Appendix 2 The Government's Response |
1. The Government welcomes the Committee's report
which highlights the important role of systematics in the conservation
of biological diversity. The number of species in the world yet
to be identified and classified represents a significant and important
challenge to the systematics community.
2. This year, at the World Summit on Sustainable
Development in Johannesburg, more than 180 Governments committed
themselves to significantly reducing the rate of loss of biodiversity
by 2010. Improving our knowledge and understanding of the forms
of life which need to be conserved will be an important element
in fulfilling this target. But the challenge cannot be tackled
by one country alone, although the UK has an honourable tradition
of contributing a significant part of the global systematics effort.
The Government stresses too that conservation effort should not
be dependant on a perfect knowledge and understanding of species
yet to be identified, which may be unattainable. We can and should
support conservation effort alongside the development of the science
The Committee's Recommendations
1.1 In view of the Government's commitments to
biodiversity conservation we recommend that they increase grant-in-aid
to the major systematics institutions. We envisage this as providing
support to collections - the databases used by systematic biologists
and conservationists. In accordance with the recommendation of
the Dainton Report, grant-in-aid funding should be increased to
the level it would have been had the 1992 figures been maintained
in line with inflation. This would allow further digitising of
3. The Government values the work of the three major
systematics institutions, not only for their expertise in relation
to UK and international systematics but also for their contribution
to the country's educational and cultural goals.
4. It will not possible for the Government to increase
grant-in-aid funding to the level it would have been taking account
of inflation since 1992. However, the Government is making substantial
new resources available to each of the three institutions as follows:
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew:
Defra has awarded an additional £3 million towards Kew's
operating costs in 2003/04, increasing its operating grant-in-aid
baseline to £17.299 million. It has also been granted a capital
allocation of £3.4 million in 2003/04; and further capital
bids will be entertained should additional money become available
during the year.
- Natural History Museum:
An increase of 4% in 2004/05 and 5% in 2005/06 on the 2003/04
resource grant-in-aid has been provided, to a total of £37.98
million in 2005/06. In addition, £2.1 million has been allocated
for capital expenditure in each of the years 2004/05 and 2005/06.
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh:
As noted by the Committee, the Scottish Executive has already
increased its recurring grant-in-aid to the institution by some
£300,000 per year and, following Spending Review 2002, it
now plans to increase funding by almost £600,000 over the
next three years to a level of just under £6 million by 2005/06.
5. These additional resources are intended to help
the institutions to meet the totality of their functions, of which
their work on systematics is of course an important part. It is
for the institutions themselves to decide how to allocate the
resources in accordance with the objectives set out in their Corporate
Plans or Funding Agreements which are approved by Sponsor Departments.
6. Currently, the institutions invest in digitisation
largely through use of their grant-in-aid or through project funding.
As the Committee have noted, Kew made a successful application
to the Capital Modernisation Fund for its electronic Plant Information
1.2 We recommend that the Government consider
providing support to systematics collections as part of a bigger
project to support biological resource centres, as recently highlighted
by the OECD.
7. The Government supports the broad objective of
the OECD initiative on Biological Resource Centres, which is to
seek to ensure the conservation of biological resources and associated
information in an efficient and effective way through the creation
of a global network of biological resource centers and, through
such a network, to provide improved access to biological resources
of an appropriate quality to bone fide users in the fields
of life sciences and biotechnology. Proposals on how this might
be achieved are still under discussion in the OECD but could
be completed by the end of 2004. The Government will not be
in a position to take a firm view on those proposals until then.
1.3 We recommend that the Government develop and
publish a clear, concise summary document regarding their policy
on biodiversity conservation activity in the United Kingdom and
on the international stage.
8. The UK is a party to all the major international
agreements which aim to further biodiversity conservation, including
the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on the
Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (also known
as the Bonn Convention), the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the
Convention on Wetlands (also known as the Ramsar Convention).
The UK has also signed the International Treaty on Plant Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture which it hopes to ratify soon.
The Government subscribes to the objectives of these conventions.
It is an active supporter of their work programmes, as well as
making substantial financial contributions to help developing
countries participate in the work of these Conventions.
9. DEFRA has recently published a biodiversity strategy
for England ("Working with the Grain of Nature", October
2002). The Scottish Executive will consult on a biodiversity strategy
for Scotland in 2003. The Welsh Assembly Government will consult
on the framework for biodiversity action in Wales later this year
and the Northern Ireland Executive published its biodiversity
strategy on 7 September 2002.
1.4 We recommend that the Higher Education Funding
Councils should consider the role of the Research Assessment Exercise
in the decline of systematic biology in universities and explore
ways in which to support this subject, as they do with other minority
10 .The Funding Councils are currently reviewing
research assessment in a process that is being led by Sir Gareth
Roberts, Wolfson College, Oxford and managed by the HEFCE. The
issue of minority subjects and how best to assess and support
them will be considered as part of that review and more broadly
in relation to the HEFCE's proposed funding for enhancing capability.
1.5 We recommend that the BBSRC should reconsider
its decision not to award academic analogue status to Royal Botanic
Gardens, Edinburgh and Kew.
11. At its July meeting, the BBSRC Council considered
the background to, and procedures used by BBSRC in defining organisations
as academic analogues eligible for responsive-mode funding from
BBSRC. The Council agreed that the awarding of such status to
organisations that enhance and extend the science base in biotechnology
and the biological sciences should be the responsibility of Council,
and that status should be reviewed biennially. Specifically, it
agreed that the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Edinburgh should
be eligible for responsive-mode funding when this was for a joint
project in collaboration with an already eligible institution,
such as a university or BBSRC institute. The Council regarded
this as the appropriate way for the unique expertise in the institutions
concerned to be made available to the existing wider science base.
1.6 We recommend that the systematic biology community,
especially via the Systematics Association and the Linnaean Society,
should continue to increase efforts to demonstrate the relevance
and importance of systematic biology. This should have the effect
both of improving its profile to funding bodies and of making
it more attractive to potential professional taxonomists and volunteers.
We also hope that systematic biologists who are members of learned
societies, such as the Institute of Biology and the Royal Society,
will use their influence to promote the discipline.
12. The Government supports this recommendation.
1.7 We recommend that the United Kingdom should
take the lead and propose to the Global Biodiversity Information
Facility (GBIF) that GBIF run a pilot with some priority species
to form the basis of a trial for Professor Godfray's suggestion
of making taxonomy primarily digitised and web-based. A trial
would demonstrate the benefits and pit-falls of this approach
before implementing it more widely.
13. The Government supports the work of the Global
Information Biodiversity Facility (GBIF). The UK has been involved
in GBIF since its inception and became a full voting participant
in September 2001. It is clear that the digitisation of taxonomy
will be an important factor in achieving GBIF's goal of making
the world's biodiversity data freely available, and resulting
in the utilisation of the data by a wider range of disciplines.
As such, GBIF has already identified the digitisation of biodiversity
data, including taxonomic data, as one priority in achieving its
goal. In support of this, GBIF's work programme includes initiating
additional digitisation efforts, following a review of existing
technologies and digitisation efforts. The "Catalogue of
Life"; a joint initiative between the UK-based Species 2000
and North America's Integrated Taxonomic Information System will
also contribute to the GBIF work programme. This aims to create
a unified catalogue of the 1.75 million known species of living
organisms on earth.
14. The Government agrees with the Committee that
new approaches to digitising taxonomy to make it more accessible
through the world wide web should be piloted. In the light of
Professor Godfray's recommendation, the UK successfully promoted
a pilot project at the recent Governing Board meeting to demonstrate
GBIF's practical value and usage to the wider conservation community
within a meaningful timeframe. We agree with Professor Godfray
that this should be limited in scope, and believe that the pilot
needs to be focussed on a restricted group of species or one ecosystem.
The pilot now forms part of GBIF's two-year work programme. The
digitisation of a particular group of species will be a core component
of this pilot.
1.8 We recommend that DEFRA should take the lead
in setting up a body with the express purpose of bringing together
representatives from Government departments, ecologists and conservationists
and the systematic biology community, including those based at
museums, universities and other institutions. DEFRA should provide
funding for administrative support in the early stages, although
we envisage that the body should eventually seek to become self-financing
with all participants making a small contribution to running costs.
The body's main remit would be to:
(a) identify priority areas of biodiversity for
which taxonomic research is most needed by the conservation community,
and for other national purposes, such as health and agriculture.
Additional remits would be to:
(b) assess the taxonomic impediment to conservation
action - specifically to analyse the shortage of taxonomic specialists
and gaps in taxonomic data;
(c) campaign for resources
for taxonomists researching in those priority areas.
15. The Government broadly accepts this recommendation
and will be working with interested organisations to take it forward.
The Government believes that the initial task of such a body should
be to develop an overall strategic view of priorities for UK systematics
policy within a clearly defined timescale, perhaps eighteen months
to two years. At that stage, it may be appropriate for Government
to step back. Responsibility for articulating the needs of UK
systematics should primarily be the responsibility of the systematics
community itself. In any event, it is not appropriate for the
Government to participate in campaigns for additional resources
for taxonomists. Defra plans to convene a meeting with interested
parties next year to decide the next steps.
1.9 We recommend that the current level of spending
on the Darwin Initiative, approximately £3 million per annum,
should be earmarked specifically for projects with a significant
taxonomic component, to be used for conservation purposes. This
would be used to help build taxonomic capacity in developing countries
and should include projects to digitise UK systematics collections.
Any additional funds to the Darwin Initiative beyond this core
could have a wider remit to include projects with a major focus
on development issues or poverty alleviation.
16. The Government welcomes the Committee's recognition
of the role of the Darwin Initiative in furthering the conservation
of biodiversity. The Initiative has done a great deal to help
countries rich in biodiversity but poor in resources to meet their
obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity. A considerable
proportion of the £27 million already committed to projects
in nearly 100 countries has supported work on systematics. The
Government is proud of the record of Darwin projects in delivering
benefits beyond the resources put in and in leaving a lasting
legacy in host countries after Darwin funding ceases. The Government
therefore agrees with the Committee that an additional injection
of funds for the Initiative is deserved. For this reason, the
Prime Minister announced an increase in the Darwin budget to £7
million per year by 2005. The budget will rise next year from
£3 million to £4 million. The additional money will
double in each of the two successive years, bringing the budget
for 2004/05 to £4 million and for 2005/06 to £7 million.
17. The Secretary of State for Environment Food and
Rural Affairs is advised on awards to projects and on the development
of the Darwin Initiative by the Darwin Advisory Committee. The
Secretary of State accepts the Committee's advice that Darwin
Initiative funds should not be earmarked for systematics work.
Systematics is a significant component of many projects, and the
increase in the budget will mean a proportionate increase in support
for systematics work. But the Committee does not believe that
earmarking will help sustain the pressure for excellence that
the Darwin Initiative strives to achieve.
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs