Commentary on the Government's response
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. We
envisage this as providing support to collectionsthe 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 the collections.
5. The Government has responded to this call
for increased grants by stating that it will not be possible to
increase grant-in-aid funding to the level it would have been
at, taking account of inflation since 1992, and pointed to "substantial
new resources" that have been made available. There were
varying degrees of dissatisfaction with the Government's increased
funding from all respondents except Kew, which was "very
grateful for this support" (p 6). Several bodies regarded
the statement as "misleading" (p 2, p 4, p 11) given
previous reductions in grant-in-aid, which the most recent increases
do not fully reverse and regret the Government's statement that
they will not bring funding back to 1992 levels. Some, including
the Natural History Museum, pointed to the wider demands being
placed upon them by Government as the result of the Convention
on Biodiversity (for example).
6. We are most disappointed that the grant-in-aid
will not be increased to the levels we recommended, and urge the
Government to reconsider.
Recommendation 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.
7. The Government have not done so. Out of five
respondents who offered comments, the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG)
Kew, the Natural History Museum and the Royal Entomological Society
saw the response as insufficient, and called for the recommendation
to be met. RBG Kew stated "there remains an urgent need for
a concise document which summarises the UK's overall biodiversity
policy" (p 6). RBG Edinburgh took the view that the strategies
listed were not concerned with the international stage, and CABI
thought that more resources need to be devoted to joined-up UK
8. We consider that the rather long list of separate
documents given in the Government response highlights precisely
the need for a summary document. This would enable the systematic
biology and conservation communities to develop effective strategies
in line with the Government's aims.
Recommendation 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 disciplines.
9. There was widespread welcome of the review
of the RAE from respondents, and belief that the RAE could go
some way to arresting the decline in such a minority subject.
10. Despite the Government's response stating
that "the issue of minority subjects and how best to assess
and support them" would be considered as part of the review,
there is no specific mention of minority subjects in the recently
published report by Sir Gareth Roberts. We look to the systematic
biology community to consider how the recommendations made in
the Roberts Review will affect them, and to respond to the consultation
Recommendation 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. The BBSRC has rejected this recommendation.
There was agreement amongst five respondents, including from the
Linnean Society and Royal Entomological Society, that BBSRC should
give RBG Edinburgh and Kew academic analogue status. We see no
reason why this should not be the case. The fact that they receive
core funding from other government departments should not exclude
them from obtaining such status, nor from the potential for further
funding opportunities that comes with it.
Recommendation 1.7: We recommend that the United
Kingdom should take the lead and propose to the Global Biodiversity
Information Facility (GBIF) that the 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
12. The Government's response to this point was
that they support the work of GBIF and has successfully promoted
a pilot project in the light of Professor Godfray's recommendation.
There was some division on this response from respondents. RBG
Kew and the Royal Society were sceptical about GBIF taking on
this role. The Royal Society believed that a web-based pilot should
be undertaken by a major museum or botanic collection (or group
of suchlike). Some others, including CABI, welcomed the Government's
support for it but point out that it is not overwhelmingly, financially,
beneficial to institutions nor the UK. Several question the relationship
of Professor Godfray's idea for a pilot project with GBIF funding
- the Natural History Museum, when describing GBIF's calls for
proposals said "It is not clear what, if any, connexion exists
with Professor Godfray's ideas - our information suggests that
GBIF have not adopted this approach at present" (p 5).
13. We are pleased to note that the Government
have successfully pushed for a pilot project to "demonstrate
GBIF's practical value and usage to the wider conservation community".
We understand that whilst GBIF is not trialling the type of community
on-line monographs that Professor Godfray has been arguing for,
it is supporting the preparation of electronic catalogues and
lists that will be essential for proper web taxonomies. This is
a positive step forward.
Recommendation 1.8: We recommend that DEFRA takes
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
(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
Additional remits would be to:
(b) assess the taxonomic impediment to conservation
actionspecifically to analyse the shortage of taxonomic
specialists and gaps in taxonomic data;
(c) campaign for resources for taxonomists
researching in those priority areas.
14. Witnesses expressed almost universal praise
for DEFRA's agreement to lead such a group. Many respondents have
stated explicitly that they are keen to play a role. Some echoed
the sentiments of RBG Edinburgh that they hope such a body "will
not spend too much time and energy repeating work that was undertaken
by the UK Systematics Forum" (p 6).
15. We look forward to DEFRA taking this Recommendation
forward in the near future, noting that the Government Response
set itself the target of convening a meeting by the end of 2003.
We feel that it may be appropriate for the group to consider issues
raised under Recommendations 1.3 and 1.7 above.
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. 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. All five respondents on this point have welcomed
the increased funding for the Darwin Initiative. However, three,
including RBG Kew and the Linnean Society, regretted that there
was no commitment to earmark funds for those projects with a significant
17. We reiterate our recommendation and call
on the Government to earmark funds for projects with a significant
1 House of Lords, Select Committee on Science and
Technology. 1st Report, 1991-92. Systematic Biology
Research. HL Paper 22-I. ISBN 0 10 480692 3 Back