"I found the scheme exceedingly helpful, particularly for confidence-building. I would recommend it to anyone."

Dr Judith Lock BES Mentoring Scheme for Women in Ecology

Developing the next generation of scientists and engineers by consolidating efforts in education, business and industry

The Westminster Higher Education Forumconnects policymakers in Parliament, Whitehall and government agencies with key stakeholders to discuss topical matters. Earlier this month, the BES attended the seminar which considered issues concerning the next generation of scientists and engineers. Here are some highlights…

Professor John Perkins, Chief Scientific Advisor for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) kicked off the seminar by looking at engineering skills in the UK. Reflecting on the Review of Engineering Skills (November 2013), Professor Perkins reported that the skills shortage would impact the government’s ability to deliver its industrial strategy. One of many positive responses to the report has been from the Royal Academy of Engineering who have devised four specialist Finish and Task Groups to consider the review’s 22 recommendations. He emphasised the significance of a collective effort from stakeholders in business, industry, and education, coming together as a community to consolidate initiatives like Tomorrow’s Engineers driving inspiration, and the employer-led Trailblazer Apprenticeships which value alternative, work-based routes into engineering.

The seminar then went onto consider the current provision of STEM in schools, from the school curriculum, to practical lessons, teaching and careers advice.  Professor Louise Archer, from the ASPIRES Project reported findings from the five year survey where 19, 000 school children across the UK were interviewed at ages 10/11, and then again at 13/14. A positive finding was that the majority of young people are interested in science. However, this interest does not translate into them wanting a career in science, with most students opting for a career in business instead which is the most gender, ethnic and class equal of all career aspirations. However, the report did find the greater a young person’s ‘Science Capital’ – knowledge, resources, contacts in STEM – the more likely they are to aspire to a career in STEM. Professor Archer urged for greater promotion of the transferrable skills students acquire from studying science, whether or not they do actually pursue a career in it – they should keep their options open for as long as possible.

Tim Bowker, the Head of Physics at Bodmin College in Cornwall successfully demonstrated the different ways to encourage STEM in schools; from STEM club, to university trips, peer mentoring and collaborating on research projects with partners like Flybe and the Marine Biological Association of the UK. He emphasised the significance of setting up structures in schools so students and teachers can harness inspiration and opportunities into action for the long term.

Never too far from most talks concerning Higher Education is the issue of tuition fees, highlighting the important influence of policy on funding and educational outcomes. Interestingly, Lis Edwards from Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the regulator and funder for Higher Education in England, reported that they have managed to protect and maintain the levels of high cost funding for lab based subjects in 2014/15, despite an overall cut in the teaching funding available. What is more, there is support for growth from BIS that is expected in the next year, £185m coming over the next four years from 2015/16, with additional capital funding in 2015/16. Questions do remain around barriers to further growth in higher education and how the upturn of STEM in school is carried forward beyond further education, which HEFCE are keen to explore.

According to Melanie Radford from the University Technical College (UTC) Cambridge, the UTC movement looks promising for closing the STEM skills gap in the UK. She emphasised that aside from the more obvious funding issues, it is important that all issues are identified and understood in order for them to be closed. As well as encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers, there is a need to support disadvantaged youth diagnosed with disabilities and B/C GCSE grade students who are passionate about science. UTC Cambridge have longer school days and school year, and are currently mapping the curriculum to STEM employer led challenge projects through strong industry partnerships which should ensure students are better placed to achieve the necessary qualifications to study STEM subjects at university.

At postgraduate level, the new government backed centres for Doctoral Training Providers (DTPs), is envisioned to help meet the needs of STEM graduates in industry and academia too. At each centre there will be small cohorts of approximately 10 students per year on a four year doctorate course. There is an expectation of original research, a broadening skill set, and enhanced technical knowledge embedded within a research area of the university, which would need to be identified as a priority area through consultation with industry and business too. We are pleased to announce the BES has a number of bespoke training courses available to PhD students at UK institutions that are part of the new NERC DTPs. Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council expects around 5,000 innovative and internationally competitive students to be trained through the DTP process. Having already leveraged extra funding from industry, this initiative demonstrates the endless possibilities which can come about through connecting industry and academia.

A common theme which ran throughout the seminar was the call for continued efforts to connect and maintain links between education, industry and business. Professor Perkins reported that the time constraints associated with the STEM supply system are over ten years, so strongly recommended interested stakeholders continue to take collective action.  Only then will the progress made within and across these sectors take effect, and challenge these long standing issues at a national level.

We are keen to hear your view on issues concerning the STEM skills gap and issues affecting the current and future generation of scientists and engineers in the UK. Share your opinions by tweeting us at @BES_careers.

Posted in BIS, Education, Education Policy, Equality and Diversity, Government, Science Policy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Defra network’s evidence strategy: efficiency, collaboration, innovation…and more efficiency

This month Defra announced its new evidence strategy for 2014/15 for its network which highlights how they will encourage the production of more high quality evidence to assist policy makers. The strategy outlines how they hope to do this through working collaboratively, improving access to and quality of evidence and last but not least by improving efficiency to produce ‘value for money’ evidence.

This evidence strategy encompasses not just Defra’s evidence plans but the whole of its network’s shared policy priorities reflecting their desire to work more collaboratively on their evidence goals. The network includes bodies such as Natural England, Forestry Commission, and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. However, it is made clear that they also hope to strengthen their connections with other key partners and the scientific community. A strong theme of efficiency is echoed throughout the strategy. Evaluation of current projects and policies is highlighted as a necessary process in order to deduce where funding should be withdrawn or extended. However another way they hope to achieve their goals of delivering lots of high quality evidence on a tight budget is by encouraging more co-funding of projects.

Defra hope to use modelling to improve scientific understanding and suggest it may be a more economical approach. They pledge to make better use of data by making it more accessible to others, utilizing citizen science projects and social media and combining existing data sets to potentially answer novel questions.

Whilst Defra will continue to maintain their critical capability to respond to notifiable diseases and other known risks, they have acknowledged the need to investigate lesser known risks and react with a strongly evidence based approach. Defra have developed a new framework to decide where to invest in and have highlighted the need to identify research priorities that come out of horizon scanning procedures, reflecting the government’s pledge to improve their horizon scanning programme last July.

Risk analyses will help develop strategies, and prioritise key areas for example in combating tree pests and diseases, and coping with flooding. The wet winter has pushed research into flood resilience has been pushed high up the agenda, with research from the Joint Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) to help farmers build resilience to extreme weather in the face of climate change.

Defra have a number of statutory evidence obligations which will receive approximately 35% of the £200m allocated expenditure on evidence. This includes monitoring pesticide residues in food, monitoring air quality, monitoring animal and plant health, monitoring Marine Protected Areas, monitoring biodiversity and water quality. They anticipate that around 40% of this budget will be spent with external suppliers of evidence. Defra and partners hope to encourage innovation by jointly funding £160m of research into the technological advancements and  in agriculture over the next five years, to achieve sustainable intensification.

The scale of the evidence referred to varies, from small scale interactions in local communities, to the projected eight terabytes per day to be delivered by Copernicus satellites over the next few years. The strategy draws upon examples of best practice that it hopes to implement more widely, such as the Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI).  Nine projects have been jointly funded a total of £10m over five years by the five bodies in the partnership. The results from these projects inform agricultural, environmental stewardship, pesticide and pollinator health policy. More cooperative approaches could benefit large scale projects such as river catchment restoration which often require multiple organisations to combine resources to produce valuable evidence.

The Defra network have promised us efficiency, collaboration and innovation in their approach to tackling evidence needs and now face the critical question of how to implement this strategy.

Posted in Agriculture, Defra, England, Government, Pollinators, Research and Development, Science Policy, Wales | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Achieving no net loss of something or other

In this guest blog post, Bruce Howard, the NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow on biodiversity offsetting, gives his take on BBOP’s ‘To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond’ conference recently held in London. Bruce is based at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Representatives of over 30 countries gathered on 3rd and 4th June for the first global conference on approaches to avoid, minimise, restore and offset biodiversity loss. This sequence of four activities, known as the mitigation hierarchy, is crucial to protecting ‘biodiversity’ from the impacts of building things on the ground or at sea.

The conference, which was spearheaded by the Business and Biodiversity Offsets (BBOP) Programme, was entitled To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond. No net loss of biodiversity is what many believe should result from correct application of the mitigation hierarchy. The idea was used as part of the rationale for Defra’s 2013 Green Paper on plans to bring about greater use of biodiversity offsetting in England.

The discussions at the conference demonstrated that while the logic of the mitigation hierarchy is accepted widely, the assessment of whether it is being applied will always be subjective. For example, does avoidance include development proposals that were abandoned before they were properly documented? Similarly, is minimisation just sensible environmental planning?

Most delegates appeared to agree that biodiversity offsets are a last resort at the end of the mitigation hierarchy. There were, however, differences of opinion among participants about the effect of the option of offsetting on steps further up the hierarchy. Some at the conference claimed that offsets provided an incentive to drive up standards throughout the mitigation hierarchy, not least because of the costs involved.  Others would disagree, or at least argue that the evidence for this among all the offset schemes worldwide is lacking.

The conference contained a mix of parochial and planetary considerations. In a plenary debate about the pros and cons of including offsets in the mitigation hierarchy, Tom Tew, Chief Executive of the Environment Bank asserted that offsetting for England was not about “saving the planet” but rather “introducing environmental accountability into [spatial] planning”. This down-to-earth view contrasted with the more general and global view of others. Overall, the conference made clear that where offsets are permitted, success or failure of offsets will always depend on the circumstances. These include the availability of data to establish an ecological baseline, the extent of good governance and the technical merits of restoration proposals.

Strangely, there was little discussion among conference participants as to exactly what the biodiversity we don’t want to lose actually is. The Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Braullio Dias, spoke about the roles of biodiversity in health and poverty eradication but not its identity. The CBD’s definition of biodiversity, which focuses on variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes of which they are part, is giving way to the view that it is all things that people value about nature. Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development made the provocative claim that biodiversity is a “meaningless” term in the goal-oriented world of business.  Without clarity on what we are trying to protect in diverse situations around the world, it will be impossible to monitor progress towards any no net loss goal.

The idea of no net loss perhaps found greatest meaning in a keynote speech by the Environment Minister for Gabon, Noel Nelson Messone. He set out a vision for protecting his country’s natural resources by means of extensive protected areas and bans on the export of raw commodities. No net loss of virgin forest in Central Africa is far more tangible as a goal than the avoidance of overall biodiversity loss around the UK.

A business roundtable on day two focused on building a business case for biodiversity and putting no net loss into practice within the private sector. The businesses represented had many different approaches to biodiversity protection, ranging from accounting for impacts along supply chains to the application of the mitigation hierarchy. The need for more partnerships between businesses and nature-based NGOs and governments was identified.  At a session on safeguards, standards and tools for biodiversity protection, the need for trained ecologists with good communication and negotiation skills was noted.

The conference was entitled To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond. The ‘beyond’ was perhaps an allusion to the idea of net gain. However, until we can deliver no net loss for the something or other that we call biodiversity, the achievement of net gain will remain a task for future generations.

Posted in Biodiversity Offsetting, Conference, International | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Measuring and improving well-being – what is the role for natural capital?

Progress in the UK has long been measured by GDP and other economic metrics such as employment rate. To get a fuller picture of the health of society and its pathway to sustainable development, attempts can be made to measure and quantify the well-being of citizens. Many sustainable development indicators are particularly relevant to well-being, highlighting how integral it is already to sustainable development.

Following on from their 2012 report on sustainable development indicators, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) last week released a report into well-being. Assessing the Office for National Statistic’s (ONS) work into well-being, the use of well-being research results by government, and the work of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC), the EAC encourages the momentum behind the NCC to continue, and for the Government to start using well-being data to improve existing policies.

A broad concept with many definitions, well-being is broadly understood to be a positive physical, social, and mental state. The three capitals of sustainable development – economic, social, and natural – encompass well-being. Since 2011, the ONS has been working to try to address the state of these capitals to see how the UK is faring overall. The work of the Measuring National Well-being Programme was encouraged further in the outcomes of Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012, which highlighted the need for new measures of progress to complement GDP. Despite the focus in this area, the EAC report highlights that the ONS data has yet to be developed to a stage where it can identify the causal links between well-being and life that are needed for policy making.

The difficulty of developing a headline metric for well-being that might be considered alongside GDP was also addressed by the Committee’s inquiry. One of the witnesses to the inquiry, NEF, indicated that a headline indicator could engage the public with the well-being evidence, and others highlighted how other initiatives have achieved this e.g. Oxfam Scotland’s Humankind Index. The Committee recommends that the government and ONS should not attempt to define a headline measure for well-being just yet. A measure would be better received once there all component measures have a track-record of effectiveness, they have a reasonable level of public familiarity, and a general consensus has been reached on their value and usefulness.

The pillar of sustainable development that has been a recent focus for government is natural capital. The 2011 natural environment white paper pledged to put natural capital “at the heart of government accounting”, ending the situation where gains and losses in the value of natural capital go unrecorded and unnoticed. As part of this commitment, the government set up the Natural Capital Committee in 2012 to provide expert independent advice on the state of England’s natural capital. The Committee has been set up initially for 3 years and is due to be reviewed just before the general election in 2015.

The NCC has published two reports to date, with a final due in spring 2015. The first – The State of Natural Capital: Towards a framework for measurement and valuation – set out a framework to better measure and account for changes in natural capital accounts and feed these in decision making processes. Their second – The State of Natural Capital: Restoring our natural assets – goes beyond this, analysing the state of natural capital in England, the risks facing these assets, and giving specific recommendations for government. As outlined in the natural environment white paper, the central aim for government is to be ‘the first generation to improve our natural environment’. In their latest report, the NCC set out the need for a 25-year landscape plan to deliver on this objective.

The EAC highlights the need to keep the momentum behind the NCC’s work up. With the current remit finishing just before a general election, there is a risk that its future will not be sufficiently considered. The Committee therefore recommend that the government puts the NCC on a long-term statutory footing, and respond formally to its annual reports. It is also recommended that the government accept the 25 year plan for improving England’s natural capital as proposed by the NCC. A permanently established NCC would then be responsible for providing advice on natural capital and monitoring progress on the 25 year plan.

The EAC’s recent report sends a strong message to Government about the future of the Natural Capital Committee. Although environmental factors form just one part of people’s well-being, they play a key role in health, happiness, and social relations. On a broader scale, England’s natural assets provide a wide variety of benefits, from fish stocks to insect pollination of crops. The EAC recommends ‘hard-wiring’ this into policy making, but emphasises that this would be best achieved with the help and advice of the already established NCC. The EAC now awaits the government’s response to their report to see if these initiatives will be put into place and taken forward.

Posted in England, Parliament, Select Committee | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

ESRC Launches the Nexus Network

The ESRC has launched the Nexus Network to foster new connections across food, energy, water and the environment.

Funded by the ESRC, the Nexus Network brings together researchers, policy makers, business leaders and civil society to develop collaborative projects and improve decision making on food, energy, water and the environment.

In the past five years, there has been a surge of interest in the idea of the ‘nexus’, as a way of thinking about the interdependencies, tensions and trade-offs between food, water and energy security, in the broader context of environmental change. These systems are inextricably linked, and integrated approaches are required, which move beyond sectoral, policy and disciplinary silos.

To better coordinate UK research efforts in this area, the ESRC is launching the Nexus Network. The ESRC has committed £1.8 million of funding to the Network over the next three years. The Network is led by the University of Sussex, in partnership with the University of East Anglia and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.The Nexus Network will foster debate, innovative research and practical collaborations across the linked domains of food, energy, water and the environment.

The ESRC invites researchers, decision makers in government, business and civil society to join the Network.

Posted in Energy, Environment, ESRC, Research Councils, Water | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scanning for legislative issues related to ecology and conservation

Being aware of upcoming issues and potential developments in policy is important for those working across all spheres of ecology and conservation. It allows researchers to understand the impact any changes may have on their work and engage in consultation processes. Practitioners and others will be able to plan ahead to put some of these changes in practice. A yearly legislative scan published in the BES Bulletin is now available on our website for academics, practitioners, and others to make use of.

For the past 4 years a group of policy specialists from NGOs and Government organisations have come together to produce a scan of forthcoming legislation of interest to ecologists and conservationists. Convened by the current BES President Professor Bill Sutherland, the scan looks at legislation from the devolved nations of the UK through to a global level. Major changes expected in 2014 include:

  • The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) work programme will begin to be implemented. JNCC are currently looking for nominations from experts to scope specific deliverables;
  • “Delivery and implementation” of major reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy in Europe, which were agreed in 2013;
  • Government response to the biodiversity offsetting in England consultation, which closed at the end of 2013. The Government is currently considering a range of proposals, and a policy decision is expected in 2014;
  • The Referendum in Scotland on 18 September, which is expected to dominate the political and environmental agenda. Implications of independence for the environment are expected to be considered by several Westminster and Scottish Parliamentary Committees.

See the legislative scan for a full list of issues that are on the horizon this year.

Posted in BES, England, EU, International, IPBES, Northern Ireland, Scotland, UK, Wales | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ecosystem services: changes in global value

It is well recorded that ecosystems are becoming more stressed over time, with pressures such as human population increases leading to biodiversity and habitat loss. The provision of ecosystem services from habitats and communities is vital to human well-being. It is important to understand the benefits ecosystem services provide to society and how they have changed over time to build an understanding of our reliance on the natural world and what needs to be done to ensure we can continue to benefit from these services in the future. Building on estimates of the global value of ecosystem services in 1997, a recent paper in Global Environmental Change by Robert Costanza et al. highlight the impact that global land use changes have had on ecosystem services. They estimate that between 1997 and 2011, ecosystem services to the value of $4.3-$20.2 trillion per year have been lost.

The goods and services we use in our daily lives derive from 5 types of capital: financial, manufactured, social, human, and natural. Natural capital encompasses the elements of nature that directly and indirectly produce value to people. These can include specific species, minerals, and ecological communities, as well as natural processes and functions. Understanding how these stocks and the ecosystem service assets that flow from them change over time is key in assessing whether services are used sustainably and the impact land-use change may have on these.

The concept of ecosystem services has become more widespread since the publication of the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005, and Costanza et al. highlight that the widespread recognition of ecosystem services has reframed the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. Natural capital is becoming a well-known concept in the UK across academia, business and Government. In 2012, the Natural Capital Committee was established to provide independent advice to Government on England’s natural capital. The Natural Capital Initiative, of which the BES is a founding partner, is working to bring together academia, business, and policy-making to give constructive action.

Valuations of ecosystem services must be reassessed periodically as natural capital is not a static resource, and ecosystem service values can change depending on the quality and quantity of habitats. The authors’ valuation of global ecosystem services in 1997 was $33 trillion per year. Using the same methods but with updated data, global ecosystem services in 2011 were valued at $125 trillion per year, taking into account both changes in valuation and size of biomes. Comparatively, GDP was $46.3 trillion per year in 1997 and $75.2 trillion per year in 2011.

Despite the pressures of increased global population and habitat loss, per hectare values of most habitats were higher in 2011 than 1997. The authors attribute the increase in unit values to improved techniques that give a more comprehensive overview. This just highlights the importance of revisiting estimates. Uncertainty around the unit value for habitats gives rise to the wide estimate of the loss of ecosystem services due to land use change – $4.3-$20.2 trillion per year from 1997 to 2011.

The authors highlight issues around valuation, emphasising that valuation of ecosystem services is not the same as commodification or privatisation. They also reason that as ecosystem services as often common goods, conventional markets may not be the best framework to manage them. Another issue that is considered is the fact that although ecosystem services benefit human well-being, they are only the relative contribution of natural capital to human well-being and do not flow directly. Only through interaction with other forms of capital can human well-being be achieved.

This recent paper highlights the extent to which we rely on the natural world for our goods and services. It is vital that all types of capital are used sustainably – all other types of capital are dependent on natural capital to some degree, and all types of capital interact with each other to give human well-being. The global estimates of ecosystem service loss between 1997 and 2011 show the impact of habitat loss across a range of biomes, and the consequences this has for human well-being. At a local level, these losses will have a profound impact on many parts of society. Further loss of habitat in vulnerable biomes such as tropical forest will only exacerbate these changes in ecosystem service provision.

Posted in Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Policy Lunchbox: improving the use of social science evidence in Parliament

Social science allows us to study how individuals and societies fit together, helping to explain how society works and how it might be improved. Social science research evidence is often applicable to policy making, yet does not tend to be presented to parliamentarians in any systematic way. A new social science section of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology was created last year to improve this, helping POST go beyond science and technology to also cover areas such as crime and education, where there is a large amount of available social science evidence. Dr Abbi Hobbs and Dr Caroline Kenny from POST came along to Policy Lunchbox last week to tell us more.

Abbi and Caroline began by introducing the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). Set up 25 years ago to help MPs and Peers understand technical issues in science and technology, POST now has a wider remit to support and advance the use of research evidence in Parliament. POST is overseen by a board of MPs, Peers, parliamentary staff, and non-parliamentarians, and works closely with the external research community in the production and peer-review of its regular POSTnotes. In addition to these short briefing notes, POST also provides support to select committees and organises events to bring individuals together on particular topics.

A social science section of POST was launched in September 2013 with sufficient funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and UCL for 2 advisers and 15 Fellows over 3 years. With overarching aims to provide parliamentarians with more access to social science research evidence and support the use of research evidence across Parliament, the new section hopes to ensure that social science research evidence is integrated within all POST activity.

The new section also aims to provide support to other parts of Parliament that deal with research evidence. Training in research methods for clerks of the House of Commons and House of Lords libraries and select committees is currently underway, allowing them to critically appraise evidence from a range of sources and then apply these skills when evaluating sources for written briefings. POST is also hoping to adapt this training for MPs, Peers, and their researchers.

A major role for the social science section of POST over the next two years will be to carry out a research programme to assess the use of research evidence by parliamentarians and parliamentary staff. It is hoped that the results of this study will highlight where changes could be made to strengthen the use of evidence in scrutinising the work of Government. The main research questions are:

  • To what extent is research evidence used, and how, if at all, does this vary across the different functions of scrutiny, debate and legislation?
  • What factors (processes, mechanisms and culture) shape the use of research evidence?
  • What is the role of POST in facilitating the use of research evidence across Parliament?

This will not just focus on academic research, but will assess sources of evidence available to all those working in Parliament. Through case studies, interviews, literature reviews, and mapping, types of research evidence used and the attitudes and approaches towards this will be assessed. In addition, the extent to which researchers engage with Parliament will be analysed, and interactions between individuals monitored.

The addition of social science to POST should be welcomed. POST’s assessment of the use of research evidence in Parliament will provide an interesting insight into how different types of research are utilised across scrutiny, debate, and legislation. As the evidence capacity of Government increases, it is important that Parliament is able to keep up to retain its role in scrutiny.

Posted in House of Lords, Parliament, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nominations open for IPBES expert groups

JNCC is currently seeking nominations from experts to scope future deliverables of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service’s (IPBES) 4-year work plan.

IPBES aims to help decision makers around the world identify solutions to pressures on global ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, thereby securing long term human wellbeing and sustainable development. Through networks of experts, the platform aims to provide an evidence and knowledge base to assist with decision making across the world.

Following the development of a 2014-2018 work programme in December 2013, the platform issued a call for experts in April to help scope particular aspects of this plan. Nominations will be accepted from governments and stakeholders, with expert nominations assessed by a Multidisciplinary Expert Panel.

The UK government will be the main organisation in the UK putting forward experts to the IPBES Panel for selection. JNCC are currently looking for nominations from experts in the areas of the IPBES work plan outlined below:

  • Deliverable 2b: Five regional expert groups to scope a set of regional and sub-regional assessments, for consideration by the IPBES Plenary in January 2015:

i.        Expert group for Africa
ii.       Expert group for Asia and Pacific
iii.      Expert group for the Americas and the Caribbean
iv.       Expert group for Europe and Central Asia
v.        Expert group for Antarctica

To promote integration across regions it is anticipated that a joint meeting of all these regional experts would take place at a single location (tentatively set in Nairobi) on 17-23 August 2014, including 2 days dedicated to capacity building.

  • Deliverable 3bi: Expert group to scope a thematic assessment of land degradation and restoration for consideration by the IPBES Plenary in January 2015.

A scoping meeting is anticipated in the week commencing 8 September 2014; it is expected 35 global experts to be selected to participate.

Further information on the deliverables is available in the meeting report of the Second IPBES plenary.

Nominations will be assessed by an independent sift panel, which will recommend a final list of nominations for JNCC to support.  Please see the information pack for details about selection criteria, eligibility, and how to put yourself forward. The nomination deadline is Sunday 8 June.

Posted in IPBES | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Undiscovered – The rich biodiversity within UKOTs

A recent audit carried out and published by RSPB examined the rich wildlife present in UK overseas territories (UKOTs) and the conservation efforts required to ensure their survival. Currently, 1547 species endemic to British Islands have been discovered. However, this is expected to potentially rise to over 3000 with an estimated 2100 unique species still to be identified. Many intriguing species have been found within the 14 territories examined by the report, including:

  • The rarest marine invertebrate, a predatory shrimp that is currently only found within two rock pools on Ascension Island
  • One of the scarcest land invertebrates in the world (with around only 90 individuals left) – a yellow woodlouse baring threatening spikes – present on St. Helena.
  • The Wilkins bunting of Tristan da Cunha, an extremely rare species of bird that has only 80 pairs left
  • Pitcairn Island’s Yellow Arlihau flower of which there are only six plants left.
  • The Barking Gecko and Pygmy Boa Constrictor of The Turks and Caicos

Compared to the UK’s 90 endemic species, UKOTs contain 94% all species unique to UK territories. This exceptional presence of wildlife has given researchers an exciting opportunity to discover and protect new communities and high wildlife diversity. The investigation of these species is particularly important considering that only 9% of these species have had their conservation status identified. The lack of this baseline knowledge is problematic if this high species richness is to be maintained.

Aside from global threats currently facing ecosystems worldwide, such as climate change and the spread of invasive species, UKOTs – such as Turks and Caicos – are experiencing increased threats from developments as a result of increasing tourism. On top of this, poachers and illegal forest fires are causing ecological havoc on the islands. With some species experiencing such dwindling populations, single events such as a forest fires are capable of permanently and rapidly wiping out species’ forever. The big question on the minds of conservation and research organisations such as the RSPB is, who is responsible for ensuring the survival of such species?

There is now a discussion arising about who should be responsible for the protection of these species and environments. Whilst the UK Foreign Office Minister, Mark Simmonds MP, argues that it is the responsibility of the territory governments, a number of island populations are calling out for the UK government to play a more dominant role in ensuring conservation of their wildlife. This includes officials within The National Trust of Turks and Caicos who wish to see Westminster enforcing clearer, stronger environmental laws.

Although the UK government does not take responsibility of environmental issues within UKOTs, it does work with territory governments and provides £2 million annually to environment and biodiversity conservation projects in UKOTs. These grants are provided by DEFRA and DFID through Darwin Plus, a branch of the Darwin Initiative. Darwin Plus, also receives contributions from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to aid with natural-resource management.

However, if these projects are to be successful and not in vain, the UK government may need to ensure that it aids territory governments to prevent irreversible damage to its environment through clearer policy. In the RSPB’s report, it calls upon Defra to fulfil its biodiversity conservation duties by helping to safeguard conservation of natural resources and promote scientific investigation within these regions.

Last week, the British Ecological Society attended a meeting with the All-Party Group on Biodiversity. Here, amongst the speakers was Lord de Mauley, the Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment and Science, who spoke about the importance of protecting our overseas natural resources. He emphasised his understanding of the ecological and cultural importance of these zones. However, there was a lack of clarity between speakers about whether the UK government should be taking a greater role in this conservation issue.

The RSPB play a leading role in examining the environments of UKOT’s and are currently key to their conservation. To learn more about the research and conservation efforts of the RSPB in overseas territories see here!

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, UK Overseas Territories | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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