Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Institute of Biology

  1.  The Institute of Biology is the independent and charitable body charged by Royal Charter to further the interests of UK biology and biologists. With some 15,000 individual members and 75 affiliated specialist biological societies, it is well placed to respond to bio-science consultations. We are grateful to have received informal comments from two Affiliated Societies, the Marine Biological Association and the Scottish Association for Marine Science that, together with other evidence received, helped shape this response.


  2.  This response's principal points include:

    (i)  all energy exploitation has its differing costs and benefits. Wave and tidal power have large up-front costs so necessitating a long-term view (that might be facilitated by all-party co-operation) to reap the maximum benefit

    (ii)  UK investment in renewables is extremely limited

    (iii)  the UK does not have a meaningful energy, or renewable energy, strategy and little Governmental R&D investment

    (iv)  shore-based wave power currently has minimal impact but extensive exploitation would have a major impact on an important UK habitat

    (v)  open sea-based wave power has minimal impact on marine life

    (vi)  tidal barrages could, if deployed insensitively, have a major impact on some international bird populations, affect salt marshes, land drainage and estuarine pollutant removal

    (vii)  there may the possibility that as estuaries will change due to sea level rise that barrages might pay for ameliorative conservation, but research is required.


  The Institute has already compiled a body of evidence on energy and the environment.

  3.  The Institute, and on occasions jointly with a number of its Affiliated Societies, has previously responded to the Select Committee, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions (see stressing the need for the UK to obtain far more of its energy from non-carbon, or fossil fuel, sources. Indeed, it considers this issue to be one of those of such importance that it actively shares its concerns with its cousin Royal Chartered bodies, the Institute of Physics and Royal Society of Chemistry. Wave and tidal power are two non-carbon energy sources and as such their potential for the UK needs to be assessed and investment made in an R&D programme.

  This response's main focuses are on the biological dimensions.

  4.  This enquiry is broad. This response concentrates primarily on those questions that have some bioscience dimension.

  All energy exploitation has environmental impacts so necessitating comparisons.

  5.  It must be understood that the exploitation of all types of energy sources incurs environmental impact. Should the UK seek to devise an energy strategy, these various energy sources and their respective impacts (as well as other costs and benefits) will need to be comparatively assessed.

  Costs and benefits also vary with time: wave and tidal have large up-front costs.

  6.  As the exploitation of different energy sources incurs different impacts, they also incur different costs and cost profiles with time. Though wave and tidal power schemes may be cost effective in a commercial sense over their respective lifetimes, strikingly much of the costs are up-front and concerned with construction. This initial high cost is probably one of the critical factors as to why these schemes have not yet been pursued to any great degree. However, their potential to contribute significantly to the UK energy supply mix is considerable.

  The long-term view is required and would be encouraged by all-party support.

  7.  There is therefore the need to take the long-term view to reap the greatest benefits. We suggest that one potential option would be for all the major political parties to sign up to a long-term energy-climate strategy. This would help shield such long-term goals from day-to-day political brinkmanship.


  Renewables strategy: what role should wave and tidal energy have? Should they have a higher priority in the UK energy strategy?

  The UK does not have a meaningful energy, or renewable energy, strategy.

  8.  The UK does not have a meaningful energy strategy let alone a meaningful renewable energy strategy. It no longer even has a Department of Energy.

  Research and Development. How much funding is available and is national funding being well co-ordinated?

  UK investment in renewables is extremely limited.

  9.  As was pointed out at a Royal Society of Chemistry workshop (15 May 2000) as a precursor to that year's Parliamentary Links day, support for research into renewables is extremely limited. We understand that the Royal Society of Chemistry has separately expressed these concerns in other policy discussions.

  Departmental R&D is required—the Institute, its Affiliated Societies and the Select Committee, have previously identified the need for further Departmental R&D.

  10.  One principal mainstay of such R&D investment should have come from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as that Department took over the responsibilities of the former Department of Energy. Departments are responsible for policy-driven research, and the various Governments in the 1990s have all stated a clear overall policy goal of lowering UK dependence on fossil fuels. As this Institute together with 16 of its Affiliated Societies have previously reported to the Select Committee in its 1999-2000 enquiry into Government Expenditure on R&D, Departmental investment in research has in real terms declined markedly since the mid-1980s and throughout the 1990s. DTI research has been involved in this decline. We note, from the Select Committee's welcome conclusions to that investigation, that it was aware of this. The Select Committee might now consider that the lack of investment in renewable research is symptomatic of the problems it previously identified.

  Environmental aspects. What are the environmental impacts of wave and tidal energy?

  Current shore-based wave environmental impact is minimal, but extensive exploitation would threaten a UK habitat of ecological significance.

  11.  Currently little space is devoted to small-scale wave power in the UK. Consequently, the current environmental impact is not significant. However, such units are located on rocky shores and globally, this biome is comparatively rare. On a map of the World, the area of rocky shore would be represented by a few lines and would be hardly noticeable. Some areas of the UK coast are predominantly rocky and in some instances small scale, shore-based installations may be unacceptable. In addition there would be the environmental impact from the scheme's associated infrastructure. Therefore, any extensive deployment of shore-based wave power may have a major environmental impact and be of great, if local, ecological concern. Meanwhile, current schemes do not extensively impinge of the total area of UK rocky shore habitat and they can significantly contribute to small island communities' electricity supply.

  Open sea based wave power has little environmental impact.

  12.  Conversely, open sea based wave power has little environmental impact other than during its construction phase. The UK has considerable experience of such impacts due to current oil and gas exploration and activities in the North Sea. However, significant reduction of wave energy inshore of open sea wave power generation may change the biota of present ecological communities to those more characteristic of sheltered areas.

  Barrages impact on estuaries that are of import to some bird species

  13.  Tidal barrages' impact is almost entirely confined to estuarine environments. Britain's estuaries currently provide a sufficient population of invertebrates to support an average annual peak (due to migration) of about 1.5 million wading birds. They are an integral part of many of these wading species' lives without which many populations would be severely reduced, including some international populations. Barrages reduce tidal range and so would reduce exposed mudflats that are important feeding grounds. Estimates for mudflats loss for the proposed barrages for the Severn and Mersey are 65 per cent and 45 per cent respectively. Also the reduced flow may well affect the nature of the mud flats.

Average numbers (rounded) of principal species of estuarine waterfowl in Britain (1984-89)

% of the international population
Brent Goose
Ringed Plover
Grey Plover
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit

  British estuaries on which an annual average of either 40,000+ waders or 25,000+ wildfowl were recorded during the period 1984-89.

  Estuaries where barrages have been proposed up to 1990 are marked by *.

  Those estuaries to be designated Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the 1992 European Habitat Directive are marked by +.

Average total (rounded) waders
Greater Thames
Morecambe Bay*+
Dee (Welsh)*
Langstone Harbour*
Inner Moray Firth
North Norfolk Marshes
Montrose Basin

  However it should be noted that some Scottish estuaries emerge as of great conservation value due to the number of species of importance present as opposed to the size of the wader and wildfowl populations. For instance, the inner Solway Firth has 15 internationally and 26 nationally significant species, the Moray Firth has 15 and 23, and the Firth of Forth has 11 and 19. Furthermore, wader and wildfowl populations are just one possible criterion for assessing an estuaries ecological value.

  Barrages affect salt marshes.

  14.  Salt marshes are also of major ecological importance. The UK has about 440 km2 of these and a good proportion are estuarine based. While many salt marsh plants are widespread, some are localised. Several invertebrates, particularly types of moth and spider, are intimately associated with salt marshes and have a very restricted distribution. Generally barrages would mean that some estuarine salt marshes would be inundated less frequently, indeed the upper marsh zone may become permanently exposed. The ecosystem would become more terrestrial.

  Barrages impede pollutant removal, land drainage, fish migration and sediment transportation.

  15.  There would be other factors. For instance estuaries tend to receive large pollutant loads from industry and in terms of nutrient matter from agricultural runoff and sewerage. Barrages would impede pollutant removal. Furthermore the longer duration of the high water and the removal of the lower half of the tidal cycle has considerable implications for land drainage. Turbines in barrages would have an effect on migratory fish. Sediment transport would be affected and it is possible that sediment movement out to sea would be impeded. Then there are the environmental impacts associated with barrages' supporting infrastructure. However, there is still considerable uncertainty as to barrages' exact environmental impacts on wildlife.

  Barrageless tidal turbines have less impact.

  16.  Tidal turbines that do not require barrages will have less environmental impact. Such turbines might operate successfully in straits and sounds.

  It may be possible to take compensatory or ameliorative measures.

  17.  It may be possible to take compensatory or ameliorative measures. Some habitat creation may be possible and zones of nature reserves might be created. Our knowledge of post barrage sedimentation remains poor and so uncertainties as to the exact impact on wildlife are, currently, great.


  The potential for tidal and wave power needs to be assessed. Estuaries will change anyway due to sea-level rise, barrages might(?) pay for some ameliorative conservation.

  18.  The potential for tidal and wave power to lower the UK's dependence on fossil fuel (hence dependence on imports), as well as to help lower greenhouse emissions, should not be ignored. Of tidal and wave options, should extensive exploitation be considered, open sea wave power incurs the least environmental impact on aquatic life. Barrages do incur an environmental impact and, if deployed insensitively, could seriously impact on some international bird populations as well as the biology of estuaries (possible adversely affecting features important to marine natural heritage). However it is worth considering that the existing sea level rise anticipated due to global warming is likely to change the nature of some estuaries. One might therefore contemplate that the imaginative use of barrages might pay for some ameliorative conservation measures, though a not inconsiderable research effort would be required to ascertain whether there was sufficient merit to this.

  This response has not benefited from the minimum Cabinet Office-recommended time for consultations.

  19.  The following should be noted. The short deadline, a third of the Cabinet Office recommended minimum, has meant that the Institute was not able to consult as extensively as it normally would. Formal co-authoring with some of its valued Affiliated Societies was not possible.

  20.  In line with Government policy on openness the Institute would be pleased for this evidence to be publicly available, and will shortly be placing a version on

9 February 2001

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