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