Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Systematics Association

Paragraph numbers refer to the Government's response


  UK institutions and societies have made, and continue to make, substantial contributions to national and international knowledge and interpretation of biodiversity. Furthermore, the UK is in a unique leading role due to its massive collections, databases and systematic expertise. Since the mid 20th century, which was more about the acquisition of information, the role of organisations such as the museum and organisations like ours specialises on information and technological expertise, especially in maintaining and boosting new interests in a wide range of taxonomic groups.

  Conservation depends on authorative knowledge used to ensure that best practice is put into place. This demands comprehensive involvement of systematists and a commitment to train new ones. Although the UK institutions have to work with organisations at international, national and local levels the UK is considered one of the most important countries in systematics and conservation. Conservation is not based on perfect knowledge but the best that is available—the UK is in a position to provide the best information and theoretical underpinnings to conservation science.


  The Government statement on resources appears to us as totally misleading, largely because nowhere does it refer to the rapid decline in baseline funding in real terms in all grant-in-aid projects. Despite the belief that there is sufficient funding to restore us to 1992 levels this is simply not true. The idea that digitising information will solve the problems is naive as data processing is just a very small part of an enterprise within systematic research, and indeed without the correct funding will draw funds away from fundamental research on the organisms themselves.

  In addition to the problems of systematics research the Systematics Association is responding to a number of other demands for support for biodiversity action under the CBD, through improved resources for students, new works on particular groups of organisms in both paper and electronic formats and the bringing together of interested parties on an international scale.


      (i)  In response to this recommendation, the Systematics Association has already entered into negotiations with regard to the funding of research grants and bursaries. We already work with other major systematics institutions, learned societies and others to hold joint conferences and produce joint publications.

    (ii)  We address the issues of the day at all of the council meetings.

    (iii)  Develop education and information activities to enable wider use and appreciation of systematic science. We are particularly concerned with the way that systematic biology is taught in schools and universities and we try to develop a general policy on these matters.

    (iv)  We have a very good record on advisory matters on systematics both within the context of our science and with regard to Governmental demands. We hold regular meetings on systematics with wider debates on the development of biological science.

  It seems to our members of council that the Government has distanced itself on the importance of systematics at a time when it is essential that improved dialogue takes place between systematists, Government and NGOs.


  Although we accept that the Government supports GBIF, there are no indications of Government responsibility, financial input and key agencies with whom to work. We do not understand the importance of the reference to Godfray's contribution as there are many organisations around the world, ourselves included, heavily committed to research, storage of information and dissemination of information using electronic means.

  The main role of the Systematics Association is to provide the primary data and syntheses of taxonomic works. It is all very well encouraging massive data-base projects under the general rubric of "A catalogue of Life" but the impediment to progress is basic research and all of the accompanying activities that entails.


  Systematics, as with any data-rich system generally is capable of initiating pilot projects. The key to successful projects in our opinion however is in the maintenance and longer-term management of good taxonomic enterprises. Consequently there has to be a modicum of growth in budgeting for such activities if funding is not going to draw from existing central activities.

  The Government's statement on GBIF digitisation is not at all clear. GBIF has made a call for outline proposals for digitisation of collections—which are currently being prepared by individuals of our membership. A call for proposals for larger projects has yet to be made and the relevance of Godfray's ideas is hard to see. The two proposals in no way relate to one another.


  We welcome the Government's proposal for the development of a UK systematics strategy and policy. We see our Association as one of the main sectoral interests in the UK and Europe with special reference to securing systematic research on all groups of organisms worthy of investigation. The Systematics Association is a focal point for systematists of all persuasions and we hope that the new proposed strategy and policy would seek information form our officers and councillors.

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