Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Natural History Museum


Introduction: Paragraph 2

  The UK does indeed have an "honourable tradition" of contribution to knowledge and understanding of biodiversity. However, much more than this, the UK has a unique responsibility and opportunity to play a leading role, stemming from its unparalleled collections, information resources, and systematic research expertise. These rely on UK Government commitment to development of expertise, infrastructures, access, and capacity building.

  Nobody should claim that "perfect knowledge" is attainable or necessary. Conservation, as any applied science, depends on provisional knowledge used to greatest effect, which demands ongoing involvement of systematists. The issue is not only new description, as implied, but also improving and making best use of existing knowledge resources, and giving access to them, all of which require UK systematic expertise.


  The Government statement on resources for the Natural History Museum is misleading in that it does not refer to the ongoing decline in baseline funding in real terms. The grant in aid baseline allocations for 2003-06 are: £36.103 million for 2003-04, £37.547 million for 2004-05 and £37.980 million for 2005-06. Compared with the 2002-03 baseline (the first full year of free admission) the increases are 1.46 per cent, 4 per cent and 1.15 per cent year on year which represents a fall in real terms over the period by 0.96 per cent (using Treasury inflation target of 2.5 per cent per annum), which equates to c£340k per annum real decrease by 2005-06.

  In addition to baseline allocations there is £3.5 million for the Palaeontology building in 2003-04, and a capital allocation of £2.1 million in both 2004-05 and 2005-06 (ie total £4.2 million) which includes an allocation of £1.25 million in both years for Darwin Centre Phase Two (ie total £2.5 million), and £850k in both years (ie total £1.7 million) for major capital repairs.

  In addition to the fundamental issue of real terms decline in grant-in-aid funding raised by the 1992 and 2002 inquiries, the Museum is responding to wider demands by Government and its agencies for support for biodiversity action under the CBD, improved information resources in electronic form and online, and increased access to all aspects of its work. Government rightly notes in Paragraph 6 that digitisation is supported from grant-in-aid, but does not go on to note that increased investments in digitisation and other initiatives, coupled with declining funds in real terms, mean less funding for systematic research.


  The list of biodiversity-related agreements in the Government response does not meet the recommendation of the Select Committee for a policy statement on biodiversity policy that covers the international stage. Such a policy statement would serve to set the various country-level strategies for the UK within a wider framework, would point to UK objectives and enable effective planning and resource allocation for systematic and other science that could meet the UK's requirements.


  In response to this recommendation, the Museum will work with other major systematics institutions, learned societies and others to:

      (i)  Address the issues raised at a meeting of stakeholders;

    (ii)  Develop our outreach and information activities to enable wider use and appreciation of   systematic science; and

    (iii)  Develop an advisory capacity on systematics within the science base and to elements of   Government. Integrate discussion on systematics with wider debates on the development of science   (including but not limited to biodiversity) and sustainable development commitments.

  Government indicates a simple stance of verbal support, but something more active is needed. It is essential that improved dialogue develops between systematics interests, Government and related agencies. We will pursue the outcomes of the actions above in direct discussion with ministers and staff from OST and DEFRA.


  While Government has given initial support to GBIF, there is a lack of clarity over responsibility and ongoing commitment for financial contributions within Government.

  In its growing contributions to GBIF and other international and UK initiatives, the Museum's activities in access, information resources, and biodiversity conservation are founded on systematic science. With declining GIA in real terms, the Government's policy agenda can not be vigorously pursued or consolidated without continual erosion of the scientific foundation on which its success ultimately depends.


  Pilots are a first step, and funding needed for development of projects and maintenance of developed resources has not been committed by Government. Funds can not come from the NHM and its peers on current levels of support without further erosion of the systematic science that delivers the content and ensures quality and relevance to the needs of users.

  The Government's statement on GBIF digitisation is unclear. GBIF has made a call for outline proposals for digitisation of collections—some candidates will be asked to make full proposals in May 2003. A call for proposals for larger demonstration projects is anticipated but has not yet been made. It is not clear what, if any, connexion exists with Professor Godfray's ideas—our information suggests that GBIF have not adopted this approach at present. However, the Museum remains committed to development and provision of information resources via GBIF, and will continue to engage in active discussion with UK and international partners to this end.


  We welcome the Government's proposal for the development of a UK systematics strategy and policy, which should cover both the specific policy interests of different sectors and stakeholders, and the needs of the UK and international science base. The NHM is committed to play an active role in the definition and development of this policy initiative and has been seeking clarification of DEFRA's proposal.

11 April 2003

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003