BES at the National Assembly for Wales

The British Ecological Society’s Policy Team attended a meeting at the building of the National Assembly for Wales on Tuesday, for a day of presentations from academics working in applied research across the country. The event, ‘Science at the Assembly, was organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, in partnership with others including the Society of Biology and Campaign for Science and Engineering. Presentations were followed by a networking reception attended by Assembly Members.

One of the most interesting presentations during the day was from Prof. John Harries, appointed Chief Science Advisor to the Welsh Government in 2010. Prof. Harries, alongside a Science Advisory Committee, is drafting a science strategy for Wales, which will launch in the autumn of this year. In response to questioning from Dr Hilary Leevers of CaSE, Prof. Harries confirmed that this will set out a 10-year framework for science, engineering and technology in Wales – a step beyond the Westminster Government which has resisted calls for a long-term science and innovation investment framework.

Prof. Harries outlined the ‘grand challenges’ upon which the science strategy will focus: health and life sciences; energy, environment and low carbon; advanced engineering and materials. Alongside these three themes there will be an emphasis on education and STEM outreach activity, on digital infrastructure and the economy, on intellectual property and on blue-skies reasearch.

Prof. Harries was clearly enthusiastic about the prospects for research in Wales, seeing research and development as one of the few ways to build Wales into a more prosperous economy. He stressed that researchers needed to look beyond other institutions within Wales when considering the formation of collaborative partnerships, needing to look across Europe. Realistically, he said, this would mean partnerships with centres of excellence in England, highlighting Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial as important centres for collaboration.

Although a large protest outside the Assembly building may have kept Members away from the scientific content of the day, a number were in evidence in the evening. Opening the evening through brief speeches it was clear that those AMs present were looking to the scientists and scientific organisations present to provide them with advice and information. This was a welcome call to the learned societies and others represented, including this BES, which will be sure to capitalise upon this invitation.