Publications on the internet
UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 727-iv
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Science and Technology Committee
Thursday 20 December 2012
Dr Matthew Frost and Professor Stephen de Mora
Evidence heard in Public Questions 203 - 241
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.
Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.
Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Thursday 20 December 2012
Andrew Miller (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Matthew Frost, Deputy Director, Policy and Knowledge Exchange, Marine Biological Association, and Professor Stephen de Mora, Chief Executive, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, gave evidence.
Q203 Chair: I welcome everyone here this afternoon. Normally, when we start these proceedings in our natural home in Westminster, everyone is used to the procedures and we go formal very quickly, but I thought it would be appropriate to explain to the people in the audience what we are doing here in Cornwall and the relevance of the inquiry. We are the Science and Technology Select Committee in the House of Commons. We are a cross-party body. We work on a collegiate basis to try to answer some of the challenging questions that face Governments of all colours about how best to exploit the brilliant science that we have at our disposal. One of the big challenges facing all of us at the present time is the marine environment. We have started an inquiry that is stretching-not physically in terms of Members of Parliament, but intellectually-from Antarctica to the North Pole and all over the continental shelf. We have taken evidence from officials of the Natural Environment Research Council and industry experts. At the beginning of this week we went to the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool, and now we are down here in what I would normally describe as sunny Cornwall, but regrettably it was not when we were on the river this morning. We had discussions with the Harbour Master and had a little trip up the river in the pilot’s boat, which was intriguing. Some of my colleagues had not been on the river at all before. Following that, we had a meeting with many of the stakeholders that have been involved in the discussions about the future conservation issues in the estuary.
This afternoon’s session is a formal evidence session, which would normally occur in a horseshoe-shaped setting, with our witnesses facing us. We do not have quite that geography here today, but we will be asking questions of our two expert witnesses as part of a formal evidence session. At the end of today, if anyone in the audience feels that they have something to contribute, although there will not be an opportunity to address us, we would welcome any formal written evidence that anyone cares to submit.
With that, I am now going to move into the formal session. May I welcome our two witnesses here this afternoon and invite you to introduce yourselves for the record?
Dr Frost: I am Dr Matthew Frost from the Marine Biological Association, which has a research laboratory in Plymouth. We are an association with about 1,200 members.
Professor de Mora: I am Professor Stephen de Mora. I am Chief Executive of Plymouth Marine Laboratory on the Hoe in Plymouth.
Q204 Chair: Thank you very much. First of all, how much progress has been made in delivering the UK Marine Science Strategy? What do you think the main outputs resulting from this strategy have been?
Professor de Mora: Can I start with that?
Dr Frost: Yes, you go.
Professor de Mora: There have been some very positive things that have come about as a result of the strategy. I would say it is a very high-level document, so almost anything that people are doing in marine science you can point to the strategy and say, "Look, we are fulfilling at least part of it". It has worked as a framework for marine organisations and Government agencies to come together, to try to co-ordinate and collaborate better than they have done in the past.
Having said that, the Marine Science Strategy is only a strategy and there was never an implementation plan. There was never any clear pathway to carrying out the work and the high ideals that are expressed there. One of the impediments towards progress in that area is the fact that people sitting at the table all have their own budgets and they have not been integrated in any kind of way. One would be very reluctant to lose your budget to somebody else, because obviously what you are doing is dependent upon the funding that you have. There is that side of things, but I would like to say that it is certainly a step in the right direction. There has been some good co-ordination that has gone on. In particular, I hope that what we are trying to do with respect to the UK Integrated Marine Observing Network-which has really taken flight from the MSCC-does succeed in the country.
Q205 Chair: Before I ask you to respond, Dr Frost; Professor de Mora, in your written evidence you talk about the strategy providing increased efficiency and effectiveness. What did you mean by that? How is it demonstrated?
Professor de Mora: We are still in the early stages of proving that that will be the case, but the strides that we are making with respect to the Integrated Marine Observing Network are steps in the right direction. What we have right now around the country is a set of observatories that are all individually run and financed for different reasons. They have different historical records, and they are funded through different means and were set up for different purposes. What we are now trying to do with all of that is to make sure that the community at large is aware of all the things that are being done at the different sites, and to piggyback on some of the work that is available. There are enormous databases at some sites and so if somebody wants to do a few more measurements, they have all of the measurements there to rely on. That is one of the key things.
Things have also gradually improved-and Matt will probably want to talk about this as well-in terms of our organisations’ involvement in trying to help with implementing the communications strategy from the marine science co-ordination network. We run something on Twitter, where the number of followers is slowly increasing, and Matt’s organisation runs an online diary. Things like that are improving, and although I would still say there is a long way to go, there are glimmers of success that we should try to build on.
Dr Frost: I am involved at a slightly different level to Steve’s, in the sense that when the MSCC was established it set up three working groups initially to address three areas of the strategy: the science alignment group, the communications group and the long-term monitoring working group. I sat on two of those groups so I could see the implementation part that Steve was talking about, so I was at the coalface to see what was being delivered. Out of those three groups, the long-term monitoring group was a bit of a failure. I have to say-and I think most people on it would agree-it did not achieve or deliver anything, for a variety of reasons. As I said in my submission, I do think the communications group was a successful group. It has delivered modest but quite important deliverables, including a lot of the ones that Steve has just mentioned. The third one was the science alignment group. To be honest, I have heard very little from that so it is impossible for me to judge its success.
Essentially, I think there have been some modest things achieved. One of the big problems with assessing the delivery of the whole thing was that, when it was set up, the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee had a marine science strategy in terms of remit. One of the things that happened down the line was that it merged with the Marine Assessment Policy Committee. To me that led to a degree of confusion. If you read the update report provided by MSCC to the ministerial marine science group, a lot of what it says in there is progress; little bits of that are the MSCC and then other bits are from what was the MAPC. There are deliverables in there but I am not sure if they are anything to do with the MSCC.
Q206 Chair: In your written evidence, you talked about areas being more effective than others.
Dr Frost: That is right.
Chair: Is that what you meant?
Dr Frost: Yes, absolutely, I meant-
Q207 Chair: Give us a solid example.
Dr Frost: I think the communications have been effective. As I said, I declare an interest. I sit on that committee, but I sat on the one that failed as well. The former was a good committee because it engaged the wider community. We went to lots of people. We were very aggressively targeting everybody across the marine community to say, "Give us some quick win practical things that we can deliver to help UK marine science". One of them, which Steve has alluded to, was very simple: why not have a UK marine science calendar that all Government agencies and research councils can use to plan events and to plan meetings? It saves money. It saves time. It is a phenomenally simple idea and, because it is fairly simple to implement, we were able to do that. In that sense, you have something that is quite effective. The communications team recognised early on that we have limited resources. We are not being paid to do this. It is voluntary, and relies on the goodwill of the marine science community. We adapted to that, in terms of the targets we were trying to achieve. I think the long-term monitoring group had incredibly ambitious targets that could not be met with the resources we had. That is what I mean in terms of there being some successes.
Q208 Chair: Finally, to both of you, if you had the ability to adapt or amend the strategy, what would you do with it or would you let it run as it is?
Professor de Mora: The strategy was written in such a way that it is a very high-level document. When you look at the three science priorities, they are true now and they are going to be true for a long time. In terms of a strategy, it is quite a fine document and I think it is written in a way that should be readily palatable to quite a cross-section of society as well. What it needs is an implementation plan to follow it up to make sure that some of the high ideals that are expressed can actually be carried out.
Dr Frost: I would say it is a strong document. I was involved in a lot of the stakeholder meetings that were held to develop it and that document was not developed in a back room by two or three scientists. There was a lot of effort to engage the wider science community, so I think that document reflects a lot of the expertise and foresight of the marine science community. Therefore the actual strategy itself will stand us in good stead for many years to come, as Steve said.
The big problem I have-and it goes back to implementation, as Steve said-is that, now we are at the next stage, there are some issues, particularly, with this merger with the Marine Assessment Policy Committee. I think there is some confusion as to what elements of this strategy are being pursued, and what elements of the previous work of UKMMAS and MAPC are now incorporated into that.
Q209 Roger Williams: Could you tell us what the pros and cons are of having a dedicated marine agency.
Dr Frost: Do you want me to go first this time?
Professor de Mora: You go first, yes.
Dr Frost: Okay. The obvious benefit of that is you would have one central, hopefully, well-funded agency that can take on a lot of functions. Everybody knows what it is and what it does, and you would hope that it would be well enough resourced to carry out a lot of the activities that have been identified in the past; as an example, collecting data and making data better available. There is obviously something attractive in that.
In terms of the potential problems, I think there are a couple of risks. Firstly, there is the risk that it is set up and it does not have the resources. You would then end up with an agency with very high expectations, which fails to deliver. That could be a real problem if people are expecting it to be all-singing, all-dancing, and to solve all UK marine science problems but it is not adequately resourced. That is one possible problem. The other is the problem of remit. We already have the Met Office. We already have the MSCC. We have Cefas and we have the research labs. When this original idea came up-I think it was 2008-in the last report, Investigating the Oceans, I did notice that the suggested remit of a marine agency could include, for example, promoting marine education in schools. My immediate thought was, "We do that as a charity and a learned society. Why would you need a marine agency to do that?" That is another thing we have to be careful with. If the marine agency is set up, we need to be careful that it is delivering functions that nobody else could deliver, not just treading on lots of people’s toes and pulling things in.
Professor de Mora: The pros are exemplified by what we see in North America, for instance, with respect to things like NOAA and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It does give a voice to the oceans, to the marine environment, where there are not very many voters. What is important about that is giving it a profile, not just with the public but politically as well. You have a person sitting at the table at Cabinet or elsewhere, who is there to look after the marine environment, as opposed to wearing a hat where he has to worry about ash disease and farmers as well as the fishermen. There would be some clarity, in terms of lines of communication and the chain of command, which would be useful at the Government level.
In terms of that agency or Department working, it would certainly be a stimulus towards getting the better co-operation that we need within the country to do things. It can be a bit embarrassing to go to other countries and know that they have a national monitoring programme and we do not. That is the kind of thing to consider. For instance, I would say that it should lead to less infighting with respect to ship operations and the like.
Q210 Roger Williams: If the Marine Science Co-ordinating Committee had more resources or a different structure perhaps, could it achieve the ends that you say would be beneficial from such an agency?
Professor de Mora: It can go some way along, but I do not think that it would achieve all that we might have a vision for. I did want to say there are some cons to all of this as well. You will note that, when you look at the constituents of the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee, given current devolution, you already have very many representatives, plus within the Department you have different agencies and departments that are represented. One has to be careful about the expectations that you would place on a new agency because, even so, you would not collect all the marine and maritime interests in one place. There are always going to be port authorities. Where do they sit? Where does shipping sit? Where does the Met Office sit? Where does the hydrographic service sit? Of course, then the Navy will not want anything to do with it anyway. As long as you have realistic expectations and you define the limits of what it can and cannot do, I think it would be a very positive thing.
Q211 Roger Williams: Dr Frost, in your evidence you suggested that the Marine Science Co-ordinating Committee had a lower profile than might be expected. Could you tell us a bit about that and what could be done to remedy that?
Dr Frost: As I have already alluded to, I think the establishment of the MSCC and the process to do that was very successful. There were widely advertised stakeholder engagement workshops, and it felt to me that there was an awful lot of effort made to say, "This is a committee that is representing the marine science community in the UK, and we are going to fully engage everybody on this". I do think that unfortunately, once the MSCC was established, that level of effort in engaging the wider community has diminished somewhat. I say this from my own experience. I lecture to students and I also give presentations in lots of places, as does Steve probably. If the MSCC ever comes up, most people have either not heard of it or, for the life of them, they cannot tell me what it does. I am talking about the general sort of marine biology people. I do think there is an issue with profile and, as I have alluded to, when it was established we were all invited to attend. We were introduced to the committee. We were told who was on the committee, "This is the remit of the MSCC and this is what we will be doing". To my mind, that has changed somewhat with the merger with MAPC. It is a little more nebulous as to what the MSCC is now.
Q212 Roger Williams: Perhaps it should represent a broader range of organisations involved in marine science?
Dr Frost: Yes. I said that in my submission. For instance, what I found very odd about the way it was set up, if you take the links with industry, is that I could not see why we appointed a scientist-never mind how good a scientist they are-as an industry liaison person. Why not get industry involved on the committee at the beginning? That would facilitate far wider engagement and a higher profile at a UK level. I think that applies across the board. They have some very good people on the MSCC and good scientists, but those scientists have then been tasked to liaise with NGOs, industry and other sectors. If those sectors had been invited to be involved earlier on, then perhaps we would not have the problem of such a low profile.
Q213 Roger Williams: How would you judge the success of the MSCC overall?
Professor de Mora: I have already declared my interest, in that I am a member of MSCC. The things that Matt said are true, and I would not argue about that, but what you have to do is look at the origins of the MSCC and why it was formed. I am guessing that the earliest mandate was to make sure that the different Government bodies were talking to each other. I think initially there was no thought to worry about HEIs, industry and NGOs, but clearly when you look at the marine environment, they cannot be ignored. I think it was the first step in getting the Government agencies together and in line, and it did expand because there were, I guess, three appointed members that came on to that, who have set up this liaison group and the like. I became sort of a vestigial member of the MAPC that Matt was talking about. When they merged them, they realised I did not have a seat at the table and I was invited to join the MSCC, which was very nice. The goalposts have been moving, and I think it is fine to say that it is still evolving, because there are some things that it is not doing very well that I would like to see it do better. However I do think the understanding of what it can achieve has changed over time, and I think for the better.
Q214 Stephen Metcalfe: Good afternoon. I would like to talk a little bit about the evidence that was used to designate the Marine Conservation Society. Do you think it was good enough that the recommendations were based on best available evidence, or do you think there should have been a more rigorous attempt to find robust evidence before recommending the zones? Who would like to start, Dr Frost?
Dr Frost: I think best available evidence is what we always need to use. I know there was a lot of discomfort among the regional projects because they felt that best available evidence was what they were working with and, from the scientific point of view, we felt that that was what was required to deliver to these regional projects. Then the feeling was that the goalposts were moved quite significantly as a result of the SAP review.
Now, talking to lots of people involved, including the scientists, the feeling is that when the MCZs were being set up, it was not about having the most robust scientific evidence at every site. It was about having a network. That was what the ecological network guidelines were all about. That is a very different thing from looking site by site like you do with the SAC and the European networks, where you have strict criteria on what features are there and how much of that feature. It is very appropriate to have a robust scientific evidence approach. You can say, "We have X percentage of this species, which is in annex 2", and so on. I do not think the MCZ process lent itself to that and it was unfortunate that the goalposts were moved. I really think that best available evidence is what we should always be using.
Q215 Stephen Metcalfe: As opposed to seeking out robust? Even if your best available is a bit thin, that is the best available, so use that regardless?
Dr Frost: If there is more robust scientific evidence available-
Q216 Stephen Metcalfe: But if it is not available but could be made available if you found it, I suppose is what I am asking.
Dr Frost: Yes. That is right. There are two questions here, and I know that in the SAP review they were slightly critical because they felt that there was more evidence there that had not been found. I understand that and, as far as I am aware, that is something that is being remedied.
There is also an issue here of expectation. I work on the Marine Strategy Framework Directive as well, and I have worked on a lot of these different processes whereby evidence is supplied to support some sort of legislation. There is always this sort of utopian ideal that somewhere down the line we will have all-in quotation marks-"the evidence". Science does not work like that. What science does is it answers questions and, in doing so, raises a whole new set of questions. To give you an example, if you had said a few years ago that I can sit and tell you we have approximately 8,500 more cellular species in the UK, and we have them all catalogued and listed, you probably would have jumped up and down and said, "Fantastic, we can do a lot with that information". But from a scientific point of view, what that means is, "Okay, what about the rest of the ecosystem? What about the microbial diversity, the tens of thousands, potentially millions of species we know nothing about?" That is how science works. It produces evidence, answers questions, but in doing so it opens up whole new horizons and gaps. I am not sure that the scientific approach is always appreciated when you are gathering evidence.
Q217 Chair: Can I put it a bit more bluntly that, with only 25% of the seabed mapped on the continental shelf, we could seek out stronger, more robust evidence?
Dr Frost: We could. We could spend an awful lot of money, which is what it would cost. We have 11,000 miles of coastline, 3½ times as much sea as land. Yes, I have heard 15%, 15% to 25%, as being the amount. We could seek more information, but that would involve going out and conducting more surveys, more multi beam. What I am saying is, as a fundamental principle, I personally believe that if we did that, you would get questions on the resolution of that data. People would say, "You have gone out and got more evidence. We have mapped the habitats. What about the biotopes and species?" If we map those, then people would want to know, "What about the pressures on those species?" At the moment, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive is asking us to report on food web structure and ecosystem structure. The goalposts can continually move, in terms of what evidence is required. That is why I am saying we have to be very careful, because we have this idea that we can complete the evidence base. I do not think we will ever complete the evidence base.
Professor de Mora: That is a lovely question because it clearly demonstrates you understand that there are gaps in what we know. Matt finally mentioned the most appropriate word in all of that discussion, and that is money. You get what you pay for. One of the things that is very important going forward, when various things are done, is that there is some kind of harmony of purpose and methodology. As we build up the patchwork quilt of understanding around the country, that means all of those patchworks can stick together in a seamless way rather than saying "We did not actually measure this here or we did not think about that there". I guess we will come to this in the MMO stuff. When people are thinking about the use of a particular coastal zone, right from the outset you need to think about all the uses because, at that early stage, a small incremental addition to funding can save you having to revisit and resample later on. I do think that what it shows is that there are large parts of the marine coastal environment that we do not know enough about yet, and that is just the UK. If you start talking about overseas territories and things, you expand the problem very quickly.
Q218 Stephen Metcalfe: What you are describing, is that written into an overarching strategy yet or are you saying it should be?
Professor de Mora: I do not know that it is put quite so bluntly anywhere but, as Matt has indicated, in various quarters we are scrambling right now to make sure that we understand how we can implement the MSFD when that comes online. There is a lot of effort and a lot of good thought going into it, particularly because there is this question of indicators and what are the right indicators. Hopefully, other Europeans will agree when we do come up with indicators, but that is another question. It is being done in various quarters and one would hope that it would all come together to the MSCC.
Dr Frost: To add to that, I would also say that it is not as linear a progression as getting the evidence to setting an MCZ. It is actually setting an MCZ. Reference areas, particularly, are part of that evidence gathering. Of course as scientists, one of the issues we have is that there are very few areas-well, practically none-in the UK, where we can say, "There are no anthropogenic pressures here". This is a reference area, so we can begin to understand the science of how the marine ecosystem functions without any of those pressures. For instance, setting a reference area would help us as part of our evidence gathering. There is a degree of irony, in the fact that they have not gone forward as part of this overall view that there is not enough evidence.
Q219 Stephen Metcalfe: Dr Frost, the final question for you relates to the ecological network guidance. You said in your written evidence you had some issues with that. Do you think we should not be seeking to create a network as such? Can you elaborate a bit on that?
Dr Frost: Yes. The ecological network guidance came from the original OSPAR Guidelines in 2003, when we started to talk about things like a coherent network and issues of connectivity. What was not realised at the time was the difficulty in establishing the science for that. We can take that as a general guideline and, as ecologists, I think we all understand that you have to have some degree of coherence. You cannot just have widely separated sites and treat them as if they are not part of the same holistic ecosystem. Having said that, if you look at the science that underlies how many of these sites there should be, how near they should be, you are getting into issues like metapopulation dynamics and larval dispersal, and that is phenomenally complicated. I do not think the science can answer those questions at the moment. From people I have spoken to, the general feeling is that it was a very ambitious aim, very early in the process, to have ecological connectivity, and I do not think we can address that with the science. However what we can do, which may be what we have done, is go partly towards recognising there has to be some sort of connection.
Q220 Sarah Newton: Sticking with marine conservation zones, in your written evidence you were both saying that you felt that the whole designation process became dominated by the socio-economic concerns. Do you think that that was taking priority over the evidence, accepting that we know there are gaps in the scientific evidence? Do you think that was a weakness of the evidence or were there other factors? Somewhere else in your evidence, you mention that you felt that the fishing industry were very dominant in the process and were almost hijacking the process.
Dr Frost: I will answer first. I did not sit on any of the four regional projects that were set up, however, we did have scientists from the MBA who did. For example, if you look at Finding Sanctuary, the criticism I received back from that was that you had 41 members on that steering group and, if you go on to the website and click the science heading, there is one person who sits under there as the lone scientist. I know that there are scientists under other categories, but the feeling is very much that the scientists were a very, very small part of that whole process. There was some frustration with the fishing industry and other commercial sectors that they more or less made up most of that stakeholder group. For example, it did not matter if a number of them did not turn up for a meeting as there were plenty of other people to represent them. Whereas we had times when our scientists could not make it, which meant, therefore, there was no official science representation at that meeting. This is where it came from. Also, anecdotally, I have heard a lot of people say that they had the feeling that, even though everything was supposed to be channelled through these stakeholder groups, these regional projects, they felt that some of the commercial sector-in particular, the fishing sector-were probably lobbying offline and finding other channels to get their voice heard, which of course scientists are not very good at. There was a kind of feeling that, yes, perhaps the scientists were disadvantaged in the whole process.
Q221 Sarah Newton: Would you like to comment, Professor de Mora?
Professor de Mora: Yes. This is an area that I am not quite so familiar with, but I think in general one of the things is that marine conservation zones wind up with bad press, particularly from the fishing industry lobbyists. A lot of that is based on a misunderstanding of what the ultimate benefits are likely to be. I can think of an example in New Zealand, where one of the first marine parks in the world was created, off a small town north of Auckland. The local fishermen were very vociferous in their campaign against setting this up. Ten years later, they thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. They would run regularly up and down on the outer perimeter of the conservation zone for fishing, and it acted as a very important nursery for restimulating the lobster industry and the like. I think that is one of those things where there is a real misunderstanding and apprehension about what these zones can do.
Q222 Sarah Newton: To quickly follow up on that-and it answers my question really-do you think part of that is there was no proper engagement process with stakeholders to build support for marine conservation zones? You are basically implying in your answers that you do not feel there is a lot of popular support for marine conservation zones. Or perhaps I am wrong; perhaps you think there is a lot of popular support for marine conservation zones.
Professor de Mora: I think it is very polarised. I am not quite sure where the balance would be, but the thing is that you are either for it or against it, I think. Sometimes it is impassioned debate rather than actually listening to argument, if that explains it.
Sarah Newton: Yes. It does make sense.
Dr Frost: Yes. Steve has just used the word "polarised", and I think that sums up the whole thing. The problem is at the moment people see conservation and sustainable use as mutually exclusive; you can have one or the other. You can either have people working in an area or it is a marine conservation zone. You cannot have long-term economic benefits and protection. I think that is a complete fallacy, to be honest. What we need to do is get the fishing and the commercial interests, the NGOs and the conservation interests to see that we all want the same thing, that this is a functioning, healthy ecosystem that provides livelihoods for people. They are not mutually exclusive propositions.
Q223 Sarah Newton: I completely agree with you. To help that process, what more do you think could be done? As for that good example you used of Auckland, I am presuming-perhaps you can enlighten us-that there is quite a swift recovery period. So, once the conservation zone was put in place, there was good recovery in the fishing stocks and then the fishermen started to benefit. What more could we do to understand that-well, it is not necessarily us-what more can be done to overcome these quite considerable communications issues?
Professor de Mora: We have to look at home for some of our success stories. There was considerable anguish in the recent past when Lyme Bay was closed to scallop dredgers. Dredging is just about the worst thing you can do to the seabed. It does not matter where you are, with the high resolution sonar eco-sounding that you get now, you can see the claw marks across the sea surface. It takes a long time for that to recover. There was quite an interesting study into the effects of closing that bay to scallop dredgers and the socio-economic impacts of that. The study also looked at environmental recovery. What you find is that there was significant change in the use of that bay and benefits largely to the community as a whole, although obviously detriment to some of the scallop dredgers. If you look at the overall social impact and socio-economic impact, however, there is increased line fishing, increased diving, so tourism in the area has improved and that kind of thing. Again it all depends. No doubt the scallop fishermen were pretty vociferous that this was not a good idea, but the community at large has probably benefited from the closure. There may well be other instances of that around the country, I am not sure, but we at Plymouth University have been involved in that particular study, and possibly you were, Matt. It is the kind of thing that you need to put out there to show.
Q224 Stephen Metcalfe: Briefly, I want to go back to this New Zealand example where the fishermen now think it is the best thing that has ever happened. Was there a painful transition, though, for them in which they did not all survive?
Professor de Mora: Oh, absolutely.
Q225 Stephen Metcalfe: We have heard this argument that everyone can benefit, but is the pain too great for those who have to endure it?
Professor de Mora: That might be the case for the Lyme Bay, for scallop dredging, because they had to change their practices. They had to go to sites that were further away. Their feeling-perhaps anecdotal evidence-was that the quality of the scallops they were getting was poorer. In New Zealand, we are talking about a pretty small area that was being designated and a pretty small fishing community nearby. Obviously there was displacement of work, but I do not think that anybody was unemployed as a result of it. I guess all of this happened in the early 1980s, and when I went back more recently it is now a huge tourist thing. There are huge car parks and when you go into the water there are all kinds of fish and that. Not only do the fishermen think it is nice, but now it has become quite a major tourist attraction in the region as well, so there are all kinds of things that have changed as a result of it. Whether or not the local small community actually likes that is another thing, but it has changed the socio-economics of the region for sure.
Q226 Stephen Metcalfe: Thank you. Changing the subject, I would like to talk a little bit about NERC’s approach to marine science. Can you both tell me where you think their strengths and weaknesses lie in how they approach their support for marine science?
Dr Frost: I think the strengths are obvious, in that the NERC community is a very strong community and it is very good at working together. NERC has facilitated a lot of these large programmes, bringing a lot of different organisations and different people together to address key science themes. You just have to look at some of the quality of what comes out of NERC science to appreciate that. In terms of weaknesses, the main thing that we find an issue is the changes, the constant shifting goalposts in terms of the funding models. Oceans 2025 came in and we were quite excited about that. It is a long-term strategic delivery programme. As a research centre, we think we know how we are going to engage with that, what sort of expertise, what people are required. Of course, then you find out that the funding for that has been withdrawn and another funding model is coming onboard with theme action plans. You then start to hear rumours that they could be coming to an end and something else might be coming in. I think this is a weakness because, for us as an institute, we have staff that we employ with expertise and our goal would be to keep and develop that expertise. That is very difficult to do if you cannot constantly look ahead and plan, if you are constantly wondering what funding model is going to be used now and whether they going to scrap this whole programme. I know the science has to be adaptable, but the way that is funded in the long term could be a little more stable.
Professor de Mora: I have all kinds of declared interests in this because I am on NERC SISB and our lab benefits tremendously from it, but I still think that what I say is self-evident. In terms of the strengths, NERC has been really important in bringing the various marine institutes and entities-including the HEIs now-together to work in a common purpose in marine science. I gather when this kind of committee met previously that was not the case, that the UK marine community was quite fragmented. NERC has had an instrumental role in making that happen. It has since evolved to work quite well with other Government agencies, so bringing on board Defra-NERC types of programmes.
One of the other strengths of fundamental importance is the whole financial landscape within NERC and within a centre like us. We used to be NERC, we are no longer but we do benefit from funding for what they call national capability. On the marine side, we went through a very rigorous prioritisation exercise for that. That was handled very well by Ed Hill, with considerable input from the other centres that were receiving national capability. That led to a prioritisation exercise. One of the things that has come out of that, and is gaining recognition as a strength from NERC, is the funding of long-term science. In particular, for instance, both of our labs benefit from funding-not insignificant funding-from NERC to maintain the Western Channel Observatory. If I may do a little PR piece, that is actually one of the three most important sites in the world for long-term monitoring of the marine environment; we argue it is the most important because it is coastal, the others are oceanographic. Also, it is the site in the world where more biological measurements are made more often than any other place in the marine environment. That is because we combine the skills of the higher trophic levels from the MBA and the lower trophic levels from us. The recognition that NERC gives to the importance of long-term science, which is, in fact, in this case excellent science anyway, is very important.
Where does it fail? One of the things that really bothers me is not so much NERC but the fact that the research councils in general are not as good as they could be in joining up. There are a lot of gaps. One of the things that has been interesting, for instance, is that because our lab had been a NERC lab, and came out from that umbrella in 2002, it actually took a long time before other research councils would actually fund us. Now we do get funding from BBSRC. On occasion we get funding from EPSRC. When those various entities, as well as the MRC, look at each other they do not hold hands very closely and there are big gaps between them, which tends to be a little bit frustrating.
Stephen Metcalfe: I will leave it there, Chairman. Thank you.
Q227 Stephen Mosley: Professor de Mora, I know in the Plymouth Marine Laboratory evidence, when you are talking about polar marine research, you say that the funding has changed fundamentally in the last five years. Could you give us a bit of an outline of what you mean by that?
Professor de Mora: No, I probably cannot because that was written by one of our people, who has recently joined us, who used to work in BAS. We all know of some of the more recent things and I guess, like everybody else, BAS was hit by the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review. In general, across NERC centres there used to be well-defined pots of money for doing particular areas of research. British Antarctic Survey would have had basically a defined allowance for working in Antarctica. Again, the Oceans 2025 programme was a bit like that when it set up but after one year that funding got eroded, because they wanted to change the funding mechanism within NERC to promote research programmes in the various teams with the seven themes that current NERC strategy has. There was shifting of pockets of the money. I guess that is the best way to explain it.
Q228 Stephen Mosley: Dr Frost on polar funding?
Dr Frost: To be honest, we have very little engagement on polar funding so I will withhold comment if that is okay.
Q229 Stephen Mosley: I will go a bit broader then. In your previous answer I know you were talking about the national capability projects. Do you think NERC now has the balance right between the amount it spends on national capability and the amount it actually spends on research projects?
Professor de Mora: The more important question might be: do we have the balance right within national capability, because one of the things that is very scary about that is the way it was defined included all facilities as well as the long-term science that I was talking about. As the cost of maintaining expensive facilities, that is ships, Antarctic bases and aircraft increases-for instance, we were suddenly hit with a massive bill for marine gas oil-it erodes the funding for the long-term science. That is the scary thing.
In terms of the balance between national capability and research programmes, obviously we get national capability funding so I would hate to see it diminish more than it has already. What needs to be thought of is a more integrated approach going into the future. Certainly, we talk about these being separate things, for instance, and quite apart from the routine measurements that we make at places like the Western Channel Observatory, a lot of other science can hinge on that. It is really important that some of the research programmes-and in fact, the responsive mode research mechanism as well-understand and know that national capability is there as a bedrock for what they want to do. As for the actual balance, we would be in real trouble if we eroded national capability any further before we sorted out how that gets divided.
Q230 Sarah Newton: If we can move on now to your relationship with the Marine Management Organisation, do you have much contact with them? How would you describe the contact that you do have with them and what are their strengths and weaknesses, from your point of view?
Dr Frost: We do have contact with the Marine Management Organisation. I sit on a lot of workgroups and committees where the MMO are present and I think that is one of their strengths. Let me say upfront that they do make an awful lot of effort, with the resources they have, to engage very widely with the marine science community. They did that when they were being established and they have continued to do that. As a good example of that, recently there has been a big issue among marine scientists who are taking samples from the seabed, because it had become clear that we need a licence under the new conditions from the MMO. I was sent an email from a large group of scientists about this. They asked if, in my role representing the marine biologists with the MBA, I could approach the MMO and ask them about this. I managed to approach the MMO via another committee. I sent them an email saying, "Look, this is what the marine science community are getting exercised about. Do we need a licence to go out and take a sample as part of our work?" They got straight to work on that, basically. They produced a full guidance document that they sent to us, which I could then forward back to the marine science community. It is a small example, but I do think that a real strength of the MMO is that they are very engaged with the marine scientists.
In terms of the cons, there are two issues. One is there is a wide perception that they are under-resourced. You can occasionally see that in things like the time it takes to return tender documents and things like this, and also because they often say they are under-resourced. If they give a talk, they will often mention what their delivery commitment is but point out they only have one person to deliver on any particular area. So that is a possible weakness.
As I alluded to in my evidence, to begin with, when they were set up we were quite concerned that they would not engage the wider science community, in terms of using all the evidence base, and would rely very much on Cefas as the Government agency. They have made an effort to engage, but I am not sure that perception is fully dispersed as yet. For most of us who are outside, we are sitting on lots of scientific expertise and thinking that we want to facilitate marine spatial planning and other things. We hope that the MMO will interact with the wider UK marine science base, in terms of its evidence gathering, and not just rely on Cefas, because of lack of resources and lack of time; excellent science though Cefas is.
Q231 Sarah Newton: Yes. That is partly answering my second question, going back to the original questions about gathering evidence and using the best possible evidence. I am glad to hear that they are engaged with the science community, but are they fulfilling a role in co-ordinating that evidence base so it is readily available, so that there is proper public availability of the evidence that has been collected by a whole range of scientists?
Dr Frost: I think they are, but I do think this is an area where there is a little bit of confusion. I sit on the Healthy and Biologically Diverse Seas Evidence Group. I am the vice chair of that committee. We liaise with MEDIN in terms of evidence gathering. We gather evidence ourselves using the data archive centres. You then have the Productive Seas Evidence Group that is gathering evidence from industry. Then you have the MMO, which has its own evidence database that it is populating. To be honest, from the outside it can often be fairly difficult to see where all those lines connect. That is quite an important point because, if you are a scientist thinking, "I really want to engage with this" you want to know who the person is and which organisation you need to go to. If I have something important or some important data, which affects how we manage our seas, do I go to the marine data information network? Do I go to BODC? Do I go to a data archive centre? Do I go to the MMO? They are doing a good job in gathering evidence, but I think there is a job to do in co-ordinating all that evidence gathering among the different committees and groups.
Q232 Sarah Newton: That is very much talking about those among the scientific community in academic institutions or learned societies like your own. Obviously, the MMO is working with a lot of people who are developing within the marine environment, and through the licensing processes they demand-quite rightly-a lot of scientific evidence. What about the role that the MMO could play, in making sure that commercial developers, whether it is for offshore renewables or whatever, share that information with the wider scientific community?
Dr Frost: I think that is a role that they should have and should pursue. However, it goes back to my previous answer. We recently had a meeting where the Productive Seas Evidence Group stated that they wanted to develop data layers, in terms of commercial and industry data. We were also looking into that, and you have the Marine Industry Liaison Group within MSCC. MMO were there and we said the same thing to them, "This is a great idea to collect that data and, yes, make it available to the wider scientific community. That would be great", but I am still concerned that nobody quite sees that as the sole MMO function yet. There are other groups that are also pursuing that industry liaison in terms of data sharing, and it would really help if the MMO were given that as a remit so we could work with them in doing that.
Q233 Sarah Newton: It would be very easy for them to do because they could make it a condition of the licence. If it was made available, the evidence would enable them to do the licensed activity in the marine environment.
Dr Frost: That is a great idea, although I can foresee some concerns from the commercial sector, the usual reason being that of commercial confidence.
Q234 Sarah Newton: Not all of it is commercially sensitive, is it?
Dr Frost: No, and I think we can do a far better job.
Sarah Newton: That is great. Thank you very much.
Q235 Chair: It is Government Departments that issue the licences for offshore wind and so on and so forth.
Professor de Mora: Sorry, can I make a quick comment about that?
Chair: Very quickly, because we are running out of time.
Professor de Mora: Even with getting the data, you need to make sure that it is all quality assured in the right way, so we are talking about good data because bad data are worse than no data.
Q236 Sarah Newton: Also the MMO will only use data that meet their particular standards.
Dr Frost: That is right, yes.
Professor de Mora: Yes, but it is an important thing to stress.
Q237 Roger Williams: Professor de Mora, you have indicated the importance of the Western Channel Observatory as a long-term monitoring project. Do you have difficulty funding that and is NERC the right organisation to do it?
Professor de Mora: It has been funded over the years in a very piecemeal way. That is why right now, with the category of national capability funding, I am quite pleased that we have some kind of stability. But again, if there is another prioritisation exercise after the next Comprehensive Spending Review, we may have to cut back on the things that we are doing. I would say that it is not the ideal mechanism in place. I would hope to go to Defra to convince them of the importance of this, because it is a site not only of national importance but of international significance. Just to explain why, I would say that it is one of the longest oceanographic time series in the world, dating back to 1903. Over the years, a huge number of biogeochemical and now biological measurements have been made, so it is the best characterised site in the world and includes genomics. That information underpins the ecosystem modelling that we do. It also underpins some of the algorithm development for remote sensing. There are an awful lot of things that could fall down if we start losing elements of the work that is done there.
Q238 Roger Williams: I am sorry to rush you, but Dr Frost also says in his written evidence that some UK marine time series will be possibly lost if more funding is not made available. Could you tell us briefly what those projects might be?
Dr Frost: Absolutely. I have been running the marine environmental change work for nearly a decade now. That was set up in response to the Portman Review in 2001, which said that time series are poorly funded, badly co-ordinated and not valued. Since then, in the landscape within NERC, there have been big strides-as Steve alluded to-in terms of recognising their importance, but there are a lot of time series that fall outside any of the research programmes. To give you one example, if you take benthic sampling, which is going out and sampling what is on the seabed, we have four sites around the UK, one in Liverpool Bay, one off Wales, one in the North Sea, and then we have the stuff we do off Plymouth. All of these have decades of data, and I would say at least three of those are now running on the fact that we collect the data because the ship is out there anyway, We do not have any money to analyse those data or to do anything about them. Eventually, people will say, "I am sorry but we cannot keep collecting this if nobody is funding it".
Q239 Roger Williams: Can I ask what input you had with the MSCC long-term monitoring working group?
Dr Frost: Yes. I sat on that committee and I was probably a little harsh about it earlier. It had very good intentions and a good group of people on there, but the issue they were looking at was the transparency over funding and coming to some agreement on what time series got funded and how those decisions were made. I think it was just too insurmountable, because you had NERC and other people who all have their own ways of establishing what is a priority, and we could not transcend those agreements.
Q240 Chair: That comes back to what was said about joining up some of the boundaries between the research houses. Yes?
Dr Frost: Exactly.
Q241 Chair: Final question, if I may. Professor de Mora, in your evidence you mentioned three international programmes on marine research that are no longer receiving support from the UK. What are they and should we have pulled out? This is a problem one sees in other disciplines as well, in astronomy and so on.
Professor de Mora: This is a problem of the wording because it is quite true. What we said was, "Are not supported by the UK any more", but that is effectively because these programmes came to an end. It is not that we have decided to pull out and not subscribe to them. Certainly within NERC, and given the situation since the last Comprehensive Spending Review, had these things come on the horizon now we would not have the funding available to support them. At Plymouth, we do run the international project office for an organisation called POGO, which is the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans. That is fully funded by subscriptions of the different institutes, so that is not funded through any Government channels. There is a difficulty right now with funding international programmes from the UK point of view.
Chair: I thank our two witnesses for attending and, before formally closing the session, I also thank the University for hosting our event this afternoon. In the usual parliamentary terminology, I will finish the event by saying, "Order, order". Thank you, everyone.