Defra Science Oral Evidence Session

An oral evidence session was held yesterday afternoon by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee to examine Defra’s new Evidence Investment Strategy 2010-2013 and beyond, discussing whether this strategy provides a robust basis for competing demands in tough economic times.

Professor Robert Watson from Defra began by summarising key messages from the strategy, in particular the fact that the main evidence challenges identified (Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation, Sustainable Food Supply and Protecting Ecosystem Services) are interrelated and should be addressed by a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on different areas of skills within Defra and through external partnerships.

Members of the panel each made short presentations giving their comments on the strategy. Key issues raised included concerns from Steve Visscher from BBSRC that national capability for scientific research might not be maintained under the current strategy, and Dr David Gibbons from the RSPB commented that although investing in an ecosystem services approach is highly valuable, this should not be favoured over funding applied research into more specific biodiversity conservation issues. There was some disappointment that details of the implementation of the strategy have not yet been made clear, but Professor Watson said that the implementation plan is due to be published in October/November this year.

Many of the questions from the audience related to whether investment would be made in funding specific research areas, such as geoengineering, horticulture, and alternative agriculture. Professor Watson responded that the prioritisation process outlined in the strategy would ensure that funding is focussed on the most important evidence issues.

The Chairman, Rt Hon Michael Jack MP, closed the session with the comment that Defra’s future work in this area should continue to be examined, as the process of challenge from stakeholders is essential for developing good policy.