Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeFurther written evidence submitted by the Natural History Museum

Background and Interests

1. The Natural History Museum (NHM) has a mission to maintain and develop its natural history collections to be used to promote the discovery, understanding, responsible use and enjoyment of the natural world.

2. In a world where human societies are changing rapidly, there are intense economic and social pressures on the natural environment that is essential for our survival. The rate of change is rapid and potentially unsustainable and the need for understanding, knowledge and effective action is pressing. The NHM has always been closely aligned with humanity’s practical, economic and cultural interests in the environment, but at no other time has the need for the NHM been so great.

3. The NHM’s statutory obligation under the British Museum Act 1963 is to care for and give access to the nation’s natural history collections. The collections comprise over 70 million specimens, ranging from the world’s best collection of meteorites, including those dating back to the formation of our solar system, to DNA samples from mosquitoes collected and stored using the latest technology. The Museum, through its collections, is part of the UK’s science base and a major intellectual infrastructure that is used by its own 350 scientists and over 8,000 annually from across the UK and the globe to enhance knowledge on the diversity of the natural world and addresses some of the major challenges society faces, from biodiversity loss due to climate change to the spread of parasitic disease and to the sustainable use of natural resources. The NHM is the pre-eminent institution in a wide international network of collaboration and common purpose with respect to the natural world. The NHM cares for and develops these collections for future generations to use in ways not currently possible or imagined to help answer future scientific questions of importance.

4. The NHM is a recipient of Darwin Initiative funding from Defra for a range of projects that assist countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to meet their objectives under one or more of the three major biodiversity Conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES); and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), through the funding of collaborative projects which draw on UK biodiversity expertise.

5. The NHM runs a number of citizen science facilities and projects which aim to encourage public interest in the natural environment and support that interest using Museum expertise.


1. The Natural History Museum broadly welcomes the White Paper and welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to this second inquiry on this subject. The Museum made a submission to the previous inquiry by this Committee on the White Paper. This submission answers the questions which the Museum feels it has expertise to do so and something to add.

Question 1: What actions are required across Government Departments, from local government and by civil society to deliver the White Paper’s proposals to grow a green economy and reconnect people with nature?

2. The Natural History Museum has a mission to maintain and develop its natural history collections to be used to promote the discovery, understanding, responsible use and enjoyment of the natural world. We connect our 20 million visitors, physical and virtual with nature, using our collections to inspire a greater understanding of our place and impacts on the natural world.

3. Since free admission was reintroduced in 2001 we have seen our physical visitor numbers increase by 184% to over 4.7 million a year. Our virtual visits are above 15 million a year. We believe this demonstrates a growth in public interest in nature and environmental issues.

4. As part of our public offer we provide visitors with the opportunity to interact with our scientists and debate issues of societal concern, as well as a full schools programme. We also support citizen science activities which encourage a deeper understanding and engagement with nature.

5. Our citizen science activities support amateur naturalist groups by providing expertise and resources like the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/darwin-centre-visitors/marmont-centre/index.html, as well as encouraging the general public to record and monitor their local biodiversity through online surveys like those conducted by the Open Air Laboratories network, OPAL: http://www.opalexplorenature.org/.

6. The Museum supports the White Paper’s ambition to reconnect people with nature and believes that with a joined-up approach by Government Departments, working with local government and civil society these proposals can be achieved. There are many established organisations, including the Museum, which are already delivering on these proposals. Networking these and providing further support will assist in achieving the ambitions of the White Paper.

7. Recognising the value of natural history collections in delivering the ambition is very important, both in their capacity to inspire schoolchildren and families and as a resource for amateur naturalists. The scientific value of these collections and use as a national scientific infrastructure for research both professional and amateur should also be considered worthy of Government support.

8. The Museum co-ordinated, with Defra support, the UK activities to celebrate and raise awareness of the UN International Year of Biodiversity in 2010. We created a network of over 400 partners who were a range of organisations from different sectors from across the UK. This network shared information and resources to encourage public engagement in their local biodiversity and wider environmental issues. The programme was seen as a success, both by partners and funders. A similar networking device could be deployed for delivering the White Paper’s proposals.

Question 5: What resources will be needed to fully deliver the White Paper’s ambitions and how can these best be provided? How might the value of “services” provided by ecosystems to beneficiaries be translated into spending that will enhance the natural environment?

The White Paper outlines policy goals and related initiatives, with indication of funding for some of the actions proposed. The achievement of the goals of the White Paper will rely almost entirely on the coordinated response of public agencies, research organisations, private sector bodies, voluntary groups, charitable organisations and many individual members of the public. All of these organisations and individuals, including the NHM, already devote substantial resource to the broad goals articulated in the White Paper: policy development and implementation must add value and momentum to this existing effort, with new resource in key areas.

These goals and resources should be seen in an international context: both European and more widely. The White Paper refers to the UK’s commitments with respect to the 2020 target of halting biodiversity loss and the implications of the Nagoya agreements under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Effective action on the environment involves the coordination of efforts and resources to reach common goals—within the UK and its overseas territories; with respect to the UK’s international footprint; and to meet the UK’s duties and commitments for international leadership and capacity-building.

The specific funds indicated in the White Paper—such as the additional support for the National Biodiversity Network and for voluntary recording and development—are a very welcome addition to the resources currently made available from all sectors.

The new England Biodiversity Strategy develops some of the themes in the White Paper and makes reference to resource requirements and additional funding. The Committee will already be aware of the detail of the National Ecosystem Assessment, which informed the development of the White Paper and the Biodiversity Strategy. The Technical Reports for the NEA are very useful in assessing gaps in current knowledge and capabilities with respect to ecosystem services: it represents the best current understanding of the UK’s capabilities in this area. If the ambitions of the White Paper are to be fulfilled, there will need to be careful appraisal of these gaps, discussion on which are most critical as barriers to effective understanding and action, and organisation of resources to address this need.

A number of the gaps identified in the NEA Technical reports relate to scientific capability and information. The NHM has recently undertaken a UK Taxonomy and Systematics Review for NERC, assessing the current status of taxonomy in the UK, which will continue to be essential in supporting research and action on ecosystems, biodiversity monitoring, and in conservation—all within the goals of the White Paper. The review has informed in turn a view from nine scientists chaired by Professor Charles Godfray FRS Developing a National Strategy in Taxonomy and Systematics. The recommendations from this group involve the coordination of effort, strategy and resources of research councils, research institutions such as the NHM and others to provide the science needed for policy and practice.

Question 6: Does the White Paper set out an accurate assessment of the barriers to public engagement with the natural environment and make the most effective proposals for re-engagement?

The White Paper uses some positive case studies about current projects and initiatives that are about engaging the public with nature. However, we don’t believe that the White Paper does set out an accurate assessment of barriers to public engagement with the natural environment. The White Paper sets the ambition and framework for delivering that ambition, but it does not currently and probably can not map all the players involved and acknowledging the Government has a role, but is not the only critical player in delivering this is useful.

The Museum does believe that the Government could make more use of and recognise the value of organisations it funds, like the Museum, in helping to deliver this White Paper’s ambition.

26 September 2011

Prepared 16th July 2012