Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum by the Royal Society of Edinburgh

  1.  The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the request for comments on the Government Response to the House of Lords' Select Committee on Science and Technology Report "What on Earth? The Threat to Science Underpinning Conservation". This response has been compiled by the General Secretary, Professor Andrew Miller and the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands, with the assistance of a number of Fellows with extensive knowledge of systematics and conservation.

  2.  Despite the Government's recognition of the important role of systematics in the conservation of biological diversity, there is little action to support these sentiments in the response to the Select Committee's Report. Comments on the Government's response to some of the individual Select Committee recommendations are addressed below:

RECOMMENDATION 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

  3.  While the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has responded with an additional award to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the other responsible branches of government, for example the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD) seem not to have accepted the importance of responding to the issues identified by the Select Committee. The notified grant in aid to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh (RBGE) has been increasing by 2.5 per cent per annum and as a result of Spending Review 2002 this has been increased to 3 per cent, however, this level of funding is insufficient to meet the running costs of the institution, let alone enable the Gardens to remain a leader in the world, or even to provide an example to the rest of the world. While these organisations are winning new resources from elsewhere, it is difficult to get private funding for such things as curation of collections, or the improvement of infrastructure.

RECOMMENDATION 1.8 WE RECOMMEND THAT DEFRA TAKES THE LEAD IN SETTING UP A BODY . . . TO 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

  4.  The Society believes that Defra's plans to convene a meeting with interested parties to decide the next steps to setting up such a body is a useful starting point. The time scale of "next year", however, does not convey any sense of urgency. Care will also need to be taken to take forward, rather than repeat, the work of the UK Systematics Forum, which was set up by the OST and which published its report "The Web of Life" in 1999 (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/hosted-sites/uksf/web-of-life/index.htm)

RECOMMENDATION 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

  5.  The RSE welcomes Government's increase in funding to the Darwin Initiative.

April 2003


 
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