BES response to Plan S

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As many of our members will already be aware, a coalition of research funders, initially all based in Europe, have joined together to create Plan S, aimed at accelerating the transition to open access. “After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms”.

The general principles of Open Science align well with the BES vision of a world inspired, informed and influenced by ecology. As such, we wholeheartedly support a greater dissemination of ecological research on a global level, particularly that which has been publicly funded, and enable this through our two fully open access journals. As part of the wider ecological community, we have also taken considerable steps forward in data sharing and many journals, publishers and funders now expect data to be shared in a more systematic way, adopting the FAIR principles that data should be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable[i]. The BES has invested considerable time and resource in this area and plans to continue doing so; however, we feel that any move towards a wholly open access future needs to be done in a measured and time-sensitive way to avoid any unintended consequences.

There are ten main principles associated with Plan S, many of which we welcome, such as the desire to align policies across universities, research organisations and libraries and the need for robust criteria for any open access journals and platforms. The diverse range of open access policies around the world is increasingly complex and we believe this is a significant challenge for the ecological community. We also agree with Plan S about the importance of archives and repositories, and encourage the use of preprint servers for those who want to ensure their submitted articles have greater visibility.

There are some principles, however, that require more thought prior to implementation. It is stated that there should be incentives to establish and support high quality OA journals and platforms, yet the Plan also states that OA fees should be standardised and capped. While we are supportive of setting sustainable article processing charges (APCs), both for publisher and funder, we believe that standardising these across Europe would be detrimental to the publishing landscape. Highly selective journals that conduct rigorous peer review, such as those published by many smaller or Learned Society publishers, have significantly higher costs than those that focus on publishing a large quantity of sound papers, given the large number of articles they process which end up being rejected. If a standard APC is set with no consideration of the differing costs involved, publishers will be incentivised to publish more and more content, adding to the proliferation of research already published and potentially lowering quality overall.

Plan S also states that APCs should be covered by funders or universities not individuals. While we agree with this in principle, there are a large number of researchers that are unfunded and we are concerned that this would therefore exclude certain communities from publishing, including those from many countries around the world with lower funding and those not based in academic institutions. Given that funders are encouraging increased engagement between academics and practitioners, one unintended consequence could be that Plan S will actually exclude practitioners from the publication process, which is of concern to many of our members who are working in more applied research.

Furthermore, if we are to enable better access for all to research literature, it is important to ensure that everyone also has an equal opportunity to participate in the research process more generally and the ability to continue publishing in the journal of their choice. We would therefore support a continuation of the hybrid model or similar mixed model until such time as a sustainable open access model has been introduced, irrespective of institutional affiliation and location. Academic publishing is a global endeavour and with over 80% of the research we publish coming from countries that are not Plan S signatories, we need to ensure we are able to provide publishing outlets for that global audience.

We were pleased to note the Plan has acknowledged that OA for monographs and books may take longer as there are considerable additional challenges to publishing open access books. The BES is experimenting with this in the coming months and our first open access volume in our Ecological Reviews book series is due to be published in early 2020.

Approximately 85% of the research we publish in our journals is from non-UK authors and around 40% of our members are based overseas so we are keeping abreast of global developments. However, we are particularly looking forward to seeing more detail around the implementation of Plan S from UKRI as well as cOAlitition S itself. Although UKRI is a signatory to Plan S, we understand OA Policy for REF 2021 is not due to change. UKRI has stated in a press release, “This ambition [Plan S] provides the groundwork for UKRI’s forthcoming review which will consider the implementation issues, taking advice from all stakeholders.” ( The findings of the UKRI review are expected in late 2019 and we would encourage all members to engage with this review where possible and confirm that we will be doing the same.

cOAlition S have sought feedback on Plan S in recent months and the BES submitted a response via a larger group of like-minded learned societies – the Society Publishers’ Coalition. We understand that over 600 individuals and organisations provided feedback in this consultation and an initial analysis of this is expected at some point in the spring. We hope that there will be sufficient time built into this process and any subsequent consultation(s) to enable any transition to be as smooth as possible and afford smaller Learned Society Publishers the opportunity to both engage and be innovative in our approaches. As a Society, we are run by our members for our members, which puts us in a unique place to consider the impacts any changes will  have directly on the academic community. We have been engaging with UK funders and those involved with the creation of Plan S, and will continue to liaise with a large number of other Societies to discuss the issues raised here. We will also be consulting our members during 2019 on this topic, as well as on a number of other publishing-related areas, so would welcome your thoughts or concerns on this at any point. Please get in touch directly at


[i] Wilkinson, Mark D. et al. (2016). “The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship” Scientific Data 3 doi:10.1038/sdata.2016.18