Examination of Witnesses (Questions 201
WEDNESDAY 16 MAY 2007
J WILLMOTT, PROFESSOR
Q201 Chairman: I do apologise to
our second panel that we have run over. We welcome Professor Ed
Hill, the Director of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton;
Professor Peter Liss, President of the Challenger Society for
Marine Science and from the School of Environmental Sciences at
the University of East Anglia; and Professor Andrew Willmott,
the Director of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory in Liverpool.
You are very, very welcome indeed. If we can be fairly brief and
fairly rapid in terms of responding to us. What we are trying
to get at is what is your assessment of UK marine science, both
in the universities and in the NERC research centres? What are
the strengths and weaknesses? Where are we?
Professor Liss: It is a big question
and of course the answer is that it is very good in some parts
and not so good in other parts, and we could spend the next hour
detailing those categories, and I do not think you want that.
That strength lies in various places; it lies in the universities,
it lies in the NERC research institutes, it relies in other research
institutes and agency laboratories, and I think that is one of
the questions you have been tackling as to, okay, it is all over
the place, is it well-integrated, do people talk to each other,
do they use the resources effectively?
Q202 Chairman: And the answer is?
Professor Liss: Again, in part
yes, but we could do better. I guess what you want to do is to
investigate how we could do better.
Q203 Chairman: Give me an example
of where it is really good and where it is not very good?
Professor Liss: I will give you
an example that is very good. From personal experience I have
very good links with my own research group to NERC laboratories,
particularly in Plymouthwe have joint graduate students,
we do joint work, we go on cruises togetherand that is
an example of where it works extremely well between a NERC laboratory
and a university laboratory. Where it does not work so well is,
for instance, on marine data. I am presently chairing the MDIP
group, which has been referred to by one of the previous people.
What MDIP is attempting to do is to set a framework for the use
of marine data collected in UK coastal waters and marine areas.
It is a very difficult job to do because the data is collected
by lots of different organisations, and the attempt is to try
to get this into a common framework, common standards, recognised
data centres which obey those standards and make the data, as
far as is possible, available to the whole marine community in
the UK and further afield. That difficult job is run by MDIP,
which is a professional organisation, which I chair, but is run
on an amateur funding basis because we have only 0.8 of an individual
who is paid to lead that work. All the other people have day jobs,
which they have to do because they are paid to do them and they
put time in whenever they can to contribute to the process. I
do not think that is a satisfactory way of doing business because
data is extremely important, particularly when we come to the
MMO and marine protected areas and licensing and all those policy
issuesyou have to have the data to start otherwise you
make wrong decisions even if you have a perfect system.
Q204 Chairman: So it is a curate's
Professor Liss: Yes.
Q205 Chairman: Professor Willmott,
would you agree with that assessment to start with, and where
do you see the strengths and weaknesses?
Professor Willmott: I agree with
Peter's assessment. The thing I would like to point is that in
making the UK science base fit to address issues like climate
change, what NERC is trying to do in its new strategy is to remove
the barriers which might exist for collaboration between research
centres and also between research centres and the university sector.
We believe that the most effective way for dealing with issues
like climate change is to ensure that we can bring the interdisciplinary
teams together so that we do not have any fiscal problems with
the fact that one centre has to work in a different five-year
cycle to another. So NERC has been developing a new strategy and
a new funding model called FAB with the purpose of producing a
more integrated community that is fit to tackle climate change
Q206 Chairman: You did not even involve
the universities in the design of that programme, they were not
even consultees in terms of Oceans 2025, for instance.
Professor Willmott: With respect
Q207 Chairman: That means you do
Professor Willmott: There was
a misunderstanding pedalled by others. Firstly, Oceans 2025 is
about a programme which is renewing the funding for a group of
laboratories, it is not a UK-wide national marine strategy. If
it was that then we would have very wide consultation. It was
a science review proposal, so before the proposal there was an
overview document that was consulted on widely. The actual development
of the research proposals, of course that is a confidential stage
because those proposals are going to go out to peer review, and
it is understood that the peer reviewers are receiving those in
confidence. Now we have gone through that process we are again
widely engaging with a variety of stakeholders, both in the university
and indeed in the departments like Defra.
Q208 Chairman: All right. I have
got you excited anyhow! Professor Hill, do not repeat what we
have had, but basically a curate's egg in terms of marine science.
Can I pull you in on this issue of coordination between our institution,
our universities; is that good enough?
Professor Hill: It is never going
to be good enough but it is getting better and we are, I think,
on a journey towards better coordination. Despite some of the
things that you have heard actually the relationship between the
NERC centres and the university community are much better in this
particular sector than in some other areas of environmental science,
as it has to be said. This is not least because marine science
is heavily dependent on massive infrastructure in order to get
to the parts of the world that we need to getships, but
access to data centres and very complex observing systems and
technologies. And this can only really be done by a combination
of facilities where you have a congregation of that kind of capability
combined with a rather dynamic flexible environment that is typically
finding universities generating new ideas, but which would be
not possible to sustain them long-term without that kind of infrastructure.
Where we are really heading is to try to ensure that that clarity
of mission between the centres is right, so that we get the best
added value as opposed to unnecessary protection.
Chairman: Okay, you have redressed the
balance. Bob Spink.
Q209 Dr Spink: Could I ask each of
you what the priorities are for marine research, very briefly?
Professor Hill: I can start on
that. There is an interesting degree of convergence on this. If
you look at the NERC emerging strategy for environmental science,
if you look at the EU Framework Programmes, if you look at the
strategy produced by the European Science Foundations Marine Board,
if you look at the Oceans 2025 Strategic Programme you will see
the same things cropping up time and time again.
Q210 Dr Spink: Which are?
Professor Hill: Climate, biodiversity,
natural resources including bio resources and energy, the issue
of environment and health and technologies.
Q211 Dr Spink: Coastal erosion would
not feature in that?
Professor Hill: Yes, the other
area is about hazards and adverse human impact.
Q212 Dr Spink: Would the biodiversity
include fishing, over fishing, fishing policy? Would it include
the impact on spawning grounds or the extraction of minerals,
dredging for channels, which is happening in the Thames Estuary?
Professor Hill: That is certainly
a key area for research. It is not one where the NERC centres
and a lot of the university community have necessarily been particularly
active, but there is strength in fishery research in Cefas and
in the Scottish equivalent agency. The key issue that has been
recognised, though, is that there needs to be a much stronger
linkage between fishery science and fundamental environmental
science and to get the right relationship there, and that has
been the recommendation of a number of bodies. So that is somewhere
we are heading.
Q213 Dr Spink: Professor Hill you
have answered that very comprehensively, I suspect for all of
you, so I will not go through it again unless there is anything
that either of you would like to add?
Professor Willmott: If I might
add that there is a recently announced bio resources programme
which will link laboratories like Cefas, SEERAD and the NERC centres
and the university sector, so I think that is a very exciting
and promising development in the area of bio resources.
Professor Liss: I think what Ed
Hill said is absolutely right, that in this day and age we are
not just doing marine sciences, we are doing climate sciences,
biodiversity and earth system science, and if you look at the
new NERC strategy, which is for consultation at the present timejust
finished, I thinkthose are the sort of things. I am chairing
the panel on earth system science and obviously marine sciences
come within that and virtually all the other panels have marine
sciences. The corollary of that is that there is no centre in
NERC Swindon which is called marine sciencesor at least
it is hard to define; it is going much more to what are the projects
we need to be doing rather than the disciplines we need to support.
Q214 Dr Spink: Professor Liss, since
you have the floor, you heard us ask questions that were quite
probing on IACMST; what is your view of IACMST? Do you think it
Professor Liss: I am one of the
three independent members of it, so in a sense, although I am
a member, I take a somewhat more distant view. I think that it
works probably as well as it can in its present configuration.
It has the departmental representatives on it; it has three independent
members and it has a secretariat which is again very small. It
has done some useful tasks; it has two data groups, it has a remote
sensing group which try to look at UK coordination in these mattersand
I have already described the MDIP processand those are
all under IACMST and I think it would be a big loss if they did
not exist. We did a review on effect of sound on marine mammals.
But we can only do a certain amount. If, for instance, there is
a suggestion that the UK should develop a marine strategy which,
to my view, we do not have, if we wanted to have such a documentand
the US is developing such a document, and you are going to the
United States and you may want to look into how the document is
and what does it cover, et ceteraI think IACMST is the
sort of body that could do that if it had the resources. It currently
does not have the resources to do a job as large as that.
Q215 Dr Spink: That is extremely
constructive and helpful and we will bear in mind next week your
advice. Should the IACMST's role be changed to enable it to discharge
its functions and to better coordinate the marine science opportunities
Professor Liss: I am not sure
you have to change the terms of reference but you do need to get
more buy-in from the stakeholders, i.e. government departments
and agencies, and if it was doing more work and it had ability
to do more work that buy-in would come, I think.
Q216 Chairman: It was set up in 1990
to do exactly the things you are now describing. Quite frankly,
if I had had a reference from somebody, which you have just described,
I would not appoint them.
Professor Liss: Fair comment.
Q217 Chairman: I think we are very
serious about this issue of where is the policy coming from and
where is the coordination policy, and we take the very strong
comments you made about this coordination. We found that with
our space science programme, that you cannot just simply look
at the space without looking at the oceans and the atmosphere
and the whole things put together. So we are really keen on this
idea of where do we go with this organisation in order to make
a really effective, dynamic, thrusting, policy-driven world class
Professor Liss: You need to do
two things. You need to get greater buy-in from the stakeholders,
and I am not sure how you do that.
Q218 Dr Spink: Can you name the stakeholders
you think are not buying-in sufficiently?
Professor Liss: I think what we
need to do is to look at the attendance. Some stakeholders are
there all the time working for it and other stakeholders are not.
I do not want to name names; I do not have the attendance record.
Trevor Guymer, who is the Secretary, can give you this chapter
and verse; I do not want to say things that might be proved slightly
wrong from the data, but there are clearly people who are working
very hard for it and some who are not working particularly hard.
Q219 Dr Iddon: What is the second
Professor Liss: The second point
is it would need to be resourced properly; at the moment it is
resourced at a very low level and again the Secretariat at NOC
can give you the actual numbers of how much resource goes in,
but it is very small.