"The BES provides a vital link to help scientists communicate the importance of our research to policy-makers"

Emma Pilgrim BES Policy Training Workshop

Royal Society of Biology response to the Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework

By Camilla Morrison-Bell, Senior Policy Officer

In January of this year, the UK Government launched a call for evidence for its review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) that was seeking to “investigate ways in which a simpler, lighter-touch, system for the REF might be developed”. Led by Lord Stern, this review was the latest in a number of consultations on higher education and research policy.

The Royal Society of Biology has published their response to the Stern Review of the REF to which the BES contributed. Overall we remained supportive of the broad aims and objectives of the REF. However, the response identified a number of areas that need further guidance, clarification and in some instances amendment so as not to lead to unintended negative consequences.  Four of the stand out issues from our response were the clear support for retaining peer review of research quality (with some additional supporting measures); The burden placed on researchers, their teaching and career progression by the REF; the problem of credit for multi-author and interdisciplinary papers for early career researchers and collaborations; and finally, the negative effect of over focus on journal impact factor (IF).

To expand on a few of these highlighted issues staring with journal IF, it has been found that the problem of using journal IF as a measure of research importance is it is can lead to institutions distorting their investment priorities towards research fields that lend themselves to high impact factor publishing routes. What is needed is a system that incorporates a more sophisticated use of citation data and accounts for variables such as publication time. This should help ensure some important research areas that do not necessarily lend themselves to publication in high IF journals, such as taxonomy/systematics, don’t undergo a decline in funding in preference for broader popular topics.

While the REF has made improvements to ensure research benefits for society, policy, health wellbeing as well as the environment are better accounted for, there is still a need to understand and communicate the principles behind how to measure impact on these areas. As such there is a need to know how to recognise these impacts, how to capture them and how to widely communicate them.  This process of measuring research impact needs further guidance and to be clear, yet without becoming too tightly defined that it cannot be flexible enough to accommodate the different research outputs; be they more theoretical versus practical. It will also need to take account of whether research will have an immediate impact or a longer term impact, as well as the importance of research at the local versus international level.

These nuances all also serve to highlight the importance of the peer review process, and how difficult it would be to replace it with a metric assessment (quantitative indicator) only. A standalone metric assessment cannot provide a satisfactory assessment of the quality and impact of research. In addition, the over simplification might also see the loss of important information captured through the REF. This supports the view expressed in the independent review of metrics chaired by Prof. James Wilsdon that: “No set of numbers, however broad, is likely to be able to capture the multifaceted and nuanced judgements on the quality of research outputs that the REF process currently provides”.

There are also a number of other implications of REF, which is having a considerable influence on academic behaviour and not always with a positive outcome. For example, subjects which are naturally interdisciplinary can be penalised by the current REF if they fall between different units of assessment and the available funding is often low; for example any given ecological topic may be submitted to a number of different subject panels such as environmental science, biology or agriculture. Yet interdisciplinary research often plays an important role in policy discussions and thus has an important role to play outside of academia. There is also a danger that the REF could inhibit collaborations by over-incentivising REF performance of individual institutions and competition for papers authorship.

The REF is also perceived as having an impact on the role and focus of staff within research institutions with negative consequences such as there being extra pressure on research output, possibly the expense of quality teaching. It can also foster an over focus on REF performance when considering staff promotions, and encourage researchers to move too frequently to new institutions as well as unintended implications on the curriculum with a preference for staff working in fields more likely to produce REF-eligible outputs.

Finally, there are a few other key areas that the REF has a strong influence over such as publication strategies, potentially concentrating of research into an ever smaller number of institutions and even hindering development of both early stage careers.  Changes are needed to ensure these sometimes unintended consequences to do not continue to have problematic impacts so we will remain engaged with this issue as it develops.

Further details on the implications of the REF as well as for more information on the metrics and impacts can be seen in the response from the Royal Society of Biology to the Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework. We will continue to engage with this review as it develops and, and welcome views from members – get in touch with your ideas or concerns.

Posted in BIS, Consultation, Government, Research and Development, Science, Science Funding, Science Policy, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting on with interviews

By Heather Crump, Aberystwyth University, BES Conservation Ecology SIG Early Career Representative @hec72012

Many doors can open as a result of a PhD, whether they lead to continued research, lectureships or work with a non-governmental organisation; none are to be left unexplored. However, finding the key to open the doors of success and longevity can be a tricky process! Well, thanks to Ben Collen and Zoe Davies , who facilitated the interview session at the BES Conservation SIG Early Careers Workshop earlier this March, the key cabinet is a little less muddled!

Opening the door to your future

Their session took a step by step approach, guiding us through application content and interview techniques for post-doctoral research assistants, to fellowships and lectureships. All three stages concentrated upon longevity, progression and a “future perspective” of not only you but within your field of choice.

One of the biggest hurdles to climb is convincing the employer that they should interview you! The thing is, you could be the best person in the Universe for the job, but the reviewer doesn’t know you yet… at the moment you are just “Candidate #1”…

Your CV is a great opportunity to detail your experiences, skills and knowledge bases. However, most institutions require a covering letter or an application form in addition to your CV. This session took us through the creation of a covering letter, from the perspective of the reviewer. Some of the core things to detail are:

* Why do you want the job?

* Can you verify your skills?

* Why do you want to work there?

* What are your future plans?

* How can you further the field?

* What is your vision?

Other tips: when you write a covering letter, just make sure you stay on track. Try to cover all of the requirements in the job description and dig deeper into the ethos of the institution. How do you represent their core values and fit into their already established workforce? Becoming part of a new institution is not only about your skills but how you, yourself, fit into the team.

You, institution, job

When it comes to the interview itself, it is your time to shine! Zoe and Ben, both having been interviewers themselves, gave us some great insights into textbook interview techniques and even helped us to ensure the best first impression is made. Some of these tips can also be found here, here and here.

As mentioned on the day, interviews are a great opportunity for you to elaborate on your application form and have a discussion with like-minded individuals. Be confident, be concise and finally, don’t forget to shine your shoes! Read more about what to expect here or have a look at examples of questions here and here.

Importantly, don’t get disheartened if you don’t succeed at first; sometimes it takes a bit of searching to find the key to YOUR door to success.

And “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” said Milton Berle – so why not also take a look at the networking and funding blogs in this series?

Good luck!

This blog is part of a series of posts from the BES/ZSL Conservation Careers Workshop, also posted on The Applied Ecologist’s blog and the ZSL Wild Science blog. Find out more.

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The nuances of networking and the crux of the CV

By Lydia Cole, Rezatec, BES Conservation Ecology SIG Liaison Officer @lydcole

“Who enjoys networking?”


And then we all hear the news: our first task is a game, which consists in spending 20 minutes networking our very hardest.  The rule is simple: the winner of the ‘competition’ is the person whose name is written down most by members of the group for being a useful connection, e.g. could offer them career advice, suggest a useful publication to slot into their thesis or draw to their attention a potentially invaluable peatland vegetation identification key (albeit in Finnish – yes, wonderfully niche!).

Networking, in action

Networking, in action

Ben Connor (BES Policy Officer) spent the first half of the session imparting wisdom on the finer skills of networking (some of which covered here and here). These included:

  • Remember that everyone is human, everyone has been in your position (dreading networking as an awkward early career drifter) and everyone has had to work their way to greater knowledge and experience somehow;
  • The ultimate networking success is when both parties gain from the interaction: try to embody the “you-rub-my-back-I’ll-rub-yours” saying;
  • In a busy conference setting, it may be more effective to pre-plan a meeting with your hero to ensure it does actually happen before they sneak off, but if there is nothing specific you want to ask someone in particular, following your interests and instincts on the day (wine glass in hand) may yield equal or even more interesting results;
  • The art of politely ending a conversation that isn’t coming up with the goods in your limited time-frame is just that: an art; and thus,
  • Practice makes perfect.

The second half of the session (to our relief!) focused on critiquing CVs and matching them to job descriptions. Elina Rantanen (ZSL Publications Team) led us through this activity, where we were given various hypothetical people’s CVs and a pile of job applications, and asked to match them up.  This proved a very interesting exercise in seeing which CVs were more appealing to us, based on layout, content, brevity, etc..  We discussed the relatively new fashion in CVs of including a brief profile at the start, which gives a c. five line introduction to your education and experience for the role that you are applying for; something of a short narrative on you.  Other things to consider when constructing your CV are:

  • How can you tailor it to the job you are applying for? For example, for a research position, list your University education/academic background and publications towards the start;
  • What detail is needed for this job application? Perhaps you don’t need to include your 50m swimming badge for a desk-based policy job;
  • How can you redesign your academic CV for a non-academic job application?

We left the session with new knowledge on the tricks of the networking trade, ideas for how to appropriately revamp our CVs (interesting tips can also be found here, here, and here) and even some ideas about the range of potential jobs we could apply for (starting by regularly visiting websites such as this one, this one or this one).  So next time, take a risk and start a conversation, as you never know what doors it might open!  It might even help you to queue jump the lunch queue, unnoticed.

Here are Ben’s three key take-home messages from this session. You may also want to watch the BES webinar on “How to plan your career”, including presentations on CV building, moving from PhD to postdoc and finding careers outside of academia.

This blog is part of a series of posts from the BES/ZSL Conservation Careers Workshop, also posted on The Applied Ecologists blog and the ZSL Wild Science blog. Find out more.

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Update from the BES Policy and Knowledge Exchange training day

By Amy G. Fensome, Policy Intern

On the 4 March 2016 the BES held a Policy and Knowledge Exchange training day at the University of Liverpool. About 30 PhD students attended as part of the doctoral training programme of ACCE (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment), the partnership between the University of Sheffield, York, Leeds and NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

The day included a combination of practical tasks such as the “Tweet your PhD challenge”, won by Melanie Brien, interspersed with excellent presentations from guest speakers including Naomi Weir from CaSE, Andrew Miller Former Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Jonny Wentorth from the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) and Sarah Blackford, Head of Education and Public Affairs at the Society for Experimental Biology.

The day was a great success with some very positive feedback, especially with regards to the presentations but the quality of the cake served at lunch also received a couple of mentions. The event will be held again next year. The highlights from the day included:

Sarah Blackford spoke about the importance of communicating your research in the media with the premise that “If you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist”. Take away messages included:

  • Your research can reach the media via press releases from your university, scientific journal or conference but journalists might also pick up a story from EurekAlert!
  • A press release, or article, is not the same as an abstract. The rules of engagement are: 1. Begin with a catchy, fun title; 2. Think about your opening line- strong statements and questions are popular; 3. Say what’s new, timely and important about your research early on- don’t build up to it; 4. Find a great picture.

Andrew Miller spoke about the Science and Technology Committee and how to influence science in government. His tops tips were:

  • Submit written evidence to inquiries
  • Suggest witnesses for oral evidence
  • Suggest ideas for inquiries (a “long list” is kept and under regular review)
  • Engage with your MP

Jonny Wentworth spoke about the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology and presented us with the diagram below showing the key governmental and external bodies that provide, review and scrutinise evidence. He noted that policy decisions are not only informed by evidence but also cost implications, ethics and morals, public acceptability and politics.


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Publicising your work to support your career aspirations

By Katherine Baldock NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow, University of Bristol, BES Conservation SIG early career rep @Kath_Baldock

Publicising your research and learning to communicate with a range of audiences is key to raising your profile as a researcher, especially in the early career stages when you may not have published many papers. Visibility isn’t a component to be neglected when building a career, which is why the one day conservation career event organised by the British Ecological Society Conservation Group decided to give this topic its full attention. Thanks to Nathalie Pettorelli (Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London) and Becky Allen (journalist and British Ecological Society press officer), each participant was thus offered the opportunity to discuss online profile building and securing media opportunities.

We started off by thinking about why engaging with the media is important in communicating research to a wider audience. Many of us work in our field because we want to make a difference: to make a difference, we need to communicate our message to audiences outside of academia, including policymakers, campaigners, funders and the public. Most of these audiences get their knowledge of science from the media, so it’s important to learn how best to interact with the media to make sure you can get the key information across.

The workshop was split into two tasks. The first task was to develop a communications strategy for a published article. We learned that it isn’t always easy to pick out the main messages from published papers and the exercise highlighted the importance of making sure the main study findings can be clearly identified from the abstract, and presented in a jargon-free way.

Some recommendations that emerged during our discussions on promoting published papers included the following:

  • Once your paper has been accepted, approach your organisation’s press officer and tell him/her what’s really exciting about that work. If you don’t know who your press officer is, find out and talk to him/her about your research (and well before you need to publicise your paper!)
  • The aim of a press release is to “sell” your story and persuade media organisations to cover it. A press release should therefore have a snappy title, a clear message and be understood by non-scientists. Becky provided several examples of press releases associated with the publication of articles in BES journals. For example a proposed press release title for this paper was “Translocated birds speak with a different accent”.
  • Think about creating a lay summary to accompany your paper to help non-scientists understand the main points (as done e.g. here).
  • Consider translating your abstract, lay summary and/or press release into different languages to make the research accessible to more people. For example if your research was conducted in Argentina translate your findings into Spanish so local people can read about your research.
  • Make sure you use social media to publicise your paper (and read more on this below!).
  • Think about using different media to promote your research – you could create a blog, video or podcast, or use an infographic – visual approaches will appeal to a wider audience. If you have sound clips, you can use these as well!

The second task was a practice interview in which we interviewed one another on the papers we’d been given. This is probably much easier when discussing your own research but made us all think about the types of questions that journalists might ask in interviews.


Practicing media interviews

We ended the hour by discussing the use of online social media to promote your research. One clear recommendation was to build up your social media profile well ahead of when you expect to publish your research. It is no good joining Twitter on the day your paper is published! Promoting your research ahead of time, e.g. by posting photos during fieldwork and linking to relevant articles, will help to raise your profile so you’re well placed to promote your research when it is published.

Nathalie summarising her three take-home messages from the session.

This blog is part of a series of posts from the BES/ZSL Conservation Careers Workshop, also posted on The Applied Ecologists blog and the ZSL Wild Science blogFind out more

Posted in BES, Biodiversity, Conservation, Event, Science Communication, Uncategorized, Workshop | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing successful grant applications: power in numbers

By Claudia Gray, Zoological Society of London, BES Conservation SIG Communications Officer

To contribute successfully to biodiversity conservation, you will almost certainly have to get money from somewhere. Your salary, your research assistants, your equipment, any engagement with stakeholders and ultimately the conservation of your focal habitat or species are likely to depend on you getting funding. An essential part of the day was therefore the workshop focussed on the challenge of convincing a funder to back your plans.

The funding workshop was run by Colin Beale (University of York) and Jon Bielby (Zoological Society of London), providing their hints and tips for how to put together a successful bid. First, there is the challenge of identifying the right pot of money to go for. The conservation specialist interest group committee from the British Ecological Society (BES) provided a shortlist of potential funding for conservation action and associated research to the participants, which compiled various lists found on the web (such as this one, this one and this one). However, this shortlist was still over eleven pages long and covered a vast range of different options.

Happy facilitators sharing a tea and a biscuit before the start of the event

Happy facilitators sharing a tea and a biscuit before the start of the event

So, which one to go for? Each participant chose a project or selected one from the list of suggestions, and then hunted out a potential funder. The shortlist of funders revealed pots of money we hadn’t heard of before, that could very possibly be useful in the future – very handy knowledge to take away.

Trying to match up projects to funders prompted important questions: How can I find out what this money has previously gone to? Can I submit an informal enquiry before my submission? Can I email previous applicants or the funders to ask for successful applications? Do they tend to focus on particular types of project even if this is not mentioned in the criteria?  The group discussion provided some helpful answers. For example, yes, it is certainly worth emailing applicants that previously received funding – they may share the secrets of their success, and you have nothing to lose if they don’t.

Once a promising source of cash is identified, the second challenge is writing the application. Although the session was only one hour, Colin and John had everyone choose a project, refine the key selling points, think through the methods and then write a funding application in small teams. For which funder? Well, the BES of course!

Each team wrote an application for a BES small grant (£5000 – £20,000) in record time. The main focus was on the title, the lay persons’ summary and the project description. The word limit for all of these sections is short, only a couple of hundred words, and splitting up the sections made for fun team work. The time pressure also made it easier to focus on the most important, most attractive components of the project. My team wrote a great plan for testing whether a cull of invasive rats would benefit the fictional lesser spotted squivlet!

Focusing on selling the squivlet to the BES

Focusing on selling the squivlet to the BES

Back in a big group, we looked through a successful application (not about the squivlet) and having just tried to create one, the pros and cons of that application stood out really clearly. The project description was really short and general, but very clearly written. The methods were laid out in clear steps and could be understood easily by non-specialists. The outcomes would be exciting and important for science.

Overall, the session was engaging, fast-paced and very interactive. Colin and Jon walked around throughout the session to answer questions and provide specific insights. The group discussions offered a chance for everyone to raise their concerns and share their thoughts, and, in general everyone left feeling a little less daunted by the challenge of getting new funding.

Some of the tips discussed during the session have been captured by others: interesting links include this highly retweeted post by Conservationbytes, this post by the Guardian, and the tips shared by the ESRC.

This blog is part of a series of posts from the BES/ZSL Conservation Careers Workshop. Find out more

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, Event, Research and Development, Science, Science Funding, Uncategorized, Workshop | Leave a comment

Ecological Ambassadors Scheme

A day in the life of Ecological Ambassador James White …


The wide range of pressures that humans place on the natural environment is becoming increasingly evident and the next generation of ecologists are required to safeguard our planet for the future. In recognition of this, the British Ecological Society have established the ‘Ecological Ambassador’ scheme to connect early-career researchers with sixth form students potentially considering an academic career in ecology in the future. The outreach programme was set up to enable PhD students to communicate their research with pupils through exciting ways that involve active participation within the classroom. The overall goal of this scheme is to inspire the next generation A-level students to consider undertaking studies of an ecological nature in the future.

On the 9th October 2015, all ambassadors attended a training day at the British Ecological Society offices in London to encourage us to think about the different ways we could communicate our research to target audiences very different to those we typically encounter during our PhD research. Discussions between the ambassadors highlighted a range of relevant, engaging and exciting classroom techniques that had been developed by the trainees in preparation for the event. Interacting with other ambassadors allowed me to build upon provisional classroom techniques that I had considered, as well as providing an opportunity to learn about exciting ecological topics being researched by fellow PhD students.

My own research focusses on macroinvertebrate communities within rivers and I have always been eager to introduce these exciting organisms to students in the classroom so that they can see the diverse range of fauna found within aquatic ecosystems. In early December, I visited my first college in Tamworth (Staffordshire) and demonstrated some of my research interests to Geography and Biology A-level students by running a workshop on identifying macroinvertebrates from samples that I had previously collected from rivers with very different levels of water pollution. Results from the classroom were compared with those recorded by the Environment Agency to highlight the ‘real world’ applications of such information. I intend to revisit the same college in the future to demonstrate to the students how statistics can be used within ecological studies and show the multi-disciplinary nature of such research. I will also return to my old college in Solihull (West Midlands), where I developed my initial enthusiasm for rivers, in the near future to help students sample macroinvertebrates from a small stream and introduce how the information they collect in the field and laboratory can be used within ecological studies.

I have found informing A-level students about my research to be a rewarding experience and have been grateful for the opportunity provided by the British Ecological Society to take part in the programme. I hope to continue engaging with and encouraging the next generation of river ecologists to highlight the ongoing need for such research and to highlight the range of threats that these systems are exposed to today.

James White










James White is a PhD student at Loughborough University, studying the impacts of groundwater abstraction on macroinvertebrate communities in river systems.

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Fledging the nest: an early career event for the next generation of Conservation Ecologists

Lydia Cole, Rezatec, BES Conservation Ecology SIG Liaison Officer @lydcole

Katherine Baldock, University of Bristol, BES Conservation Ecology SIG Early Career Rep @Kath_Baldock

Claudia Gray, Zoological Society of London, BES Conservation Ecology SIG Communications Officer @ClaudiaLGray

Heather Crump, Aberystwyth University, BES Conservation Ecology SIG Early Career Rep @hec72012

A line up of Experts for the first of its kind: an audience-participation Early Career event catering specifically for Conservation Ecologists.

A line up of experts for the first of its kind: an audience-participation early career event catering specifically for conservation ecologists.

Last Friday heralded the first training event of the revived BES Conservation Ecology Special Interest Group: an interactive workshop for Early Career Conservation Ecologists.  Jointly hosted by the Zoological Society of London and the British Ecological Society, the event brought together a herd of experts, working in fields ranging from journal editing, to university lecturing and policy, to guide early career attendees through five interactive sessions.

The philosophy behind the day was to provide an active learning opportunity where the bright, enthusiastic cohort of PhDs and postdocs currently trying to enter the world of conservation could learn a range of skills that would better equip them for this challenge.  And they flocked in their numbers, with over 65 gathering at the London Zoo, in view of the kangaroos, having travelled from as far afield as Falmouth to the south and Durham to the north.

Universities are busy places, full of busy supervisors, who do not always have the time to impart knowledge on how the world (of conservation) works and how best to get into it; this workshop attempted to bring that knowledge into one room and encourage the early career enthusiasts to tap into it.

The day was divided into five sessions, each an hour long, where participants spread themselves across five thematic groups:

  1. Funding
  2. Press and online media profile building
  3. Networking and CV development for non-academic careers
  4. Interview skills for academic careers
  5. Publishing


The Funding ‘station’, in action

The funding ‘station’, in action

At each ‘station’ ( = a round table + experts x 2 + useful materials + Post-its (of course!)), attendees were asked to perform a series of tasks to engage them with the theme, ranging from seeing how many “useful” new contacts they could make in a quick-fire networking break-out, to matching abstracts to journals, drafting a BES small grant application and putting together a communication strategy for a paper about to be published.  In between tasks, there was plenty of time to mine the knowledge of the experts, who must have answered several thousand questions over the course of the day (thank you, experts!).  And throughout, there was not a lecture in sight!

Informal feedback tells us it was a day well received:

To mark the event and share the knowledge gained from it, we will be running a series of blogs over the coming fortnight, with each post focusing one of the five workshop themes.  So if you missed the event, check out the blogs….and watch out for the invitation to #conscareers17!

And remember: you can easily keep up-to-date with the Conservation Ecology SIG news by following us on Twitter @BESConservation and Facebook through the BES Conservation Ecology group page.  Alternatively, you can join our mailing list by dropping an email to Nathalie.Pettorelli@ioz.ac.uk

This post can also be viewed on the Applied Ecologist’s Blog

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The Nagoya Protocol

By Amy G. Fensome, Policy Intern

The UK is moving ever closer to the full implementation of the Nagoya Protocol, or to give it its full title “The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic resources and the Fair and Equitable sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization”. The UK ratified the agreement on the 22 February and so will become a Party to the Protocol 90 days after this on the 22 May.

The agreement encompasses some of the most pressing issues of our time (and several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals) and supports the continued exploration and development of natural products (medicines, foods) for the betterment of human health and wellbeing globally, whilst making sure that this is not at the expense of indigenous communities, less economically developed nations or the planet but directly beneficial to them.

The stated goal of the protocol is “the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources, thereby contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity”. Where traditional knowledge has contributed to the identification of useful compounds occurring within natural products, the indigenous communities are to be consulted and mutually agreeable terms negotiated to ensure the equitable sharing of any benefits arising from the use of this knowledge.

This is potentially an extraordinary piece of international legislation and it’s been a long time coming. Part of the UN’s Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), work towards an agreement on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) began in 1997-98 with the establishment of an expert panel and culminated in the Nagoya Protocol in 2010. The agreement entered into force in October 2014 and has steadily taken root within EU (April 2014) and UK (March 2015) legislation.

But what does the protocol mean in practice?

Firstly, the protocol doesn’t apply to genetic resources identified and developed prior to 12 October 2014 but it does mean that as part of due diligence procedures it will be necessary to demonstrate that the materials pre-date the commencement of the protocol.

Anyone wishing to obtain and use new materials must obtain Prior Informed Consent (PIC).  This means that relevant parties in the provider country must be informed about the potential uses of the genetic material and if any indigenous knowledge is attached to the compound of interest then these communities must also be consulted as part of negotiating Mutually Agreeable Terms (MATs).

Benefit sharing is considered within the Mutually Agreed Terms. Benefits are supposed to be “directed in such a way as to promote conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity” and contribute to alleviating poverty. Potentially, benefits could include financial rewards including the setting up of trust funds for indigenous communities but are more likely to be activities and projects that contribute to the above stated goals, such as capacity-building, training, exchange programmes and access to relevant information and technology.

The EU regulations relating to the implementation of the Protocol require that due diligence will have to be demonstrated when researchers are recipients of funding for research involving the utilisation of genetic resources and at the final stage of product development (if applicable). This means providing evidence of the date and place that the genetic material was accessed, the source of the DNA and where applicable any permits or MAT agreements associated with the genetic resource.

Failure to demonstrate compliance with UK regulations relating to the implementation of the Protocol may eventually result in civil action. A series of notices to comply or halt work will be issued if due diligence has not been proven. Ultimately action against those who fail to comply could escalate to a fine of up to £5000 or 3 months in prison or an unspecified fine and 2 years in prison for indictable offences.

Information relating to the protocol on the CBD website is extensive and ranges from fairly basic fact-sheets that serve as introductions to the Nagoya Protocol and Access and Benefit Sharing and the terms of the agreement (e.g. Genetics, Traditional Knowledge, National Implementation) to a detailed overview of the protocol put together by the IUCN. The CBD have provided a short video. EU and sector specific guidance is in development and expected in 2016 and 2016/17.

Big heart, no teeth?

The underlying rationale of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) is that by imbuing the source of genetic material with a value (as agreed in the MAT which could include but is not limited to a financial value) it encourages biodiversity as a whole to be valued and in this way creates an incentive to sustainably use and conserve both the resource and the wider biodiversity of the region. However, as this IUCN guide points out, there is no specific legislation that defines how the protocol, via the MAT and benefit sharing, ensures that these conservation and sustainability goals are achieved or how parties to the protocol can enforce them. The legislation leaves this key value of the protocol wide open for interpretation. Overall it seems that the protocol has its heart in the right place but it’s a little bit toothless.

At the same time the Nagoya Protocol is a stride in the right direction. On first learning about the protocol I couldn’t help wonder what the world would look like now if the protocol had been around 100-150 odd years ago. Sugar, chocolate and tropical fruits – these and many other natural products were taken from one place (Asia, South and Central America, Africa) and (via Dutch, British, French and American interests) introduced and grown around the world, especially in the global south, a colonial practice that represented a contributing factor to massive inequalities globally in terms of power and wealth. Inequalities that persist to this day.

Whilst we might roll our eyes at yet more bureaucracy the protocol is a statement to the effect that this modus operandi is not acceptable. And that should be welcomed. It also recognises that environmental, social and economic problems are intrinsically linked and that their solution must also be.

For further information visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/abs

or contact abs@nmro.gov.uk


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