Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 35

Submission from the Environment Agency


  We welcome the opportunity to present evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. Our regulatory powers and interests are primarily in coastal waters. These areas are influenced by the "global ocean" and an understanding of the wider marine environment will directly benefit us in the discharge of our core activities. Our evidence highlights that:

    —    marine data needs to be managed through a comprehensive mechanism such as the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy;

    —    an understanding of ocean processes helps our management of coastal regions; and

    —    deep sea micro-organisms have the potential to provide environmentally benign chemicals to replace and improve on synthetic organic compounds, many of which are environmentally harmful.

  A summary of our roles and responsibilities in the coastal and marine environment is included in an Annex.


  We are interested in this Inquiry as we rely on the national science-base to provide high quality, timely scientific evidence to support our regulatory role. One of our responsibilities is to regulate activities in controlled waters which include coastal waters out to three nautical miles (for control of land based discharges, and pollution incidents); establishing and enforcing environmental standards; compliance monitoring; reporting on the state of the environment and flood risk management. We have statutory responsibilities for the management of migratory fish to six nautical miles and, in 60% of estuaries across England and Wales, have powers to manage sea fisheries. We also have a duty to promote the conservation of wildlife and habitats dependent on the aquatic environment. We are the competent authority for several EC Directives, including Water Framework Directive (WFD), Bathing Waters Directive, Shellfish Waters Directive, Nitrates Directive and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive in England and Wales. We are also a competent authority for the Habitats Directive (full details in Annex 1). We rely on an understanding of ocean processes to predict and model the behaviour of coastal and transitional waters.

  Our operational activities in coastal waters extend to the construction and maintenance of defences against flooding from the sea. This includes dredging bed material to "recharge" beaches in certain locations, mostly along the south coast of England. This work ensures that those beaches continue to provide defence against flooding. All of our work is subject to the appropriate levels of environmental impact assessment and the acquisition of the necessary permissions and licences.

  We have a joint science research programme with Defra into flood and coastal erosion risk. We, and other maritime authorities, use the findings to enable us to work with natural processes as far as we practically can when exercising our permissive powers to protect people and property from flooding from the sea.


  1.  We are an evidence-based organisation and rely on sound science for our decision making.

  In November 2005 we published a review on the State of the Marine Environment.[68] Of the key indicators mentioned in this review only one, pollution, had a positive outlook. The uncertainties introduced by climate change reinforce the need for a good understanding of marine processes.

  2.  We are an end-user of science that is carried out both internally and externally by the Research Councils and Academic Institutions. We value the breadth of UK marine science and the wealth of expertise this ensures.

  3.  Marine data in the UK is collected by a range of organisations and we make a significant contribution through the National Monitoring Programme (NMP) and through our monitoring for regulation and decision support for EC Directives. Despite the contribution of the British Oceanographic Data Centre (BODC), there is no common database for archiving and disseminating ocean and other marine data. Data collection is an expensive process and it is essential that its value is maximised by ensuring ready availability in a consistent format.

  We support the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy as an essential step towards getting the best value from marine data and information, particularly when public money is used for its collection. If a new organisation is formed through the proposed Marine Bill, it could have a role in promoting the co-ordination of data from existing bodies undertaking marine research. They should not however take on responsibility for all data collection and archiving in the marine environment. For example, data collected for ensuring compliance with Directives should remain with the competent authority for that Directive.

  4.  The prestige associated with innovation should not obscure the continuing value of more traditional activities including the provision of mean sea level, tidal and storm surge data and predictions. We require this data to support our flood risk management activities, including flood forecasting and warning. This data provision requires long-term support to ensure that we can continue to reduce the risk to life and property.

  5.  We support the continuation and development of ocean and shelf-sea models which underpin the coastal models routinely used to manage coastal protection and flood risk activities.

  6.  The establishment of UK Coastal Observatories to monitor coastal processes is welcomed as an effective method of connecting the monitoring and research communities to the end user. The NERC Liverpool Bay Observatory is a good example where continuous measurement is coupled to on line modelling as a cost effective alternative to conventional monitoring, with improved understanding of the coastal sea. The establishment of a European network of observatories should be encouraged.

  7.  We control and regulate anthropogenic inputs to the sea. With global climate change a reality, anthropogenic stress has to be managed in the context of changing seawater quality. Modelling and measurement of the changes in temperature, pH and nutrients etc of ocean waters is required. There is a need for good long-term data collection to ensure that the effects of man made intervention can be separated from natural changes. We strongly support the continuation of those long term monitoring programmes which allow systemic changes to be detected. The Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) plankton trawls and the Marine Biological Association (MBA) MARCLIM programme are seen as particularly valuable.

  Although we can demonstrate major improvements in the control of gross pollution, there is still a need for research to reduce the uncertainty surrounding the more subtle impacts of trace contaminants on ecosystem health.

  8.  Micro-organisms ultimately control all biological processes, including remediation mechanisms, in the oceans. We would support further investigation into their role and new initiatives for ensuring continuing microbiological biodiversity. Over a million types of microorganisms are found in the oceans; these produce a diverse range of natural chemicals including "bio-actives". These have the potential to replace synthetic chemicals used for drugs and a wide range of other purposes. Major improvements to the environment will be possible if replacements can be found for the persistent, toxic and polluting organic chemicals currently synthesised.

  The natural microorganisms of the oceans also have potential to provide a means of natural remediation of contaminated land and waste. We would welcome further research in this area.

  9.  The Inquiry is to include a study on the "impact of climate change on the oceans". It might equally be valid to inquire on the "impact of the oceans on climate change", as the climate and ocean processes are inexorably interlinked.

  We also draw the inquiry's attention to the Foresight "Future Flooding" report carried out in 2004 that looked at the impacts of climate change, including on coastal flooding. There is a wealth of information in this report and its use may reduce the amount of new work that is required for the Inquiry's proposed study. Details of the report can be found at:


  By presenting the above evidence we wish to draw the Committee's attention to:

    —    The value we place in ocean research to underpin our duties in coastal regions.

    —    The role of the oceans in driving and moderating climate change.

    —    The benefits from a network of coastal observatories.

    —    The potential of oceanic micro-organisms as a source of environmentally friendly pharmaceuticals, and providing tools for remediation of contaminated material and land.

    —    The benefits to be realised from better co-ordination of data holdings.

January 2007

68   Cleaner Coasts, Healthier Seas, The State of our Marine Environment report, November 2005. Back

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