Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum by CABI

  Paragraph 1.1  The Report and Response concentrate on the three major systematics institutions, RGB Kew, NHM and RGB Edinburgh, but these organizations have minimal capacity in microbial systematics (the Kingdoms Fungi, Bacteria, Archacea and Protoctista). These organisms play a crucial role in ecosystem function, have major effects (both positive and negative) on the nation's wealth, and drive the UK biotechnology industry. Increased grant-in-aid to the "big three" institutions has doubtless been well received, but UK core support for CABI has decreased in real terms by 74 per cent since 1992. This has had a devastating effect on systematics capacity, leading to reductions in taxonomic staff from 34 in 1992 to six in 2003 (a further post was lost in 2002 following CABI's initial submission to the Select Committee Report), despite substantial income generation through competitive funding. CABI also receives no Government support at all for curation of its globally important microbial collections, which currently costs the organisation nearly £200k annually. CABI feels that the Government has not undertaken sufficient consideration of the financial needs of UK microbial systematics organisations.

  Paragraph 1.2  CABI welcomes the Government's commitment to the broad objectives of the OECD initiative on Biological Resource Centres; the benefits of such a global network are clear. But the Government is currently providing no funds to support participation in the planning process by UK institutions. If the UK is to play its rightful formative role, the stakeholders' meeting already promised should take place as a matter of urgency, and Government support for the necessary planning activities should be provided.

  Paragraph 1.3  There are many Government initiatives on biodiversity conservation, but to date little developed policy integrating large-organism conservation, genetic resource initiatives, and microbial components of agrobiodiversity. The DEFRA policy document on Genetic Resources in Food and Agriculture is a valuable step in the right direction, but more resources need to be devoted to "joined-up thinking" for the UK biodiversity scene. This would lead to many benefits; for example the development of proper business plans for exploitation of UK biodiversity. The current split in Government responsibility for these issues between DEFRA, OST and DoH makes the development of integrated policy more complex.

  Paragraph 1.4  CABI welcomes the HEFCE review, but is concerned that it will not be focused enough on systematics to lead to enhanced UK capacity in taxonomy. There are alternative models for training systematists using established partnerships between UK universities and systematics institutions, and there is no reason why further competitive grant programmes (in addition to that announced following the 1992 report) should not be established. Ideally, programmes need to be designed for long-term support, integrating academic and subsequent career development.

  Paragraph 1.5  CABI would argue that it also deserves full academic analogue status with BBSRC; its interests and involvement in biotechnology are certainly at least equivalent to those of RBG Kew and RBG Edinburgh.

  Paragraph 1.7  The Government's membership of GBIF is welcome, but the potential for financial support for UK systematics institutions from this source currently seems limited. For example, GBIF recently announced a small competitive grants programme for biodiversity information and herbarium digitization, but the funds available only cover 20 per cent of the total project costs. UK-based systematics organizations without major Government core funding are clearly poorly equipped to seek such support. Professor Godfray's initiative is also to be welcomed, but we do have some concerns. Establishing web-based identification and information systems for well-known organism groups with established classifications is straightforward—and there are many examples already in existence including CABI's Crop Protection Compendium ( But the taxonomic framework is yet to be properly established for many small-bodied organism groups (some of which are of major economic importance) and we do not see how the initiative will support this necessary initial stage.

  Paragraph 1.8  CABI would contribute to a new umbrella organization for biodiversity in the UK, but its focus must be wider than that of the UK Systematics Forum. Specifically, it must address the interface between business and biodiversity, and place emphasis on bringing together systematists and users of biodiversity. CABI also considers that the Government, as the guardian of sovereign rights over UK genetic resources, is a major stakeholder of British biodiversity and as such must play an active role in managing its exploitation. A stakeholders meeting is needed with the Government to determine policy and mechanisms to underpin conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

  Paragraph 1.9  CABI welcomes the increased Government spending through the Darwin Initiative, but has major concerns that some areas of systematics are not being adequately supported through this funding mechanism. Specifically, work to develop global capacity for identification of pests and pathogens is sidelined, due to the requirement that conservation is the immediate beneficiary. Agriculture and forestry are critically important to all developing nations, and their need for expertise in pest identification is becoming much greater due to the need for commodity exports to conform to the World Trade Organization's SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) provisions, Improvements in food security will of course lead to conservation of natural ecosystems due to reduction in the need for forest clearance for new food plots. CABI would welcome the opportunity to explore the need for such capacity building jointly with DEFRA and DfID.

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