Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside

Locus standi of The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside

  We are part of the Wildlife Trusts partnership, which is the UK's leading partnership dedicated to all wildlife. The network of forty-seven local Wildlife Trusts and our junior branch, Wildlife Watch, work together with local communities to protect wildlife in all habitats across the UK, in towns, countryside, wetlands and seas.

  The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside was formed in 1962 by a group of local naturalists who wanted to help protect the wildlife of the old county of Lancashire. It is now the leading local environmental charity covering the sub-region defined by Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside and the adjacent Irish Sea.

Our Mission

    —  To work for a region richer in wildlife by the protection and enhancement of species and habitats, both common and rare.

    —  To work towards public recognition that a healthy environment rich in wildlife and managed on sustainable principles, is essential for continued human existence.

Our Vision

    —  To be the key voice for nature conservation within our region

    —  To use our knowledge and expertise to help the people and organisations of Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside to enjoy, understand and take action to conserve their wildlife and its habitats.

RESPONSES

  Our responses to some of the questions you have raised appear below, using your headings and numbering.

THE STATE OF SYSTEMATICS AND TAXONOMY RESEARCH

2.  What is the role of systematics and taxonomy and, in particular, in what way do they contribute to research areas such as biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services and climate change? How important is this contribution and how is it recognised in the funding process?

  The role of taxonomy is fundamental to the delivery of the Species Action Plans (SAP) that forms the bulk of the United Kingdom Biodiversity Action Plan and the Local Biodiversity, Action Plans (LBAPs) that derive from it. In our sub-region these are the Greater Manchester LBAP, the Lancashire LBAP and the North Merseyside LBAP. (There is currently no functional LBAP or equivalent for the Irish Sea.)

  Without knowledge of what identifies a particular species and the expertise and facilities to identify it in the field a decision that the population of such a species is so rare, or in such steep decline that such a SAP is justified is essentially impossible. The production and delivery of that plan is then, self-evidently, severely compromised.

  Two particular cases are pertinent here:

Jennings' Proboscis-worm

  The only known population of Jennings' Proboscis-worm (Prostoma jenningsi) on Earth occurs in a flooded former clay pit in Chorley Borough, Lancashire. The pit is managed for recreational angling.

  Dr J. O. Young of Liverpool University discovered the proboscis-worm as a new species in 1969. It was described by him and by Professor Ray Gibson of Liverpool John Moores University in 1971 (1).

  Intensive searches of more than 200 other ponds in North West England (Lancashire, North Merseyside and Wirral) have failed to reveal other populations. Beyond sporadic local searches for the species there are no current research activities on it. Previous studies are limited to the original description of the species (1) and preliminary ecological investigations (2).

  Certain identification of the species requires detailed histological study of its internal morphology. Consequently, actions to conserve this species or confirm its occurrence anywhere else on Earth are entirely dependent on specialist taxonomic expertise and laboratory facilities, which are at a premium.

Further information may be found in the Lancashire Biodiversity Action Plan (3).

Common Pipistrelle & Soprano Pipistrelle

  Until relatively recently, the UK's pipistrelle bats were believed to belong to a single species (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), estimated to have declined in numbers by 70 per cent between 1978 and 1993(2). "The Pipistrelle" was therefore included on the list of Priority Species in the UK BAP.

  It is now known that there are two species of this bat; the "Common Pipistrelle", (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) and the "Soprano Pipistrelle" (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), the Soprano Pipistrelle being new to science. The two species are distinguishable mainly by the pitch of their echolocation calls though they are also, of course, genetically distinct.

  The UK Pipistrelle Species Action Plan has a target to restore both species to their 1970s population levels and geographical ranges. Estimating these historic levels will require taxonomic genetic analysis of historic "Pipistrelle" specimens to discover to which of the two species they in fact belong.

  A third species, Nathusius' Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus Nathusii), has now been discovered in the UK. It has been recorded from locations across the UK but appears to be very rare.

DATA COLLECTION, MANAGEMENT, MAINTENANCE AND DISSEMINATION

7.  Does the way in which taxonomic data is collected, managed and maintained best meet the needs of the user community? What is the state of local and national recording schemes?

  Local government has no statutory obligation to maintain a biological records centre in the way that it must maintain an up-to-date archaeological Sites and Monuments register. There here has been no effective Local Biological Record Centre or Network for Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside since the local government reform of 1974. As a result we have been without an integrated system for the deposition, management, analysis and retrieval of biological records for our sub-region for a generation. In our opinion, the very lack of such a system has very likely led to a decline in local taxonomic expertise and biological recording as there is no resourced institution charged with encouraging the taxonomic skills necessary or supporting the recorders in validating their identifications.

  We hold some biological records that we have gathered ourselves over time, and some records that have been shared by other local organisations, However, when we, or other nature conservation practitioners, or ecological consultants working for prospective developers, or educational institutions, or interested members of the public wish to acquire a knowledge of the distribution of a particular species or variety of species for a particular locality in our sub-region, we and they are obliged on each occasion to contact numerous local and national institutions and individuals to achieve a comprehensive and up-to-date picture. The time "wasted" in such protracted searches must add up to a significant economic cost.

SKILLS BASE

12.  What are the numbers and ages of trained taxonomists working in UK universities and other organisations?

13.  What is the state of training and education in systematics and taxonomy? Are there any gaps in capacity? Is the number of taxonomists in post, and those that are being trained, sufficient to meet current and future needs across all taxonomic subject areas?

  It is our general experience that trained taxonomists in all fields, with the possible exception of ornithology, are becoming progressively scarcer. As infirmity and death overtakes them it will be difficult to replace the lost expertise of the current, elderly generation of taxonomists for many years—even if training courses (at degree and post graduate level) started today.

  Amongst our own conservation staff (aged between 25 and 50), such taxonomic expertise as there is has largely been gained despite rather than as a result of the content of the degree courses they attended, mainly in the 1970s-1990s.

REFERENCES

  1.  Gibson, R. & Young, J. O. (1971). Prostoma jenningsi sp. nov, a new British freshwater hoplonemertean. Freshwater. Biology. 1, pp. 121-127.

  2.  Gibson, R. & Young, J. O. (1976) Ecological observations on a population of the freshwater hoplonemertean Prostoma jenningsi Gibson and Young 1971. Arch. Hydrobiol. 78, pp. 42—50.

  3.  Lancashire Biodiversity Action Plan (www.lbap.org.uk)—Species Action Plan for Prostoma jenningsi (a ribbon worm).

  Thank you for this opportunity to contribute, it is much appreciated.


 
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