Marine Science - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The UK Marine Science Strategy

1.  We welcome the establishment of the UK Marine Science Strategy. However, if the Strategy is to help the Government achieve its vision of "clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas", further work is needed to translate its high level goals into substantive outcomes. We recommend that the Government set out an implementation plan for the UK Marine Science Strategy, with a timetable that articulates expected outcomes at intervals over the next ten years, and how success will be measured. This should be updated on an annual basis. (Paragraph 7)

Marine Science Coordination Committee

2.  We recommend that Defra includes the evidence submitted to this inquiry regarding the work of the MSCC when considering areas for improvement, such as its membership, resources, and focus on outcomes. The Government should set out a clear timetable for the current review and publish its results on the MSCC website alongside an action plan to address its findings. We note that the Minister has identified the absence of permanent industry representation as a weakness in the MSCC's operations and we recommend that a seat for an industry representative on the MSCC be identified within three months. (Paragraph 12)

NERC support for marine science

3.  We understand the difficulties that NERC faces in prioritising its resources at a time of limited funding. However, we are concerned about the potential for current reprioritisation measures to undermine the UK's long-term capability in marine and polar science. Marine and polar science should not suffer from structural changes to funding mechanisms. These sciences are particularly dependent on the maintenance of extensive or large scale facilities, sometimes operating over long periods of time. NERC should therefore ensure there is adequate provision for research centres that depend on its national capability resources within its funding portfolio. (Paragraph 16)

Use of scientific evidence

4.  The Government appears to have moved the goalposts during the Marine Conservation Zone designation process, to require robust evidence showing the presence or extent of marine features rather than the best available evidence reflecting our current understanding of the marine environment. We support the principle that Marine Conservation Zones should be based on sound scientific evidence. We consider that the Government should adhere to its standard of best available evidence, as set out in its initial Marine Conservation Zone guidance, that "network design should be based on the best information currently available" and "lack of full scientific certainty should not be a reason for postponing proportionate decisions on site selection". (Paragraph 23)

Management measures

5.  We are not convinced that the issues of what to conserve and how to conserve it can be separated as easily as the Minister suggests, particularly in a stakeholder-driven process with negotiations happening at a local level to decide which sites should be chosen to be protected on the basis of their biological importance and socio-economic impact. People need to understand what Marine Conservation Zones mean for their lifestyles and livelihoods. The absence of a substantive discussion on likely management measures perpetuates uncertainty, undermines local support for Marine Conservation Zones and creates room for scare-mongering. We recommend that the Government produce a clear statement on how management measures will be decided and tailored to specific Marine Conservation Zones, alongside a clear timetable showing when these will be discussed. (Paragraph 28)

Defra's current consultation

6.  There is a lack of clarity regarding why the proposed 31 Marine Conservation Zones were selected for designation first, despite the JNCC and Natural England's advice that 59 sites, 51 of which are not included in the first tranche, are currently at high risk of further damage. The Government should set out the reasons for not putting these sites forward for consultation and outline action being taken to prevent further damage to these areas as the Marine Conservation Zone process continues. We agree with the principle that socio-economic concerns should be taken into account when designating Marine Conservation Zones. We recognise that it is difficult to balance socio-economic and scientific concerns. However, at present it is not clear why certain sites are being progressed and others not. Given that the weight given to socio-economic concerns compared to scientific evidence is a political judgement, we recommend that the Government should publish the criteria being used by Defra to select sites for conservation. (Paragraph 32)

Next steps

7.  We are concerned that a clear vision for Marine Conservation Zones has not been articulated by the Government. We recommend that it does so in the response to this report. (Paragraph 33)

8.  We were pleased to hear that the Minister is keen to move the Marine Conservation Zone process forward, but we have not seen this intention translated into action. The Minister should not let his priorities be set by fear of judicial review. Further delay to the process perpetuates the uncertainty that has already been damaging to the Marine Conservation Zone project. We recommend that Government set out a clear timetable for designation of this tranche and future tranches of Marine Conservation Zones, with a clear commitment to an end date by which the ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas, as the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 requires, will be established. (Paragraph 34)

Commercial operations

9.  We support the Marine Management Organisation in their efforts to encourage data sharing from industry. We agree with Professor Boyd's assessment that "we have to be a lot cleverer" about using the data that is out there already to improve our understanding of our marine environment. Whilst we recognise there is work underway to address this issue, we consider that this could go further. We recommend that the Government works with the Marine Management Organisation to bring forward proposals that would make sharing of more data collected at sea, particularly seabed and habitat maps, as well as wind data, a licensing condition on commercial activity in UK waters. We recognise that this may have to contain caveats relating to genuinely commercially sensitive information. (Paragraph 40)

Long term monitoring

10.  We welcome Sir John Beddington's work on the issue of long-term monitoring programmes, which are of particular importance to understanding long-term environmental change in the marine environment. We encourage Sir Mark Walport to continue to be involved in these efforts. We consider that there are shortcomings in both the Government's and NERC's support for long-term monitoring and we are concerned that the UK's capability in this field appears to be being cut back. The Marine Science Coordination Committee should meet with Sir Mark Walport within his first six months in office as Government Chief Scientific Adviser to discuss long-term monitoring. We recommend that the Committee produce an action plan to address this issue and answer the strategic questions posed by Professor Boyd about how we measure the right parameters in a technologically developed manner. (Paragraph 43)

Autonomous underwater vehicles

11.  We agree with Professor Boyd that priority should be given to harnessing the potential of autonomous underwater vehicle technologies. We were particularly interested in this issue in light of our recent work on the commercialisation of research. This area of innovation should be a focus of attention within the Technology Strategy Board. It could also be used to provide a forum for the Marine Science Coordination Committee to begin to improve its engagement with industry. We recommend that the Marine Science Coordination Committee engages with the Technology Strategy Board on the issue of developing autonomous underwater vehicles. (Paragraph 46)

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Prepared 11 April 2013