APPENDIX 1: GOVERNMENT RESPONSE|
The Government welcomes the report of the Select
Committee's Inquiry into Systematic Biology and Taxonomy. It is
grateful for the thoughtful and comprehensive analysis provided
by the Committee and for its recognition of the central importance
of systematic biology to our understanding of the natural world.
The Government fully agrees with the Committee that the Government,
other interested bodies and the wider taxonomic community each
have significant roles to play in maintaining and strengthening
the discipline. This is particularly important given that, as
the Committee rightly notes, major new opportunities and threats
are developing. While the Government does not accept the arguments
for a single Departmental lead for systematic biology, it will
work to develop further coordination among parties for the future.
This response sets out how it intends to do this.
This response has been coordinated by DIUS on behalf
of Defra, DCMS, NHM, DCSF, DfID, NERC, BBSRC and Research Councils
Chapter 2: The role of systematic biology in the
delivery of policies
2.13 Measuring progress towards halting the
decline in biodiversity is a key international obligation which
cannot be achieved without baseline knowledge of biodiversity.
Creating baselines and monitoring change is dependent upon the
availability of taxonomic expertise across the range of living
The Government agrees with the Committee about the
important role of taxonomic expertise in the conservation of biological
diversity, and the range of priority policy areas involving systematic
biology. The creation and development of this baseline
knowledge is critically dependent on our expertise and information
The Government takes its international obligations
to study and try to halt the decline in biodiversity very seriously.
The leading government-funded systematic and taxonomy institutions
in the UK, such as the Natural History Museum (NHM) and RBG Kew,
are committed to developing their resources in these areas and
to supporting national and international work on biodiversity.
The Government is working closely with key international
institutions such as the United Nations Environment Programme,
International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the World
Conservation Monitoring Centre, all of who are undertaking significant
work to raise the level of baseline data on biodiversity including
building the capacity of developing countries to better monitor
their own biodiversity.
2.14 Systematic biology underpins our understanding
of the natural world. A decline in taxonomy and systematics in
the UK would directly and indirectly impact on the Government's
ability to deliver across a wide range of policy goals.
The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusion.
Taxonomic and systematic expertiseutilised through integration
with other research disciplines such as ecology and population
dynamicsplay a significant role in relation to many of
our key research and policy goals; for example, the conservation
of biodiversity, ecosystem functions, combating pests and diseases,
identifying alien invasive species, and monitoring climate change.
Defra has not identified any specific major impediments
to delivering its priorities deriving from the spheres of systematics
and taxonomy, but it recognises the concern to be able to maintain
an appropriate level of taxonomic information and expertise in
Chapter 3: Health of the discipline in the UK: professional
taxonomists, volunteers and recruitment
3.1 We recommend that a study should be commissioned
by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to ascertain
the current number of taxonomists in the UK and also trends in
the number of taxonomists in the UK.
NERC agrees this recommendation and it will commission
a study during 2009 drawing on information held by a range of
bodies. In doing so, it will work closely with other major stakeholders
and research funders including the Natural History Museum. The
study will cover all three major elements of taxonomy identified
in the report, identification, classification and phylogeny. It
will also consider both classical and more modern approaches to
taxonomy, including the molecular ones and those using internet
resources. The study will cover the need for the outputs from
taxonomy and taxonomic research as well as trends in the numbers
of people involved in taxonomy. This will help determine the extent
of any imbalance in supply and demand.
3.21 The Committee believes that the major
taxonomic institutions alone will not be able to meet demand for
taxonomy. It is therefore, in our view, critically important that
there should be more effective and regular dialogue between the
users and the producers of taxonomy on the priorities for developing
UK systematic biology. Such dialogue should be facilitated by
the Research Councils.
NERC agrees this recommendation. It will continue
to facilitate dialogue between those with interests in taxonomic
issues, including through studies of biodiversity and through
the work of the National Biodiversity Network, with which NERC
has been involved with since its early days. The Living With
Environmental Change programme initiatives will provide opportunities
for consideration of relevant topics, as will actions NERC is
funding as part of the implementation of its new strategy (Next
Generation Science for Planet Earth).
The Natural History Museum has agreed to use its
expertise and venue to help convene, host and facilitate the proposed
dialogue. The NHM can add particular value as a result of its
3.24 We welcome the Government's commitment
to promoting voluntary action. The work of the volunteer community
is crucial to the vitality of systematic biology. But the voluntary
effort is patchy, tending against non-charismatic organisms and
in favour of the charismatic. We urge the Government, with the
assistance of the taxonomic institutions, to show more leadership
in this matter and to take steps to promote voluntary action,
giving particular attention to those sectors which cover the less
The Government does not accept this recommendation.
The Government recognises the importance of volunteers to communities,
the economy and a wide spectrum of sectors. The DCMS is currently
preparing its Third Sector Strategy that will include coverage
of volunteering. However, the responsibility to develop a strategy
specifically for the area of systematics and taxonomy lies with
the systematic and taxonomy sector itself.
The major taxonomic institutions have already taken
the initiative in this area and actively promote voluntary action.
The NHM, for example, is supported by hundreds of
volunteers in a number of roles, from scientific associates to
interns to learning volunteers in the galleries. It actively supports
and promotes a wide range of amateur citizen scientist/naturalist
groups in partnership:
- It receives over 50,000 public enquiries
a year about identification and specialist knowledge on the natural
- Its collections are used for study by over
8,000 visiting scientists each year, both academic specialists
and informed amateurs.
- It supports specific naturalist groups,
for example by hosting the annual riverfly fishermen conference.
- It encourages public monitoring and recording
of biodiversity data through its popular online surveys, including
those for bluebells and elm trees.
- It supports its staff in public engagement
activities and encourages interaction with amateur naturalists.
- It is leading the international Darwin bicentenary
celebrations with over 90 partners through the Darwin200 initiative.
The Museum is opening the Angela Marmont Centre for
UK Biodiversity as part of the second phase of the Darwin Centre
in September 2009, which will bring together the Museum's researchers
and UK naturalists and highlight collaborative work with visiting
UK researchers, wildlife groups and societies.
Along with Imperial College London and the Open University,
the NHM is a key partner of the Big Lottery funded Open Air Laboratories
Network (OPAL). The OPAL portfolio partners also include nine
regional universities, Field Studies Council, Meteorological Office,
National Biodiversity Network and Royal Parks.
OPAL wants to inspire communities to connect with
nature and equip them with skills to explore study and protect
the environment. The projects plan to work with people of all
ages by providing training, practical experience, tools and support
to record plants, animals and fungi in their local environments.
The programme will aim to work with an estimated 500,000 people.
In addition, the Government fully supports the range
of activities being developed by various organisations to support
the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary
of the publication of the Origin of Species in 2009. This includes
activities aimed at schools such as those funded by the Wellcome
Trust (and conceived and co-ordinated by RBG Kew) which includes:
Primary schoolsThe Great Plant Hunt which
invites school children aged 5-11 to explore the natural world
around them in a series of activities, all clearly linked to the
primary science curriculum. Every state primary school in the
UK will be sent a Darwin Treasure Chest jam-packed with outstanding
free resources. The fun activitieswhich take place in the
classroom, online and in the great outdoorsinclude exploring
habitats, collecting seeds and growing plants.
Secondary schoolsa set of projects for 11-14
years olds, 14-16 years olds and 16-19 years olds all aimed at
improving their understanding of the evolutionary process.
3.25 In view of the Committee's concern that
demand for taxonomic skills will exceed supply, stimulating the
recruitment of new researchers and new volunteers is vitally important.
The Government agrees that there is a need to encourage
more young people into science education and towards scientific
careers in general. Government, its agencies and NDPBs are working
to address this skills gap through a range of programmes.
For example, the NHM in particular, is actively addressing
these issues by:
- encouraging young people to study science
and view the field as an attractive career path through its learning
programmes, especially through its DCMS/DCSF Strategic Commissioning
funded Real World Science project for secondary science students,
- having an active volunteer programme,
- providing CPD for teachers,
- offering MSc courses in association with
a number of leading universities, including Imperial College London,
- offering PhD supervision.
NERC is training a number of young researchers in
taxonomic skills through studentships and research programmes.
In the five years 2002 to 2006, 83 of the PhD studentships awarded
by NERC included elements of systematics and taxonomy.
A further example is Kew. There is a long history
of collaboration between cactus taxonomy professionals at RBG
Kew and other institutions and a wide range of expert amateur
enthusiasts. The International Cactaceae Systematics Group has
produced 2 major published products: (i) the CITES Cactaceae Checklist
(2 editions), which supports the implementation of the Convention
on International Trade in Endangered Species; and (ii) the New
Cactus Lexicon (2006), a not-for-profit 2 volume publication illustrating
more than 95 per cent of the entire family (compiled and edited
by staff at Kew and expert UK amateurs). The Lexicon, which has
now become the standard reference work on this high profile plant
family, was supported by significant input from both professionals
and amateur volunteersincluding in developing the most
complete set of cactus images ever assembled (2,505 images largely
donated by over amateur botanists and enthusiasts).
3.28 In order to promote awareness of environmental
sustainability as an over-arching issue, we consider that, as
a matter of high priority, a greater component of biodiversity-related
topics, including taxonomy, should be included school curricula.
Field study trips and other practical exercises, which have served
to introduce generations of children to the diversity of living
organisms, should be encouraged as a means of engaging and stimulating
young people (as future volunteers) to become involved in biological
The Government recognises the importance of field
trips and learning opportunities outside the classroom in science
The revised secondary science curriculum covers the
diversity of organisms ("all living things show variation,
can be classified and are independent, interacting with each other
and their environment").
Field work is being encouraged in a number of ways:
- The new key stage 3 programme of study,
being taught in schools from September 2008, says that pupils
should experience science outside the school environment where
- The Learning Outside the Classroom manifesto,
launched in November 2006 aims to provide all young people with
quality learning experiences outside the classroom covering the
- The network of science learning centres
provides several courses for teachers supporting biology fieldwork/science
learning outside the classroom.
- Government sponsored bodies such as the
NHM aim to provide high-quality out of classroom learning opportunities
that support the new context-based secondary science curriculum,
as well as providing informal learning opportunities through programmes
3.29 We welcome the Government's acknowledgement
of the importance of the Renaissance in the Regions programme
in providing additional resources for regional museums. At the
same time, we urge the Government, through the appropriate funding
agencies, to ensure continuity of funding to sustain curation,
taxonomic work and outreach in the regional museums.
DCMS welcomes the Committee's recognition of the
sustained investment going into regional museums through the Renaissance
programme, as well as from local government and Higher Education
3.32 We recommend that steps should be taken,
for example by the establishment of a periodic event, to foster
personal networking between professional and voluntary taxonomists,
the National Biodiversity Network (NBN), and other stakeholders.
The Government agrees this recommendation. Defra
will ensure that the appropriate networking events are established.
The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) is a broad partnership
of organisations working together to generate and share biodiversity
records. The Natural History Museum is a member of the partnership
and has various initiatives (principally through its Darwin Centre
project) specifically aimed at improving links between the professional
and amateur scientific community.
The National Schemes and Societies are also members
of the NBN in its widest sense. They foster links between professional
or expert amateur taxonomists and other amateur taxonomists (for
example to validate records in difficult taxonomic groups).
Defra will work with the National Biodiversity Trust
to identify opportunities for further networking, building on
the work of the existing initiatives.
Chapter 4: Tools and technology for the twenty-first
4.3 We have no doubt that the Internet will
play a crucial role in the evolution of taxonomy and it is clear
that further pilot studies in web-based taxonomy involving a wider
range of types of organisms should be undertaken urgently by the
The Government agrees this recommendation.
NERC is already making extensive use of internet
resources in its biodiversity and genomics work. The tools and
approaches are already helping those with an interest in the taxonomy
and systematics of a wide range of organisms. Examples of existing
work are provided in the Annex attached.
The NHM agrees with this statement and is currently
reviewing its plans and investment in this area.
The Museum receives almost 15 million visits to its
website every year, providing access to a far wider audience than
it can physically reach. The NHM believes that providing information
about its collections on its website is an important offer, which
allows members of the public and scientists anywhere in the world
to access the appropriate information they require.
The NHM is increasingly working more in the virtual
world using web-based taxonomy tools, such as scratchpads and
virtual laboratories for conducting science research on a European
and wider scale, and providing access to collection information
via databases online, such as the Biodiversity Heritage Library
and the Encyclopaedia of Life. However, this is an area that will
have high costs attached and needs to be put into an international
4.4 We believe that a roadmap for the delivery
of Internet-based taxonomy should be developed. Furthermore, we
encourage the taxonomic community to come together to take the
lead in its development since, in our view, it will only be effective
if it emerges from the community. The process of developing this
roadmap should be funded jointly by the Biotechnology and Biological
Sciences Research Council and NERC as a high strategic priority.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research
Council and NERC agree this recommendation. They will work with
NHM and DEFRA to facilitate the necessary interactions between
representatives from the systematics and taxonomy community, and
the information technology community. This will enable them to
establish the technological requirements for internet-based taxonomy,
taking particular note of developments in the international community
and work already done by the Research Councils. They expect that
development of a roadmap will be possible in the coming 12-18
months. See also 7.11 above.
4.6 The Committee finds the rate of progress
by the UK taxonomic institutions in digitising and making collections
information available to be disappointingly low. Unless a more
strategic view is taken of how they can contribute to the development
of the field of biodiversity informatics, there is a significant
risk of damage to the international reputation of major institutions
such as the Natural History Museum.
The Government recognises the Committee's concerns
on this issue and Defra and DCMS have discussed it with the Institutions
they sponsor. The NHM agrees with the Committee's comment. However,
the Museum feels that a focussed approach to digitising collections
is essential; it is currently mapping out its virtual masterplan
for this area. The NHM is clear in making information a strategic
priority and has a specific scientific information strategy. In
the past five years it has successfully invested in a unified
collections information system that represents a growing resource
of digital data and images: this represents the highest international
standard for databases for collections of this size and complements
similar systems developing in the US. The NHM has also implemented
a programme of policy development and organisational change to
ensure best use of new information systems. This will integrate
currently available collections databases online with hitherto
unavailable resources in coming months.
The NHM has a strategic commitment to innovation
and leadership in information: to this end it is currently evaluating
the potential of a biodiversity informatics centre to provide
an innovation and research lead. NHM is organising a major international
conference on biodiversity informatics in the summer of 2009.
The NHM has made a major commitment, with Kew, to
European collaboration on collections and taxonomic information
with funding from the EU for projects over the past ten yearsthese
initiatives have served to provide harmonised approaches to collections
information and to virtual resources for taxonomic researchsuch
as those currently being developed as part of the European Distributed
Institute of Taxonomy (EDIT). The NHM is leading in Europe on
the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which is making all older biodiversity
literature available through a single portal. The NHM has made
a strategic commitment to both NBN and GBIF over a number of years,
providing collections-related information to meet UK commitments
under the CBD.
Accelerating digital access to collections is a key
corporate objective for RBG Kew. Significant progress has been
made and, although more work is needed to match the leading institutes
in the provision of specimen data records, RBG Kew is now among
the world leaders in the provision of high quality specimen images
with accompanying specimen data. The bulk of RBG Kew's digitisation
work has been resourced through targeted fundraising from external
bodies and by capitalising on volunteer support. However, further
progress with collections digitisation will depend on securing
additional access to funding and support
4.8 This Committee recommends that those UK
taxonomic institutions with major biological collections should
develop strategic plans for making biodiversity informatics more
readily accessible to users through the Internet, and that the
Department for International Development should fund selected
digitisation projects that focus on the biodiversity conservation
and sustainability needs of developing countries.
The NHM accepts this recommendation. It is currently
working on its strategic plans for this developing area. The Museum
is organising a major international conference on biodiversity
informatics in 2009.
A significant element of current strategic planning
at RBG Kew is focused on growing its digital collections, making
them more accessible to a range of different audiences through
the Internet, and making sure they are sustainable in the long-term.
This presents a significant challenge as these digital collections
and biodiversity informatics resources scarcely existed 10 years
ago and there are issues to do with funding in relation to these
new demands which will affect the pace of implementation. Much
of Kew's progress to date in this area has been with the support
of US Foundations but further sources will need to be identified
for the future.
The Department for International Development (DfID)
does not accept the Committee's recommendation that it should
fund selected digitisation projects.
Funding a standalone digitisation project would not
be a funding priority for DFID, because it believes that this
type of work should be part of a broader package of measures,
including increasing the information base (where there are currently
gaps), capacity building and support in accessing research and
information as provided by, and supported through, the specialist
agencies cited above, amongst others.
DFID is working with developing countries, through
specialist agencies, and support to research, to support the implementation
of Millennium Development Goal 7Ensuring Environmental
DFID works with and supports key international environmental
institutions including the Global Environment Facility (UK is
the 4th largest donor), the United Nations Environment Programme
(UK is the largest donor), (which in turn supports the World Conservation
and Monitoring CentreWCMCin the provision of data
and information on environmental conservation) and the International
Union for the Conservation of Nature. All of these play a strong
role in providing information, including, where appropriate, the
digitisation of data and information to developing countries.
It is also co-funding a major research programme with the National
Environment Research Council (NERC)Environmental Services
for Poverty Alleviation.
4.9 The Committee recognises that certain
kinds of big research questions relating to large-scale biodiversity
patterns in space and time can only be addressed using large-scale
data. UK researchers addressing such questions should be able
to apply for Research Council funding to create large scale aggregated
UK researchers in universities can already apply
for funds for this kind of work and are funded by NERC to do such
work. UK researchers on these topics are also significant contributors
to the work of relevant EU FP6 Integrated Programmes.
4.12 The Committee is concerned about lack
of co-ordination of barcoding effort nationally and about the
potential for duplication of effort. The efficiency of barcoding
as a diagnostic technique increases in proportion to the number
of different species barcodes available for comparison. In the
case of plant pathogenic fungi, we recommend that UK Biodiversity
Research Advisory Group (UK BRAG) addresses the task of how best
to co-ordinate barcoding effort across the UK.
The UK Biodiversity Advisory Group (UK BRAG) will
provide advice on how to co-ordinate the UK's barcoding effort
on plant pathogenic fungi. This will depend on the active engagement
of research and funding bodies. It should be emphasised that UKBRAG
is not an executive body and has no budget. Consequently, the
implementation of any advice is dependent on UKBRAG's member bodies.
4.14 The Committee recommends that NERC supports
research into developing an effective, functioning interface between
rapid taxonomic techniques such as metagenomics and traditional
NERC agrees this recommendation. It already supports
work of this kind through its support for its centres' long term
environmental monitoring and survey. For example, the Scottish
Association for Marine Science (SAMS) Culture Collection of Algae
and Protozoa (CCAP) is conducting research in both these areas.
The value of a polyphasic approach, marrying traditional taxonomic
methods and modern molecular biology, has helped CCAP in a number
of case studies.
4.22 In view of the continuing success of
the NBN in accessing and serving data, and its importance in engaging
with and empowering the large voluntary sector involved in biological
recording nationally, the Committee urges Defra to assist the
NBN in moving towards a less fragile funding model.
Defra accepts this recommendation. Defra has a contract
with the NBN Trust to develop the National Biodiversity Network
(NBN) and increase data availability. The contract is worth £574,000
and runs from 2008 to 2011. Future funding will be reviewed towards
the end of that period. The NBN Trust is a valued organisation
which provides good value for money. The NBN is a large partnership
and Defra is only one contributor. The breadth of the partnership
is an important factor in empowering the NBN.
Local Record Centres (LRCs) are part of the wider
National Biodiversity Network. Defra spent £181,000 in 2007-08
on a pilot Fund for Local Biodiversity Recording aimed at putting
LRCs on a firmer financial footing by reviewing business practices
and funding models in two pilot regions and implementing initial
actions to improve efficiency and data availability. Defra is
currently considering whether to roll out the Fund for Local Biodiversity
Recording across England.
Chapter 5: Funding
5.6 The approach of NERC to funding taxonomy
appears confused. We are very concerned that the mixed signals
perceived within the taxonomic community are detrimental to the
transparency which should characterise scientific discourse. We
invite NERC to make a clear statement setting out its approach
to the funding of taxonomy.
NERC does not consider that its approach to the funding
of taxonomy is confused. Its approach is summarised in the following
NERC recognises that taxonomy and systematics make
an important contribution to environmental science, along with
many other scientific approaches and disciplines.
Long term capability
NERC's National Capability
activities in long term and large-scale work make use of a range
of taxonomic skills and provide outputs relevant to science and
policy through such activities as the Biological Records Centre
and the Countryside Survey. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
hosts a number of staff with taxonomic skills and are major contributors
to (and, in some cases, run) internet-based information resources
such as those run by the NERC Environmental Bioinformatics Data
Centre and the National Biodiversity Network. Likewise, the British
Antarctic Survey conducts work on the taxonomy and systematics
of polar species and helps co-ordinate work on several taxa including
fungi. Phylogenetic studies on protists (eukaryotes) are currently
being carried out by Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa
(CCAP) managed by the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS).
The phylogeny of marine bacteria is also being looked at by the
Microbial and Molecular Biology (MMB) department at SAMS, in the
context of related work on algal/bacterial interactions and novel
compounds. NERC provides around £400k per year to the Sir
Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) continuous
plankton record which is also supported by Defra. It is a world
class observing system that is highly important in terms of science
to policy. The work of SAHFOS is heavily dependent on the work
NERC trains younger researchers in a wide range of
skills by funding studentships and fellowships. A number of current
grants and studentships support a varying proportion of taxonomic
NERC has a responsibility to ensure its investments
have a significant economic and societal value. It delivers this
in part by supporting a number of Knowledge Exchange schemes.
The taxonomy communities are eligible to apply to these as researchers
or combinations of researchers and users; and they might make
more use of these schemes than they appear to at present.
NERC provides funding for research involving taxonomy
through all its funding modes, provided that the research in question
meets the assessment criteria and funds are available.
Research proposals including classical taxonomic
approaches may have the best chance of success if they take account
of (a) the hypothesis testing science that typifies responsive
mode grants, (b) the environmental monitoring and survey done
within the national capability mode (which primarily takes place
at NERC's wholly owned research centres) and, (c) polyphasic approaches,
involving both classical and, say, molecular taxonomy.
5.8 We recommend the establishment of a new
process for commissioning the production of identification keys
and field guides, involving joint actions between users setting
priorities, funders supporting fixed-term appointments, host institutions
providing access to collections and literature resources, and
established series publishers producing the volumes. We also recommend
that UK BRAG should explore the options for commissioning the
production of new and updated identification guides for the UK
fauna and flora.
The Government understands that UK BRAG is prepared
to consider options for the production of new and updated guides
for the UK fauna and flora. This will depend on the active engagement
of research and funding bodies.
5.10 Whilst we understand that there are always
many pressures on Government funds, we are concerned about the
future of the CAB International (CABI) fungal reference collection
given its significance to the stability of fungal systematics.
Its loss would deepen the crisis in fungal taxonomy. We urge the
Government to acknowledge this significance and to take steps
to secure the CABI fungal reference collection into the future.
Defra agrees with the Committee's views about the
CABI fungal reference collection and recognises its global scientific
significance. However, the issue of substantial extra public funding
is not straightforward, and Defra is grateful that the Committee
recognises the range of funding pressures that exists.
Defra will provide a contribution of £250,000
in 2008-09 to support the costs involved in maintaining the CABI
collection. Defra will also work with Kew and other interested
government agencies to understand the specific funding requirements
in greater detail and explore the options for securing additional
Chapter 6: Government awareness
6.8 The Committee received evidence of widespread
concern from the user community about the health of systematic
biology in the UK and concludes that the system for communicating
this concern is not working. We find the lack of awareness, at
Research Councils UK-level, of the state of UK systematic biology
to be very worrying.
RCUK does not accept that the communication system
is not working or that there is a lack of awareness. For example,
NERC recognised concern about taxonomy when consulting on and
implementing its new strategy. The NERC community identified a
need to examine further linkages between modern and classical
approaches to taxonomy. The Environment Research Funders Forum
(ERFF) skills review will be a source of relevant information
on the state of such work.
6.13 It is clear from the range of evidence
we received that the perception that the Research Assessment Exercise
(RAE) criteria do not favour systematics is still widespread in
the UK biodiversity research community and that the RAE is still
having a negative impact on the choices of career-minded scientists
6.14 The Committee recommends that in developing
the replacement mechanism for the RAEthe Research Excellence
Frameworkthe Higher Education Funding Council for England
should take into consideration the way that citation-based metrics
disadvantage systematic biology and also the bias that would be
introduced if grants-based metrics were employed, given that pure
taxonomy is not deemed fundable by the Research Councils. It is
essential that criteria appropriate to systematic biology research
should be incorporated into the new mechanism.
HEFCE notes this recommendation. The HEFCE grant
for research is allocated to enable universities collectively
to maintain a research base of world leading quality across the
full range of disciplines, creating a sustainable and flexible
national capacity which enables the sector to respond strategically
to a changing external environment and on which research and other
activity funded from other sources can build. This funding is
allocated as a block grant which the receiving institutions may
spend in ways that they consider will best meet these aims, and
is not generally closely targeted at specified activities or fields
of enquiry. Within this context, in developing the Research Excellence
Framework the Council will pay particular attention to ensuring
that excellence in all forms of research in all disciplines is
appropriately recognised and rewarded. We shall consult widely
on our proposals during 2009 and would welcome suggestions from
subject communities for ways of ensuring that we capture the full
diversity of research activity in their fields.
The NERC will fund research in taxonomy, such as
that typified by polyphasic approaches, provided it competes successfully
with other areas of environmental science.
6.16 Given the baseline studies of the health
of systematic biology already available in our reports published
in 1992 and 2002, we recommend that the Environment Research Funders'
Forum should seek to identify trends in the state of the discipline
when making their review. We also recommend that the Forum should
programme a follow-up assessment to take place within five years
of their first review.
ERFF is undertaking a skills needs review at present
which will take place in three phases. It is currently in phase
one; any skills needs in taxonomy and systematics will be highlighted
during phase two which will include a major consultation on main
skills needs in academia and the wider ES community.
The phase two report is scheduled for publication
by December 2009.
6.20 We recommend that there should be a lead
Government department responsible for systematic biology and that
further, because the central issue is the state of health of the
discipline, we recommend that Department for Innovation, Universities
and Skills should take on that role.
The Government does not accept this recommendation.
It is not uncommon for different aspects of a scientific field
to be spread across more than one Department as in the case of
systematics and taxonomy which is the responsibility of Defra,
DIUS and DCMS. Indeed, a discipline may benefit from its interaction
with a number of departments, all of which have an interest in
its activities. The Government considers rather that it is through
effective coordination among Departments that the discipline is
best supported. There are dozens of individual academic areas,
and it would be a major change in existing practice for the Government
to identify a lead Department in relation to each one.
Examples of NERC involvement in web based taxonomy
NERC is already making extensive use of internet
resources in the taxonomy and systematics of a wide range of organisms.
Examples of existing work are listed in the following paragraphs,
most of which were covered in the RCUK memorandum.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has a searchable
online database with over 2000 species represented, comprising
predominantly mosses, liverworts and lichens with smaller collections
of vascular plants, macro-algae and macro-fungi.
Data held by the Antarctic Environmental Data Centre at the BASsome
of which are relevant to taxonomy and systematicscan be
The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) has developed
the Environmental Information Data Centre (EIDC) which coordinates
and consolidates environmental data management and information
systems across CEH.
The primary objective of the EIDC is to provide researchers (both
internal and external to CEH) with access to the coordinated data
resources and informatics tools required to deal with complex,
multidisciplinary environmental questions which can involve taxonomy
and systematics. Access to data sets is often via the internet.
Major data sets and facilities hosted co-ordinated
by EIDC include: The
Biological Records Centre (BRC)
which amongst other activities produces and hosts web pages for
recording schemes which lack the time or resources to produce
their own; the Environmental
Change Network (ECN)
through which information on specific species distributions can
be accessed; the
Countryside Survey which will make data from the 2007 survey available
from it's website;
the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) which has a list of
species recorded regularly in Britain and Ireland on it's website
and digital data sets
available on request; the NERC Environmental Bioinformatics Centre
(NEBC), that works
to develop and implement solutions for NERC Environmental Genomics
and Post-Genomics and Proteomics researchers including a variety
of open-source projects; and CEH data dictionaries including coded
lists of freshwater algae
and freshwater animals of the British Isles
are available online.
The Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS)
manages NERC's Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa (CCAP)
which has an internet site allowing users to search for
strains, and provides advice on how to deposit new strains. CCAP
is involved in a pioneering collaboration with the European Bioinformatics
Institute (EBI) to provide 2-way direct hyperlinks between EBI-held
sequence data with CCAP database strain records.
3 National Capability is one of three major research
funding streams in NERC-the others are Responsive Mode and Research