Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520 - 539)



  Q520  Chairman: It would be better if Defra took on responsibility for all the recording, do you think?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: Probably. It is very useful for Defra to have some sort of element of control over what is going. IACMST which I chair has to go to a variety of different departments to get bits and pieces on this and I think it is good for somebody to pick it all up.

  Q521  Chris Mole: That would be a new funding structure, a new approach to saying, "This is monitoring information" as opposed to scientific project based research?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: We need a strategy for bringing all of that information together under one roof. I cannot disagree with that. I think it is sensible.

  Q522  Chris Mole: Would Professor King endorse that?

  Professor Sir David King: Absolutely. That should be closest to the department where the policy is most heavily involved.

  Jonathan Shaw: In terms of bringing together organisations, I referred to Safeguarding the Seas. That brought together 60 organisations in the UK. Defra did that. Certainty of funding is very important for this. We have just agreed a ten year funding for CEFAS, which I know Chris Mole has visited recently in Lowestoft. There is commitment to long term funding to provide the certainty that science needs.

  Q523  Chris Mole: We discovered in another inquiry that DfES has the lead on global monitoring for GMES.

  Jonathan Shaw: Global Monitoring and Environmental Security.

  Q524  Chris Mole: DfES has the lead on that?

  Jonathan Shaw: CEFAS? Who are you talking about?

  Q525  Chris Mole: Defra. There is some question about whether there was enough commitment to earth monitoring in general through satellite technology. Do you have concerns that we are maintaining as much earth observation from space as we should be?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: I think I also gave evidence to your space committee that talked about GMES, Global Monitoring and Environmental Security. We did have some concerns again that we were not necessarily playing as full a role in being able to make contributions to it as we ought. There is this issue within Europe about juste retour in terms of satellite technology for GMES. If the UK is not making its contributions sufficiently large, UK industry begins to fall down a bit there. It is a bit like all of these monitoring systems. They get more and more sophisticated every year. They get better and better technology and usually you would like to see the technology getting cheaper but more often than not it does not. It is important that we try and pull our weight as far as GMES and satellite monitoring are concerned and that is an important part of that.

  Q526  Chris Mole: I was not going to return to the funding question but we have raised even more demands there. Everyone has highlighted the imbalance in terrestrial and is not the answer to shift some of the money within the department on terrestrial monitoring of the environment to the oceans? It is 87 per cent of the biosphere and a huge amount of our biodiversity as well. Is that what we should be doing, Minister?

  Jonathan Shaw: Each area of research is very important, whether it is on terrestrial or marine. We look forward to the Committee's conclusions and we will consider funding as we go forward. We are not alone in terms of how we compare to other countries. We are pretty good. With the determination for more collaborative work, we can undertake the type of work necessary to get the answers. That will then feed into policy, whether that is of an Oceans 2025 type or in terms of the stuff that Defra does, if it helps influence us when we are making decisions on fish stocks, or whatever.

  Q527  Chris Mole: It was a vain stab on my part.

  Jonathan Shaw: I cannot announce today that we will be cutting one stream and moving it over to marine research.

  Professor Sir David King: It does seem to me that there is something critically important here. As we move forward over the next 10, 15 or 20 years, the pressures on our environment will continually increase. I am talking about pressures on the marine environment and the land environment. Our population globally will continue to increase. The climate change issues are an additional strain to all previous strains. At the same time, science has become capable of handling these extremely complex issues with very clear outcomes. That means that a government that is going to use the best scientific advice is going to do it in the best interests of its own population and more broadly. The basic message I want to get through is that it is going to be tough leaving Defra to say, "Now we have this new challenge we will just switch our resources onto another challenge that is arising." We need to look at the global funding. I do not think we can find a way round this just by saying, "Shift your budget around." Look at it globally and see the nature of the challenges that Defra particularly is faced with.

  Q528  Chris Mole: Professor Dalton, just now you were talking about better coordination of a lot of the monitoring and measurement work. What steps have been taken to ensure that all the data output from publicly funded operations is available to researchers? I think it is important that we ensure that we do not get duplication or people are not having to do work twice. Specifically, are you confident for example that the mathematic data that comes from the Hydrographic Office is not degraded before it gets into the scientific arena?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: I cannot give you a 100 per cent guarantee, but I can tell you that we are working very hard to ensure that all the information through our Marine Data Information Partnership operation is making those data that we get available to everybody. The whole point of this was that we wanted to get as much information into the system to make it as freely available for researchers to access so that the work can be done very effectively. You have to accept sometimes that some of those data are difficult to get because there is a commercial need to maintain and keep them. In a sense, it is not going to be a perfect data set but what we are trying to do is say to everybody, "Look, you put all that information into the system. You will get an incredible amount of information back." That is all we can do. We are making it available for everybody else. Anybody who wants to sign up and give us data gets access to the system that we are allowing. There is a multiplier. If you put data in, you get a heck of a lot more data out. We are putting it in a form that is accessible to everybody because when you look at data sets from a whole variety of different situations, they all have to be deconvoluted and restructured so that it makes sense to everybody. That is an issue that we are working on and that is why we have a management team to do it.

  Q529  Chris Mole: There is no risk that bits of agencies that are asked to operate in trading functions are going to end up charging for things that academics really cannot afford?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: I would hope not. I cannot guarantee it because you cannot hold a sword over people's heads and say, "You must give us those data." It is very difficult for us to ensure that but we are trying to do things for the good of the marine community. That is the way it works.

  Q530  Chris Mole: Does the Minister need to talk to his defence colleagues about the information we get from some of their agencies?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: He might.

  Q531  Chairman: When we were on the James Cook with scientists there, they said they often find it more difficult to get data from UK based operations than they do from operations the other side of the world. I think it is an issue which we need to have a clear policy on. You have stated that publicly funded research data should be available within a timescale which allowed researchers to be able to do their initial investigations and to write their papers, which seems perfectly reasonable. You are nodding in accordance with that?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: Absolutely. I agree with that 100%. I do not think those data should be kept secret. I really think it is important for the community and for UK plc to have access to them and for other people to have access to them, because they also in turn can give us their information. It is not just UK based. We are working with our European partners on this and that is an important part of the 19 centre organisations that Defra has been organising which the Minister referred to at the beginning, which I think is playing a very important role in us working with our partners to get as much information out of them as possible.

  Jonathan Shaw: We will look at that and send the Committee a note on how quickly we get research information out.

  Q532  Chairman: Would you like to make a recommendation?

  Jonathan Shaw: It is something that you have found from your trip on the James Cook and if these things come up we want to answer those points.

  Q533  Chairman: It was not a trip, Minister. It was a research visit.

  Jonathan Shaw: You are correct. Thank you for putting me right.

  Q534  Dr Turner: When the Marine Bill finally arrives, it is going to propose setting up a chain of marine protected areas. This is already looking a little problematic because of the deficiency of data. It is difficult to be truly certain as to the areas that most need protection. Can you tell us a little about how you see the designation of marine protected areas being done and how big is the coverage? What sort of conservation measures do you envisage?

  Jonathan Shaw: You are right to point out that within the Bill there is going to be this opportunity. In terms of me defining how large they are going to be and how many there are going to be, with all matters in this area, we will develop that. We will not say there are going to be 15 or 20. We need to see how they progress and what type of information they provide for us. It will be about trying to preserve stocks. It is unlikely that they will be able to preserve fish stocks because obviously they do not recognise non-fishing areas. It would be good if they did but, for other crustaceans and other forms of marine life, there will be fishing and no extraction of minerals within those areas. That will then provide us with important information as to whether that has a positive effect upon oceans and marine life.

  Q535  Dr Turner: You have a target of getting this network of MPAs in place by 2010 which only gives you three years. There is not time to get a significant amount of data to decide where to designate. How will you cope with that? Is there a sensible case for saying, "Let's have sufficiently comprehensive coverage and collect data later"?

  Jonathan Shaw: My presumption would be that there will be a range of different areas that we would cover within our coastal shores to provide information on a range of different species.

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: We do have extant marine protected areas. Lundy. Skomer.

  Q536  Dr Turner: About three square kilometres?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: You are pretty close, yes, 3.3. Those are areas where of course there is substratum corfal growing and therefore with crustaceans particularly we can look at those but there is a bigger issue. We are doing an awful lot of monitoring of the seas in order to be able to look at what is happening to fish populations: whiting, cod, herring and so on. We will almost certainly have to come up with protected areas in order to allow those stocks to recover. It is important that we understand what is going on in the whole food chain in order to be able to understand best how we are going to be able to stimulate and allow those stocks to recover and develop a viable, profitable fishing industry.

  Q537  Dr Turner: It is my understanding that the thing is meant to be based on the ecosystem approach. Unfortunately we do not sufficiently understand those ecosystems at the moment to be precise about designating areas but equally, if we have not designated some areas, we probably will not be able to understand the ecosystems. There are some conundrums to be resolved here. It is going to need some funding. Will that be in place?

  Jonathan Shaw: I have just been handed some inspiration. I am advised that there has been a lot of work that has been undertaken in the network areas already. We can provide the Committee with an up to date report of what work has been undertaken. What we intend is by 2012 to have made substantial progress in completing our network by designating additional European sites, bringing the total of fully marine sites into the territorial sea adjacent to England and the UK offshore area to around 30.

  Q538  Chairman: In terms of these marine protected areas, it is not clear to me what it is we are trying to achieve and how we get the balance between commercial exploitation of the seas, which is absolutely crucial—we had figures earlier about the commercial benefits of the oceans as far as Europe is concerned—and the need to do good science. Are we going to have marine protected areas which exclude the science or are they going to simply exclude commercial activity? How do we decide the balance between the two?

  Jonathan Shaw: In the White Paper it says that by 2020 we want to develop a network of effectively managed sites comprising European marine sites, including highly protected sites. We want to conserve enough rare, threatened and representative species and habitats to maintain and improve biodiversity and ecosystems whilst covering as small an area as possible. It sets out what our intention is for these sites.

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: Marine protected areas in this context have to be thought of in terms of what you are going to do with them. You are absolutely right. We are not going to be exploiting these particular areas. We are not going to be fishing these areas because if you do that then the whole thing gets screwed up anyway. What we need to do is good quality science that helps us understand what is necessary in order to regenerate the populations of stock that can then ultimately be fished in the future. The reason behind producing these protected areas is that we can get into them and understand what is going on from a scientific perspective.

  Q539  Chairman: Can I put a scenario to you? If you put an offshore wind farm three kilometres square, where clearly commercial fishing cannot take place for very obvious reasons, could that become a marine protection area as well? Can you have these two functions going on at the same time, where you can develop a specific site but have a commercial activity as well which is not in conflict?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: Commercial other than fishing? You have something there. I do not know to what extent offshore wind farms affect the marine environment. We are doing work on trying to understand a bit better what is going on there. It was quite interesting that IACMST produced a report on underwater sound and the effects it has on marine populations. It is quite significant and important. You do get transmission of underwater sound from wind farms. There is an effect there. It may well be a bit more difficult if we are going to try to understand better what is going on in the marine environment. Possibly we need as little commercial interference in those areas as possible.

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