by Cefas v research by NERC institutions. The reasons
behind this may be complex, but better overall integration should
be encouraged to optimise value for money, accessibility and accountability.
Further thought is needed on
the organisation of UK marine science into thematic areas that
best match and meet end-user needsthis is a challenging
areas but one where we believe that more could be done to better
interface UK marine science research with the end-user community.
Multidisciplinary partnerships are evolving through European Union
funding in particular and this is welcome, but major gaps still
exist. A key example is understanding `connectivity' in marine
ecosystems. This involves disparate marine science interests (ranging
from ecology of species, oceanographic processes, through to micro-satellite
genetic analysis techniques) and yet understanding such issues
is a clear pre-requisite for better managing and protecting our
marine resources. Other gaps are in "bench-marking"
sustainable development in our seas (see 4.5.2 below) or delivering
an improved science-based understanding of how our oceans have
changed in recent decades (the concept of "shifting baselines").
Often it is the end-user customer that is piecing together such
issues, rather than it being driven through a strong integrated
science/end-user partnership approach.
Peer review assessment procedures
for funding UK marine science through NERC need further considerationwe
are concerned that the current processes have apparent inconsistencies
in operation, can require significant resources in a resource-scarce
area to operate (from the applicants view-point), may favour mainstream
disciplines, and still make it challenging to implement interdisciplinary
studies that reach out into socio-economic areas and that are
urgently needed to support achieving sustainable development.
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.
An added perception is the fact that the corporate memory of previous
grants panels provided an added value that is weaker or missing
in modern peer review processes. The consequence may be to make
it difficult to fund ongoing innovation or novel research in some
areas of marine science.
4.2 The role of the UK internationally, and
international collaboration in marine science
4.2.1 Considerable advances have been made
in collaboration in recent decades, often spurred on by funding
opportunities. We believe that such successes should be built
upon, and that mechanisms should be explored to foster greater
regular collaboration of UK marine sciences beyond European borders.
Our marine science has an excellent international reputation and
there has been significant and welcome expansion in regular collaboration
within Europe. We feel that there are further gains to be made
by encouraging similar regular levels of collaboration with the
USA and other countries further a field. This has the potential
to enhance the quality and depth of research, value for money,
and the breadth of end-point application.
4.3 Support for marine science, including
provision and development of technology and engineering
4.3.1 We welcome the ongoing replacement
programme for the major UK capabilities in this area (James Cook
and the in principle replacement of the Discovery) but we would
also wish to highlight the contribution that smaller near-shore
ships and boats make to our understanding of our seas and oceans.
It would be unfortunate if such capabilities were to be diluted
at a time when increasing human pressure on the near-shore zone
makes our understanding such marine ecosystems all the more important.
4.3.2 It is our experience with the UK marine
science community that maintaining such capabilities is a major
challenge, and that any reduction has an immediate implication
for near-shore information and datasets. Recognising this linkage
is critical as we are becoming increasingly interested and dependent
on such information in relation to understanding and tracking
whole-scale changes to our marine ecosystems from climate and
4.4 The state of the UK research and skills
base underpinning marine science and provision and skills to maintain
and improve the UK's position in marine science
4.4.1 We believe there are two key areas
that need greater attention in order to maintain and improve the
UK's position in marine science.
Provision and skills in knowledge
transfer. Further actions are needed to deliver the level of knowledge
transfer that we would wish. This is so we can make best use of
the research and the evidence that is obtained. We welcome the
greater visibility being given to this issue in recent years but
we remain concerned that beyond recognised areas of dedicated
effort the level of knowledge transfer is not high enough. Both
easing access and shortening the lag-time between research findings
and update by the end-user community can only but enhance the
UK's position internationally in marine science. The use of Reference
User Groups and the production of the MCCIP Marine Climate Change
Annual Report Card (see 4.6 below) are excellent examples of how
such knowledge transfer can be achieved for the benefit of all
concerned. Clearly there are limits to where such approaches may
be best applied, so further innovation enabling knowledge transfer
is also needed.
Provision and skills in taxanomic
issues. The UK is reliant on an extremely small number of individuals
with the experience to identify marine species, and the world-wide
pool of experience is similarly restricted. Such skills are part
of the mainstay of being able to understand our oceans and are
often poorly supported. We remain concerned that the need to maintain
UK capabilities in such core aspects are not lost in the desire
to fund what may appear to be novel, new and more "exciting"
aspects of investigating the oceans.
4.4.2 Alongside these issues we would also
identify the importance we attach to fostering the skills needed
to draw together research on the structure, functionality and
processes of marine ecosystems, and to link them through to the
benefits (goods and services) that we obtain from our oceans.
Whilst research is being undertaken in these areas, as a community
we still struggle to join such issues together in a compelling
manner, despite its importance in driving management to secure
the wellbeing of our oceans.
4.5 The use of marine sites of special scientific
4.5.1 We interpret this point more widely
than SSSIs, to encompass all designation in our seas and oceans
as expressed by the term Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). MPAs,
particularly those that restrict or operate in the absence of
human impacts, such as the Lundy no-take zone, provide ideal opportunities
for scientific research. It is our view that major collaborative
opportunities and partnerships based around Marine Protected Areas
are not being exploited to the determent of our understanding
of how to deliver sustainable development in the UK marine environment.
4.5.2 In reality the only way in which Government
can currently estimate whether it is delivering sustainable development
is, in part, by reference to past changes in our seas. These often
remain more as personal view points rather than as a well documented
evidence-based approach. Alongside this, studies of the impacts
of our activities are often undertaken in areas already subject
to other human impacts so gaining a clear idea of what may be
natural changes from human induced ones is challenging. It is
surprising that no control sites have been established (other
than the 3.3 km2 Lundy no-take zone) where ecosystems are allowed
to function in an unconstrained and un-impacted manner.
4.5.3 No take zones, and to a degree the
restrictions in place around alternative energy sites (such as
wind farms and the wave hub in south west England) provide idea
opportunities to create partnerships between government, industry,
the research community and environmental interests to discover
how our marine ecosystems can function in the absence of major
impacts. This holds the potential to show us the full range of
benefits our seas and oceans may hold socially, environmentally
and economically, and at the same time gain a better baseline
for understanding sustainable development.
4.6 How marine science is being used to advance
knowledge of the impact of climate change on the oceans
4.6.1 Within the last year considerable
progress has been made in using marine science to advance our
knowledge of the impacts of climate change on our oceans. One
route has been through an emphasis on outreach in some key programmes,
such as the RAPID work on ocean circulation and the Reference
User Group (RUG) approach adopted by Plymouth Marine Laboratory
of the Defta/DTI funded work on ocean acidification. The RUG approach
enables a sustained dialogue to be undertaken throughout the life
of the research between scientists and end users. Such approaches
have helped raise the profile of results and discussions to new
4.6.2 A significant step forward has also
been the development of the Government-led Marine Climate Change
Impacts Partnership. Natural England has been delighted to work
closely with Government, the research community and end-users
to create and implement the Annual report Card on marine climate
change impacts. This has successfully created a new dynamic in
regular reporting whereby all UK marine science in this area has
been drawn together in a policy-friendly format to fast track
UK knowledge on this topic through to those that need to know
it. This has demonstrated in one process how to circumvent the
lag time between science and policy, and how a framework can champion
UK marine science excellence, where the sum is far more than the
individual parts. We would commend this approach to the Committee
as a mechanism that could be applied in other marine science areas
and in other fields.
4.6.3 Set against these successes we do
have some concerns about the level of funding being assigned to
surface ocean acidification (SOA) research in particular. Whilst
it is good that there is now widespread awareness of SOA as "the
other CO2 issue", adequate funding is not following at such
a quick pace. The European Commission is recognising this issue
but funds are small for the range of issues that needs to be considered.
The UK national capability at Plymouth for understanding such
issues and adding certainty to the emerging multi-billion pound
industry around carbon capture and storage (CCS) struggles to
sustain itself and secure long-term funding.
4.6.4 This is just one example but there
does seem to be a miss-match between the central government imperative
of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and the funding available
to ensure that environmental issues surrounding approaches such
as CCS are adequately research and understood. This would seem
an urgent area to address if industry is to have certainty through
UK marine science research to invest with confidence in these