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Making the CaSE for Science Post-Election

‘Broadly, all of the major political parties in the UK are saying that science is great, but it isn’t a headline message for any of them.’ So said Naomi Weir, Acting Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) at yesterday’s Policy Lunchbox meeting. The parties’ positions on science and engineering have been communicated to CaSE through a series of letters, published last Friday on the CaSE website, in response to a request for clarification from the organisation. Naomi made it clear that gaining a clear position from each party about where science fits in amongst their spending plans is a priority for CaSE: the Green Party is the only one so far to specify a spending commitment, declaring an intention to spend one percent of GDP on science, were they to be elected to form a Government.

Now that Parliament has been dissolved and campaigning has formally started in advance of polling day on 7th May, political parties will be publishing their manifestos shortly. CaSE will be poring over these, as will others in the science, engineering and maths community, to look for details about precise commitments to science spend and declarations on their plans for science and innovation. CaSE has contacted all prospective parliamentary candidates, inviting each of them to write a piece on the CaSE blog reflecting on the importance of science and engineering and how they would seek to support this were they elected. So far 130 candidates have agreed to do so and pieces will start to appear soon. Later this week, the CaSE blog will carry pieces providing advice to newly elected MPs on how to deal with science advice in Parliament, authored by Andrew Miller, outgoing chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, and David Willetts, formerly Minister for Universities and Science. Naomi made it clear that with 20 per cent of the electorate in science-based jobs, the views of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and colleagues towards each of the major parties standing for election could have an important role to play.

In making the case for why investment in science and engineering is important, Naomi made it clear that messages around the comparative spend of the UK on science (with the UK behind Luxembourg for example in the league table of percentage of GDP spent by Government on science and engineering) were not as powerful as figures on the comparative return for investment of expenditure on the science base. The benefits that accrue to health, the environment, education, new technologies, businesses, markets and avoided costs through investing in science are all powerful messages, particularly when provided alongside illustrative case-studies, something which the newly launched searchable REF impact database can assist with.

Naomi showed a powerful graphic from the Guardian from 2011-12, illustrating how public money was spent by Government during that tax year. It revealed, unsurprisingly, that Government has many other priorities than science spending. In making the case for investment in science, a nuanced message about how science and engineering in fact supports and underpins these other priorities is important; a recognition that Government has a difficult job to do in balancing these spending commitments against one another.

During the question and answer session, Nic Bilham, Head of Strategy and Extenal Relations at the Geological Society, made the important point that the learned society community and others in the science, engineering and maths sector, should think carefully about priorities for science spending in the next Parliament. Although it’s important for the science community to ‘stick together’, with a unified voice about the significance of investing in this area to underpin economic growth and development, in the run-up to the election, we will need to be helpful to any new Government. Rather than simply ‘hold a mirror up’ to Government when they ask the community where investment should be made, the community needs to consider what the spending priorities are, given a limited pot of funds. Naomi called on attendees at Policy Lunchbox to take back to their organisations the question: ‘What specific actions could a new Government take that would be most beneficial (or detrimental) to your organisation or the sector in which you work?’ Perhaps it would be useful for us all to reflect upon this a little in the six weeks or so until the election.

Policy Lunchbox is a network of individuals working in science policy across the third sector, Parliament and Government, coordinated by the British Ecological Society, Biochemical Society, Society of Biology and Society for General Microbiology. There is a monthly programme of lunchtime seminars. Find out more and join the network.

Posted in BES, Parliament, Policy Lunchbox, Science, Science Funding, Science Policy, UK | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What are the key environmental priorities for the next government?

There is increasing worry that the environment is far down the list of voter’s priorities. As stated by the Society for the Environment “the environment lobby seems to be losing ground in the battle for political hearts and minds. The agenda in Westminster is focussed on devolution, immigration and the economy”.

Professional bodies across the UK have assembled to produce a report which highlights the importance of the environmental agenda and sets out key environmental priorities for the next government. The report, led by the Society for the Environment, was launched on the 16th March at Westminster and provides a series of short papers which set out ideas for government to: “protect our health, wealth and security through the more rational and sustainable management of natural systems, upon which we all depend”. 

Overall the Society of Environment report recommends that future governments should use “a more holistic approach, creating long-term strategies to tackle environmental challenges for the UK.  The report also sets out a diverse range of policy ideas from across from across twelve professional bodies and Policy Connect. The main points raised in the report were:

  • the importance of the UK leading on climate agreements and embedding the environment across education in order to challenge and change behaviours;
  • supporting the call for a Nature and Wellbeing Bill, a new Air Quality Strategy and highlighting the vital importance of soil protection;
  • asking that energy be regarded as an ecosystem and recommending low carbon energy policy measures from energy production, through supply to consumption;
  • exploring the long term commitments needed to build a resilient UK and create a circular economy, which will return resources to the UK and create jobs.

How do we protect the UK’s Natural Capital?

One of the most significant priorities highlighted by the Society of the Environment was to ‘protect the UK’s natural capital’, which is also a key priority for the British Ecological Society.  As stated by the reports “only 37% of all protected sites in the UK are well maintained and 60% of UK species are in decline”.  Five professional bodies have presented a range of recommendations within the report, in aim of protecting the UK’s natural capital in the future.  These institutions included: Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), Institute of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE), Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES), Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM) and Institute of Fisheries Management (iFm).

The greatest number of recommendations were provided by CIEEM, emphasising the need to ‘nurture nature’. Dr Stephanie Wray at CIEEM stated that “our current approach to managing biodiversity through site and species protection is clearly not delivering the outcomes that are the needed”.  In order to tackle this, CIEEM’s key recommendations for nurturing nature are centred on the following:

  • Furthering the development of a Nature and Well-being Bill.
  • Taking sound ecological advice to move the focus from the protection of individuals of rare species to the protection of ecosystems at the landscape level.
  • Building on the Lawton Report and Biodiversity 2020  to take a strategic view of the natural environment in Britain.
  • Communicating the importance of the natural environment in supporting human health and well-being.
  • Reversing the decline in funding for and prominence of the statutory environment bodies.
  • Ensuring that the local and regional level local authorities have access to good ecological advice associated with their planning and development control functions.
  • Requiring businesses to report on their triple bottom line including their impacts on biodiversity.
  • Focusing on implementation and enforcement action to ensure that actions to protect, or to mitigate harmful effects on, the environment are carried through.

As stated by Tony Juniper, President of the Society for the Environment, “the report confirms once more that achieving a healthy environment is far from marginal to Britain’s interests. Looking after where we live, both globally and locally, is vital for our long-term health, wealth and security and must be a far more prominent agenda as we approach the election”. 

What’s next?

Similar issues were also discussed by the UK’s six leading political parties at the ‘People, Politics and the Planet: Looking Ahead to the General Election’. Panellists were questioned on the environmental priorities they hope to put into practice after May’s general election. The ‘protection of natural capital’ was a significant theme throughout the debate. Across the panel, there was universal acknowledgement of the need to protect and enhance the UK’s natural capital, as well as recognition of its value for human well-being and prosperity.  Panellists also recognised the need for parallel accounting and the importance of integrating environmental aims into all government decision making. This demonstrated the extent to which the language and framing of natural capital is becoming part of mainstream policy-making. See link for more information and to watch a video of the debate.

At the BES we have identified three ambitions for good policy-making over the term of the next Parliament: (1) environmental policy informed by sound scientific evidence, (2) recognising the vital role of ecological science in meeting societal challenges, and (3) integrating the value of the environment to human well-being and prosperity across government.

Over the next few months, we will be fleshing out our priority policy issues for the next Government, underpinned by the three key principles outlined above. We are keen to hear from our members about their priority issues ahead of the general election, and case studies that can demonstrate the impact of ecology to policy-makers. Our policy work depends on the support and expertise of our members and there will be numerous opportunities to engage over the coming months. Current opportunities include consultations on the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Nurse Review of the Research Councils to events on conservation conflicts and the science-policy interface.   Please get in touch with our policy team to find out more.

Posted in BES, Biodiversity, CIEEM, Conservation, Ecology, Environment, Government, Parliament, Science Policy, UK, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are we heading for a ‘Greener’ or a ‘Greenwash’ Britain?

Last night, the Green Alliance brought together a high calibre panel to answer questions from an invited audience – which included the BES’s policy staff – at the ‘Greener Britain‘ debate. We listened with interest as Ed Davey (Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), his Shadow – Caroline Flint – Liz Truss (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party) debated issues including climate change, sustainable transport and energy policy. Yet the audience was clearly disheartened by the tone of discussion and the commitments promised by the panel: at the close of the event, 70% of those present expressed, through audience voting, their lack of optimism that the next Government will make progress on the environment. The audience’s pessimism actually increased through the course of the debate: a vote taken at the beginning of the evening suggested 64% of attendees lacked confidence that improvements would be made to environmental policy post-election.

A noticeable difference from our own recent hustings debate, organised with our partners at the Sibthorp Trust and CIEEM, was the comparative lack of consensus between the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green Party politicians. This perhaps reflects the closer proximity of the Green Alliance event to the General Election, when the stakes are perhaps higher. All of the panellists agreed that climate change was however the most significant environmental issue to be tackled by the next Government, although Liz Truss was clear that other important issues ranked equally alongside this (air and water pollution, for example). Caroline Lucas called for a ‘new architecture’ of policy-making to be be set up post-election, with an ‘Office of Environmental Responsibility’ and ombudsman to oversee decision-making that affects the environment. Caroline Flint meanwhile highlighted inequalities in access to green space in the UK as an issue requiring urgent attention, ensuring public engagement with nature and support for climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, a position also supported by Liz Truss.

Yet although recognising the importance of tackling climate change, all parties differed in their suggested approaches to doing so. Liz Truss, whilst strongly reiterating her party’s commitment to meeting the stringent target of 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (as set out in the Climate Change Act), stated that producers and consumers would be given the freedom to innovate over time to deliver this. Carbon pricing and new technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, were the major mechanisms by which a Conservative Government would work towards the 2050 objective. Caroline Lucas, in contrast, heavily criticised the Coalition Government for putting into statute measures to maximise the economic returns of fossil fuels, describing this as ‘peverse’. Instead, Ms Lucas argued, two thirds to 80% of fossil fuels must remain in the ground in order to prevent further global warming.

One questioner asked the politicians for their views on the likely impact on environmental policy and the development of clean technologies of an exit from the European Union. The Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Labour all agreed that an exit from the EU would be a ‘disaster’ for environmental policy in the UK. Ed Davey suggested that the credibility of the UK going into the UNFCCC climate change negotiations in Paris in December this year (COP 21) would be severely weakened if at the same time discussions were proceeding at home about a referendum and exit from the EU. Caroline Lucas raised the interesting point that EU standards for environmental protection are often seen by Member States as a ‘ceiling’ rather than a ‘floor’ and that in fact they may constrain countries wishing to go over and above them. Ms Lucas suggested that there is room for improving how the EU conducts itself and to reform its aim to fostering sustainability rather than global competition, with aggressive trade practices damaging developing countries.

Perhaps the most contentious issue raised during the debate was fracking. Ed Davey was clear that a great deal of gas will be needed over the next few years to meet our energy demands in the UK. Mr Davey was unequivocal in his point that a climate change gain would be possible by replacing natural gas – currently imported into the UK via energy and fuel intensive processes – with shale gas extracted in this country. Liz Truss was clear too that reports by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering suggest that, given adequate regulation and protections in place, fracking was safe for the environment. Caroline Flint said that under a Labour Government, fracking would not go ahead unless particular regulations proposed by the party were included on the statute book – an echo of Barry Gardiner MP’s response to a similar question at our ‘People, Politics and the Planet’ debate. Caroline Lucas however described as ‘peverse’ the position of the major parties, arguing that shale gas will displace renewables and that money should not be expended to set up a new fracking industry in this country – that won’t come onstream for 10 years – whilst in the meantime missing opportunities to invest in clean sources of energy.

On the budget for Defra under the next Government, Liz Truss and Caroline Flint were both clear: under a Conservative or a Labour Government there will be cuts to the Defra budget, along with savings that will need to be made year-on-year across other government departments. Caroline Flint said that there was room for much more cross-departmental working and less work in silos as a way to find efficiencies.

Once the audience were asked to vote once again and the final scores were collated – 30% optimistic on the next Government delivering for the environment and 70% pessimistic – the chair, BBC journalist Tom Heap, asked the politicians to reflect on their performance over the course of the evening. Ed Davey agreed that politicians from all parties needed to work harder to build trust amongst the public that they have credible policies to tackle some of the major environmental challenges of the 21st century. Tom Heap urged all of the panellists to develop ambitious policies for the environment and to convince others in their parties that policies that have the environment at their heart are also vote-winners.

Further analysis of the event can be found in the Guardian.

Posted in Carbon, Carbon Capture, Climate Change, Conservatives, DECC, Defra, Emissions, Energy, Environment, Event, Government, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Parliament, Political Parties, Renewable Energy, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nurse Review of the Research Councils: Call for Evidence

As part of the science and innovation strategy launched in November, the Government announced that Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and Director of the new Francis Crick Institute, would lead a review of the Research Councils. The Nurse Review will examine and provide recommendations on how the Councils can “evolve to support research in the most effective ways, reflecting the requirements to secure excellence, promote collaboration and allow agility, and in ways that best contribute to sustainable growth”. The review will report its findings by late summer, after the general election.

The review comes just a year after the findings of the Triennial Review of the Research Councils were published. The review concluded that the current form and function of the Research Councils – as seven separate non-departmental public bodes – was fit for purpose, and that they were largely effective in meeting their objectives and the terms of their Royal Charter. While the review made a number of recommendations for how the Research Councils could work more effectively, for example in responding to and challenging the Government’s research agenda and improving partnership working, it did not advocate any significant change to their operational model.

Last month an advisory group comprising of a number of prominent figures from the world of research and higher education was appointed to assist with the review, and subsequently the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has launched a call for evidence, inviting the research community to submit their views on how the Research Councils should evolve. The call will also take into account evidence previously submitted as part of the Triennial Review process.

The call asks for evidence in response to four major themes: strategic decision-making, collaborations and partnerships, balance of the funding portfolio and effective ways of working. The themes are shaped by the Terms of Reference of the review, which outlines eleven key questions that it hopes to answer, ranging from the balance between investigator-led and strategically-focused funding to the division of subject areas between councils and support for interdisciplinary research.

What do you think? Add your views to the BES submission

The BES will be submitting a response to the call for evidence to ensure that the views of our members are taken into account as part of the Nurse Review. The starting point for our response will be our previous submission to the Triennial Review. In this submission, we supported maintaining the Haldane principle, whereby decisions on research spending are made predominantly by researchers rather than politicians, but acknowledged that this should be balanced with some research more closely aligned with current governmental priorities. We also highlighted the need for the Research Councils to work better together to foster interdisciplinary research, in particular to avoid important topics of interest to BES members such as pollinators, agriculture and conservation falling in the gaps between councils. We also raised the importance of embedding knowledge exchange programmes that enable businesses, government and the third sector to better access and make use of research.

We welcome views from BES members to inform our response to the call for evidence. The full consultation document can be found here, and views on any or all of the questions posed would be welcome. We are particularly interested to hear your responses to the following questions included in the call:

  • Within each Research Council is the balance of funding well-judged between support of individual investigators, support of teams and support of equipment and infrastructure?
  • How should the work of the Research Councils integrate most effectively with the work of agencies funding innovation, such as Innovate UK, and with the work funded by Departmental research and development budgets?
  • Are the divisions of scientific subject areas between the Research Councils appropriate?

If you would like to add your input to the consultation, or comment on a draft response, please contact the BES Policy Team before Monday 30th March 2015.

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

People, Politics and the Planet: Looking Ahead to the General Election

Last Monday, 9th March, over 300 people gathered at The Light on London’s Euston Road to question representatives of the UK’s six leading political parties on the environmental policies they hope to put into practice after May’s general election. The event, ‘People, Politics and the Planet’, was organised by the BES, The Sibthorp Trust and CIEEM, and expertly chaired by broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby. The high-profile panel comprised:

  • Lord Rupert de Mauley (Conservatives, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Natural Environment and Science)
  • Barry Gardiner MP (Labour, MP for Brent North and Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment)
  • Baroness Kate Parminter (Liberal Democrats, Environment Spokesperson)
  • Natalie Bennett (Green Party, Leader)
  • Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP (Scottish National Party, MP for Banff and Buchan)
  • William Cash (UK Independence Party, Heritage and Tourism Spokesperson)
People, Politics and the Planet - Any Questions (Photo: Jason Reeves)

People, Politics and the Planet – Any Questions (Photo: Jason Reeves)

Over the course two hours, the debate ranged from the big picture of climate change and the energy mix to the specific details of driven grouse shooting, with biodiversity loss, natural capital, sustainable agriculture and the badger cull in between. You can now watch the whole debate online, or read a summary of the questions and answers courtesy of our event partners at CIEEM.

But what were the most pertinent issues raised for our members? At the BES we have identified three ambitions for good policy-making over the term of the next Parliament: environmental policy informed by sound scientific evidence, recognising the vital role of ecological science in meeting societal challenges, and integrating the value of the environment to human wellbeing and prosperity across government. How did the panellists fare in addressing these crucial issues?

1. Environmental policy is informed by sound scientific evidence, and policy-makers have access to the best available ecological science to inform decision-making

Encouragingly, Lord de Mauley stated that “science and evidence are at the heart of all we do at Defra”, pointing to recent work on the Plant Biosecurity Strategy and Tree Health Management Plan as examples. However, on the controversial issue of the badger cull, Defra’s interpretation of the evidence was disputed, with Barry Gardiner, Eilidh Whiteford and Natalie Bennett all suggesting that scientific advice had been disregarded, a point echoed by audience member and BES member, and , part of the team that designed the Randomised Badger Culling Trial. While Lord de Mauley reiterated the Conservative’s position that culling should be part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle Bovine TB, Barry Gardiner was clear that culling would cease immediately under a Labour Government.

The disputed interpretation of the evidence for the effectiveness of culling badgers to reduce Bovine TB – a politically charged topic–demonstrates the problems that can arise when science enters the world of policy, interacting with value judgements and political and economic priorities. Independent organisations such as the BES have a crucial role to play in providing unbiased scientific advice that can help inform decision-making, and we will continue to play close attention to ecological issues – such as the badger cull – where an objective assessment of the evidence is required.

2. Ecological Science is valued for the vital role it has to play in meeting some of the most important challenges of the 21st century.

The debate covered a number of further issues where sound ecological science is vital to inform the development of effective policy. The panel were in broad agreement that halting and reversing biodiversity loss required a landscape scale approach – “bigger, better and more joined up” – as articulated by former BES President Professor Sir John Lawton and colleagues in the “Making Space for Nature” report. Both the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party committed to introducing new legislation – a Nature Act – if they were elected, although the other panellists were not drawn on this point. It is essential that any such legislation is based on the best possible ecological science.

Meeting the challenge of sustainably feeding a rapidly growing population is another area where ecological science has an important role to play, and is one of our policy priorities. In this area, the debate discussion focused primarily on the potential role of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with only Natalie Bennett maintaining clear opposition to their release in the environment, although not in principle to research into GM. Lord de Mauley was clear on the Government’s position, that any biotechnology deployed must be safe for humans and the environment , citing research by the European Food Safety Authority which concluded that GM meets this criterion. Barry Gardiner and Baroness Parminter indicated their willingness to consider the use of GMOs on the condition that appropriate safeguards were in place and evidence of their safety was clear. Eilidh Whiteford criticised GMOs as a ‘red herring’, raising the point that enough food is produced presently to feed the world’s population but that access to markets and huge amounts of food waste lead to observed levels of hunger. Ecological science has a vital role to play in ensuring that debates around GMOs are informed by sound evidence rather than simply politics and values, as a recent Science and Technology Committee report acknowledged is often the case. Furthermore, agro-ecology can offer broader solutions to the challenge of sustainable food production, from reducing carbon emissions to techniques integrating agricultural production and biodiversity conservation.

3. That the value of the environment to human wellbeing and prosperity – our natural capital – is recognised across government.

The debate was a striking demonstration of the extent to which the language and framing of natural capital ­is becoming part of mainstream policy-making. Baroness Parminter argued that the Natural Capital Committee – whose recent third report outlined the basis for a 25-year strategy for nature’s recovery – should be placed on a permanent, statutory, footing, whilst Barry Gardiner stated that a Labour government would be committed to developing a parallel system of national natural capital accountsby 2020. Lord de Mauley made clear that he was “fundamentally convinced” that the “economy is completely dependent on the environment” and vice-versa. Through the Natural Capital Initiative, we will continue to work to ensure that the development of the natural capital approach is genuinely underpinned by sound ecological science.

While natural capital may be becoming established as a mainstream way of thinking about our natural environment, the extent to which environmental concerns are integrated into decision making across government remains questionable. The question of whether or not government should continue to support fossil fuel extraction demonstrated these tensions, with the panel split on whether or not fracking should be pursued in the UK. In balancing the need to protect our natural capital and mitigate carbon emissions with the desire for energy security and the possibility of a slightly lower carbon fuel source, the panellists drew different conclusions. Lord de Mauley and William Cash were most supportive of fracking. Natalie Bennett commented that the UK Government has pursued a ‘fracking fantasy’, whilst Eilidh Whiteford stated that there should be a moratorium on fracking in England, as announced by the Scottish Government. Barry Gardiner was stated that a Labour Government would put a moratorium on fracking until ‘various conditions’ were met.

Looking ahead: to the election and beyond

Over the next few months, we will be fleshing out our priority policy issues for the next Government, underpinned by the three key principles outlined above. Regardless of who is elected, we will seek to ensure that Lord de Mauley’s promise to place evidence at the heart of Defra is adhered to. We will continue to promote the solutions and insights that ecological science can offer to pressing challenges from biodiversity conservation to food security, and will be developing case studies and resources demonstrating the impact of ecology. Finally, we will further develop the case for decision-making for the sustainable management of natural capital based on sound science.

Our policy work depends on the support and expertise of our members and there will be numerous opportunities to engage over the coming months. Current opportunities include consultations on the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Nurse Review of the Research Councils to events on conservation conflicts and the science-policy interface. We are keen to hear from our members about their priority issues ahead of the general election, and case studies that can demonstrate the impact of ecology to policy-makers.

Please get in touch with our policy team to find out more.

Posted in BES, Biodiversity, CIEEM, Climate Change, Conservatives, Ecology, Environment, Event, Government, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Political Parties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is the state of our environment in 2015?


The 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP) ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’ entered into force in 2014. Within this programme the European Union outlined an engaging vision of the future to 2050:a low carbon society; a green, circular economy; and resilient ecosystems as the basis for citizens’ wellbeing.  However, new evidence suggests that our existing environmental policy may not be enough to achieve the EU’s long term environmental goals by 2050.

The European Environment — State and Outlook 2015 Report  was released on the 3rd March 2015 and was prepared by the European Environment Agency (EEA). The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the state, trends and prospects of the European environment, placing it in a global context. The work aims to inform European environmental policy implementation and analyses the opportunities to modify existing policies in order to achieve the EU’s 2050 vision of “living well within the limits of the planet.”

What are the take home messages?

Overall the report reveals that whilst policies have delivered substantial benefits for the functioning of Europe’s ecosystems, the challenges that the continent faces today are considerable. The most significant challenges relate to protecting, conserving and enhancing natural capital. The key messages from the report are the following:

1: Europe is not on track to halt biodiversity loss, as habitats for animals and plants continue to disappear.

Europe’s natural capital is not yet being protected, conserved and enhanced in line with the ambitions of the 7th Environment Action Programme. High proportions of protected species (60%) and habitat types (77%) are considered to be in unfavourable conservation status. Europe is not on track to meet its overall target of halting biodiversity loss by 2020. This loss is particularly associated with the marine and coastal environment and the functioning of soils.

2: European marine and coastal biodiversity is declining, jeopardising vital ecosystem services

Marine and coastal ecosystems and biodiversity are under pressure throughout Europe, and their status is of concern. Over the last 5-10 years, many species are in jeopardy, with a low number of species categorised as in favourable conservation status or good environmental status. The target of achieving good environmental status by 2020 is at risk due to overfishing, sea floor damage, pollution by nutrient enrichment and contaminants (including marine litter and underwater noise), introduction of invasive alien species, and the acidification of Europe’s seas. The assessment predicts that over the next 20 years, the pressures and effects of climate change on marine ecosystems are set to continue.

3. European land-use change and intensification increasingly threaten soil function and ecosystem services

Land use is a major factor influencing the distribution and functioning of ecosystems in Europe.  Degradation, fragmentation and unsustainable use of land is jeopardising the provision of natural capital, threatening biodiversity, and increasing Europe’s vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters. The report reveals that soil erosion, contamination and sealing are persistent problems for the EU’s territory. Over the last 5-10 years, there have been significant losses of soil functions due to urban land take and land degradation, resulting from soil erosion and land intensification. Over 30% of Europe’s landscape is highly fragmented, affecting the connectivity and health of ecosystems. This reduces the ability of ecosystems to provide services, and to provide viable habitats for species. The assessment predicts that there will be very little change in land use, or the environmental and socio-economic drivers that shape it, over the next 20 years.

4. Europe will continue to feel the increasing impacts of climate change, with serious losses for biodiversity

Climate change is occurring in Europe and around the world. Climatic changes have established new records in recent years: mean temperature has increased, and precipitation patterns have changed. The report reveals that over the last 5-10 years, the life cycles and distribution of many species have changed due to temperature increase, warming oceans and shrinking of our frozen environments.  Looking ahead (over 20 years), stronger and more numerous climate change impacts are predicted, with increasingly serious losses of biodiversity.

5. The UK needs to overcome a variety of challenges to protect biodiversity

The report revealed that there have been marked improvements to the UK’s environment over the last decade. The UK has experienced reductions in pollution in rivers and lakes, decreased amounts of waste (including plastic bags) and a downward trend in emissions. However, what is clear is that the UK still has a number of issues to tackle, in order to protect, conserve and enhance our natural capital.  Specifically, the UK will need to address the following issues:

a. Reductions in all aspects of biodiversity (specifically farmland birds, priority species and habitats of European Importance)

b.  Loss of riverine and lake habitat

c. Declines in biodiversity in the marine and coastal environment (including seabirds and mammals)

What’s next for the UK?

The State and Outlook 2015 Report has highlighted a number of opportunities to  modify existing policies in order to achieve the EU’s 2050 vision of “living well within the limits of the planet.”  This evidence should be heeded if the UK is to secure a better natural environment and to put in place foundations for a change in culture and behaviours.  This cannot be done by government alone, individuals, businesses, community groups and Non-Governmental Organisations will need to work collaboratively to achieve this ambition.

Posted in Biodiversity, Ecology, EU, Science Policy, UK, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

People, Politics and the Planet – Any Questions?

On 9th March, environment spokespeople from the UK’s major political parties will take to the stage in central London for the ‘People, Politics and Planet’ debate chaired by accomplished broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, organised by the Sibthorp Trust, with the British Ecological Society and Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management. This is the first time, in the run up to this year’s General Election on 7th May, that the parties’ environmental policies will have been subjected to scrutiny and debate in a public forum. It is a unique opportunity for members of the public, along with members of the BES and CIEEM to question politicians on their parties’ environmental credentials.

Tickets are still available for the debate – with over 300 delegates now confirmed – and there is a 50% discount on the ticket price for members of the BES, CIEEM and students.

In advance of the debate, here are further details about our panellists:

Natalie Bennett, Leader, Green Party


Natalie has been the elected leader of the Green Party since September 2012. She was previously the Co-ordinator of Camden Greens and founding chair of the Green Party Women’s Group. She is standing in Holborn and St. Pancras in the 2015 General Election.

Barry Gardiner MP, Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment, Labour Party


Barry was elected as MP for Brent North in 1997. In 2013 he was appointed as Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment, and was previously Ed Miliband’s Special Envoy for Climate Change and the Environment.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, Scottish National Party

Pol_EW_headshot 2

Eilidh was elected as MP for Banff and Buchan in 2010. She is the Shadow SNP Spokesperson for Agriculture and Fisheries, Women, International Development, and Work and Pensions. She has been a policy adviser and campaigns manager for Oxfam and helped establish the Scottish Fair Trade Forum.

Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Natural Environment and Science, Conservative Party


Lord de Mauley is a Conservative member of the House of Lords. He was previously a Government Whip and has also served as a Shadow Minister for Children, Schools and Families and for Energy and Climate Change. He has been a Defra Minister since September 2012.

Baroness Parminter, Environment Spokesperson, Liberal Democrats


Kate Parminter, Baroness Parminter of Godalming, was created a Liberal Democrat life peer in July 2010. She has worked as Head of Public Affairs for the RSPCA, chaired the campaign to ban hunting with dogs, and was Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England for six years.

William Cash, Heritage and Tourism Spokesperson, UK Independence Party


William is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Spear’s Magazine, a wealth management and luxury lifestyle media brand. He has twice won Editor of the Year at the Independent Publishers Awards. William is standing for election as an UKIP MP in the seat of North Warwickshire.

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The environment: how do we engage and what do we gain?

Over recent years, research has increasingly emphasised the importance of the natural environment in enhancing human health and wellbeing- one of the BES’s policy priorities. Previous work suggests that reconnecting with the natural world makes us both healthier and happier. Policy-makers are increasingly identifying this vital contribution, including Defra’s recent Natural Environment White Paper which aims to strengthen connections between people and nature. The evidence base for informing policy is continually growing, however there is still a lack of understanding of how the public use the natural environment and they benefits they gain from this.

How do we engage and what do we gain?

A new report produced by Natural England has attempted to assess how people use the natural environment in England and also investigate the relationship between nature and human health and wellbeing. The report reveals the results from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey, which was commissioned in 2009 by Natural England, Defra and the Forestry Commission. In its fifth year, the work reports on the results from 2009-2014, in which interviews were carried out with over 235,000 members of the English public. The work has two main findings.

Firstly, nature is increasingly important to the English public. Over the last five years, people have been spending more time outside engaging with the environment, using it to relax, unwind, watch wildlife, enjoy the scenery and as a way to keep healthy. During 2009/10, half of the population claimed to visit the environment at least once a week – rising to around six in ten in 2013/14. The study estimates that the 42.3 million adults resident in England took a total of 2.93 billion visits to the natural environment. The majority were taken to destinations within towns, cities or countryside locations.

Secondly, the environment is important for human health and exercise. Trends suggest that people increasingly use the natural environment as a ‘green gym’. Approximately two fifths of visits were for health and exercise, estimated at 1.3 billion visits in 2013-2014. The findings also suggested that the English public receive other health and wellbeing benefits including increased happiness and lower levels of anxiety. The public also stated that being outdoors made them feel ‘calm and relaxed’ and that a visit was ‘refreshing and revitalising’. These effects are not a one-off, previous studies have revealed similar human health and wellbeing benefits in the UK. One study by the University of Essex showed that a walk in the countryside can reduce depression,  whilst research from the University of Exeter and the European Centre for Environment and Human Health suggests that the closer we live to green spaces, the lower our “mental distress” levels.

Policy implications

Research that investigates the interaction between humans and nature in England will help to fundamentally underpin our evidence base on the importance of natural capital.  According to Natural England, recent research has already been used to inform policy, support national and local decision making and for research and scientific studies. One of the largest applications has been its use as a robust evidence source to inform the delivery of a number of initiatives of the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP), including the biodiversity indicators for the Biodiversity 2020 Strategy and the creation of Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs).   

However, a clear strategy is now required in order “to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited”. The Natural Capital Committee (NCC) Third Report has set out a number of recommendations for achieving this vision. Fundamentally, to meet the government’s commitment to protect and improve the environment within a generation, the NCC advises that government work more closely with the private sector and NGOs to develop a strategy and twenty five year plan.  This report has highlighted the requirements for the protection and improvement of our natural assets. There is now an opportunity for our upcoming government to ensure that future generations continue to receive human health and wellbeing benefits from our natural environment.

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Green infrastructure: from encouraging examples to a joined-up approach?

Alongside its close cousins “natural capital” and “ecosystem services”, “green infrastructure” is an concept that has gained much currency with policy-makers in recent years. While defined in the Natural Environment White Paper as “the living network of green spaces, water and other environmental features in both urban and rural areas”, it is in the urban context that the idea of green infrastructure has really come to the fore. In this setting, green (and blue) infrastructure is commonly understood as the natural systems that operate within cities, providing vital functions and numerous environmental, social and economic benefits. In other words, green infrastructure can be seen as the urban application of the ecosystem services approach. But how can the principles behind green infrastructure be put into practice? That was the key question at last week’s meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Biodiversity, held at Portcullis House on 4th February.

Tom Armour, Associate Director at global engineering firm Arup, kicked off the meeting by outlining the vast array of services and benefits that green infrastructure can provide within cities, from environmental benefits including reducing air pollution and climate proofing, through social benefits such as improved health and wellbeing, to economic benefits such as the positive impact on green space on property values. Often, these benefits are combined: for example an urban park may offer flood water storage, whilst also offering people more opportunities to exercise, which in turn reduces health expenditure. Importantly, green infrastructure isn’t just about high profile projects such as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park or New York’s High Line, but also small-scale interventions such as green roofs and walls.

Subsequent speakers outlined a number of impressive case studies illustrating how green infrastructure ideas were being put into practice. In London, The Crown Estate are implementing improvements along the length of Regent Street, including green roofs, walls, pocket habitats and street trees, with the aim of creating a functioning green corridor between Regent’s Park and St. James’s Park in the heart of London. Peter Massini of the Greater London Authority outlined how similar projects were proliferating across the capital, with the GLA viewing green infrastructure as an integral part of the London Infrastructure Plan. Arup’s Tom Gray gave an overview of the Pinewood Studios Development Framework, a plan for expanding the studios within their Buckinghamshire green belt site that aimed to retain the function of the site as an ecological corridor whilst ensuring no net loss of biodiversity through a series of measure from green roofs to a wildlife underpass. Finally Ron Gilchrist highlighted the role of green infrastructure and planning in creating coherent, healthy communities through the powerful example of community gardens in North Ayrshire.

A joined-up approach to Green Infrastructure?

The suite of examples of green infrastructure in practice were highly impressive, but also raised a number of questions about the broader policy context within which these case studies are situated, and how a framework can be developed in order to allow these examples of best practice to become the norm. In the Pinewood Studios example, the consultant was keen to stress the importance of working in close collaboration with the local authority in drawing up an ecologically-sound plan for the site, and in particular the vital role of the local authority ecologist in informing this plan. However, as was raised by a member of the audience, research by the Association of Local Government Ecologists has shown that approximately two-thirds of local authorities do not employ an ecologist, and one third of those lacking in-house expertise do not even have access to shared services located within a neighbouring authority. Are local authorities across the country in a position to ensure that the green infrastructure features of new developments really do deliver their purported ecological benefits?

This lack of a national, joined-up approach to delivering green infrastructure was further underlined by Mike Grace of Natural England, who acknowledged that the advisory body lacks the resources necessary to develop a national overview of green infrastructure projects. Following on from the White Paper, Defra established the Green Infrastructure Partnership as a mechanism for sharing best practice, but this is now managed by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) without any Government funding. Similarly, a recent letter to the Secretary of State from the TCPA, Landscape Institute, the Land Trust and Groundwork expressed concern that the link to Natural England’s guidance on green infrastructure had been removed from the National Planning Practice Guidance. In the view of the signatories, this represented a “downgrading” of green infrastructure in the planning system, and undermines efforts to deliver the Government’s ambitions for green infrastructure.

Green infrastructure has become an established concept with developers, planners and ecologists alike, and the wealth of innovative examples of its application is growing all the time. Yet it appears that the lack of a joined-up, co-ordinated approach, and capacity to ensure that developments really deliver the ecological, social and economic benefits they claim, remains a barrier to its wholesale adoption. The recent third report of the Natural Capital Committee offers a succinct assessment of the current situation: “there are some really encouraging examples […] of good work to improve GI around the country, but unless these are taken up much more widely, many opportunities to improve wellbeing will be missed.”

Posted in Ecosystem Services, England, National Planning Policy Framework, Natural Capital Initiative, Planning, Planning Policy, Uncategorized, Urban | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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