Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report

CHAPTER 1: summary of recommendations

1.1 In view of the Government's commitments to biodiversity conservation we recommend that they increase grant-in-aid to the major systematics institutions. We envisage this as providing support to collections—the databases used by systematic biologists and conservationists. In accordance with the recommendation of the Dainton Report, grant-in-aid funding should be increased to the level it would have been had the 1992 figures been maintained in line with inflation. This would allow further digitising of the collections (Paragraph 5.4).

1.2 We recommend that the Government consider providing support to systematics collections as part of a bigger project to support biological resource centres, as recently highlighted by the OECD (Paragraph 5.6).

1.3 We recommend that the Government develop and publish a clear, concise summary document regarding their policy on biodiversity conservation activity in the United Kingdom and on the international stage (Paragraph 5.8).

1.4 We recommend that the Higher Education Funding Councils should consider the role of the Research Assessment Exercise in the decline of systematic biology in universities and explore ways in which to support this subject, as they do with other minority disciplines (Paragraph 5.12).

1.5 We recommend that the BBSRC should reconsider its decision not to award academic analogue status to Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh and Kew (Paragraph 5.14).

1.6 We recommend that the systematic biology community, especially via the Systematics Association and the Linnean Society, should continue to increase efforts to demonstrate the relevance and importance of systematic biology. This should have the effect both of improving its profile to funding bodies and of making it more attractive to potential professional taxonomists and volunteers. We also hope that systematic biologists who are members of learned societies, such as the Institute of Biology and the Royal Society, will use their influence to promote the discipline (Paragraph 5.16).

1.7 We recommend that the United Kingdom should take the lead and propose to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF)[1] that the GBIF run a pilot with some priority species to form the basis of a trial for Professor Godfray's suggestion of making taxonomy primarily digitised and web-based. A trial would demonstrate the benefits and pit-falls of this approach before implementing it more widely (Paragraph 5.19).

1.8 We recommend that DEFRA takes the lead in setting up a body with the express purpose of bringing together representatives from Government departments, ecologists and conservationists and the systematic biology community, including those based at museums, universities and other institutions. DEFRA should provide funding for administrative support in the early stages, although we envisage that the body should eventually seek to become self-financing with all participants making a small contribution to running costs. The body's main remit would be to:

(a) identify priority areas of biodiversity for which taxonomic research is most needed by the conservation community, and for other national purposes, such as health and agriculture.

Additional remits would be to:

(b) assess the taxonomic impediment to conservation action—specifically to analyse the shortage of taxonomic specialists and gaps in taxonomic data;

(c) campaign for resources for taxonomists researching in those priority areas (Paragraph 5.22).

1.9 We recommend that the current level of spending on the Darwin Initiative, approximately 3 million per annum, should be earmarked specifically for projects with a significant taxonomic component, to be used for conservation purposes. This would be used to help build taxonomic capacity in developing countries and should include projects to digitise UK systematics collections. Any additional funds to the Darwin Initiative beyond this core could have a wider remit to include projects with a major focus on development issues or poverty alleviation (Paragraph 5.29).


1   The GBIF is an international organisation that plans to develop an interoperable network of biodiversity databases (see Appendix 7). Back

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