Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 56

Supplementary submission from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

  Comments from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) regarding the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS).


  NERC regards the UKMMAS as a worthwhile initiative, which has made a good start in bringing together the organisations in the marine community to co-ordinate UK marine-monitoring work. This will be important for the gathering of data for national and international marine assessments, and should facilitate knowledge transfer. However, the focus is currently on compliance monitoring, and there is a need for more consideration of how better to include generic marine research and meet longer-term and global-scale monitoring requirements. Almost inevitably, more resources are required than have so far been committed.


  Many NERC research and collaborative centres were represented at a recent workshop to discuss UKMMAS, and the participants were generally positive about the value of the discussions. The following summarises points made about UKMMAS progress to date.

  The remit of the UKMMAS is seen by most of the NERC participants as covering compliance monitoring (ie monitoring driven by legislation, eg the Water Framework Directive) and long-term science-driven monitoring (designated "Sustained Observations" in the Oceans 2025 programme) which can include contextual monitoring, ie obtaining wide-scale information, for example from indicator species, to reveal the status of marine ecosystems.

  This view is consistent with the UKMMAS definition of monitoring as "the taking, on a reasonably regular basis, of any form of observations relative to the status of the marine environment, regardless of the frequency of, or purpose for which, the observations are made". However, there seems to be an alternative perception that the UKMMAS was set up primarily to establish a coordinated approach across the agencies with responsibility for reporting on legislative drivers. Indeed, the composition of the working groups, and the activities of the UKMMAS, are currently slanted towards compliance, in particular towards compliance with current (rather than proposed) legislation. This suggests that there may be some ambiguity.

  What should be clear is that there is value in ensuring that compliance monitoring and science-driven monitoring—and research—are well linked, and that the agencies could make more use of the range of monitoring carried out by academia and other institutions. Compliance monitoring, if done well, can inform and be part of science-driven long-term observations, and the latter can similarly inform and provide context for compliance monitoring. Ideally, good compliance monitoring should be nested within sustained science-driven monitoring and both should feed into and be informed by process-driven research. Context is important so that change can be interpreted and the causes, eg whether anthropogenic or natural, distinguished between.

  UKMMAS needs to recognise the value of existing datasets, in particular the importance of investing resources in making them more easily accessible and analysing them. [This is obviously one aim of the Marine Data Information Partnership (MDIP).] The burden cannot fall only on those who generate the data.

  Another concern is the need to consider wider oceanic influences, ie to monitor in non-UK waters, including the North Atlantic, because of their potentially overriding influence, eg on nutrient levels in UK coastal waters. Monitoring should also tie in as far as possible with other European schemes.

  NERC is ready to work with Defra to improve the UKMMAS delivery plan, which needs to take the above points into account. It is recognised that UKMMAS needs a near doubling of resources to carry out even relatively basic marine monitoring and data management to meet current legislative requirements, and more to have a big impact on the accessibility and usability of data, to be able to monitor in new strategic locations (including open oceans) and to monitor climate-change indicators.

  There may be a need for more questioning about the monitoring programmes being supported, and their ability to deliver the necessary answers; data collection must be tailored to the issues being addressed, and spatial and temporal integration would facilitate the linking of pattern with process.

  From a geological perspective, marine monitoring is mainly of value in assessing mobile sediments, coastal change and geohazards. The British Geological Survey has been promoting the idea of a UK National Seabed Mapping Programme; a proposal was submitted to Defra in 2006 to carry out systematic high-resolution surveys. The programme would provide a framework for informing marine management decisions, and context within which to implement UKMMAS. (It would improve on 1980s maps currently used for marine spatial planning.) A proposal being developed by a UKMMAS working group is looking at how seabed survey activities and the data acquired can be better co-ordinated and collated, but in the long term, high-resolution mapping is needed to support both marine management and marine research in general.

October 2007

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