Scientists in revolt against cuts that will undermine Britain's climate research


A torrent of high-level opposition is building up to the proposals to scrap Britain's three leading wildlife research centres, which are due to be voted on tomorrow.

More than 1,000 formal objections have been received by the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) to its plans to close the centres at Monks Wood, Cambridgeshire, Winfrith in Dorset and Banchory near Aberdeen.

The scheme, which will also see 200 wildlife scientists sacked, has caused anger among environmentalists, many of whom believe more, not less, specialised wildlife research is needed to protect Britain's habitats and species from growing threats, especially climate change.

The centres have been responsible for many discoveries about the natural world and the pressures on it. These include the first proof that global warming is having an impact on the living environment - Monks Wood researchers have shown that spring now arrives in Britain three weeks earlier than 50 years ago.

Others include work on limiting the harm of invasive species, bringing back vanishing bumblebees, reintroducing the large blue butterfly to Britain, and resolving the conflict between grouse shooters and birds of prey that want to eat grouse.

Several prominent figures have voiced their objections to the plans to close the centres, with Sir David Attenborough calling the idea "a nonsense". But now the true scale of opposition is becoming clear, and it is in effect a revolt of the British life sciences establishment against the proposals.

Nerc's consultation exercise on the future of the stations, which are part of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), has received 1,327 submissions from "stakeholders" - bodies which have a formal interest in their work. Nerc refuses make details of the submissions public until after tomorrow's meeting of its 18-strong governing council, which will formally consider the plans.

However, CEH staff have been told that of the first 500 received, 496 were against the scheme, with only four in favour and believe the final total will reflect this. The comments have come from across the spectrum of public life in Britain: from the science establishment, from research associations, from environmental charities and pressure groups, from government quangos and from the Government itself. (Although the Nerc is an official body, distributing funds from the science budget, it takes its decisions independently of government).

They have even come from abroad: there is a forceful letter protesting against the plans from the State Museum of Natural History in the Ukraine.

Nerc says it will publish all the comments after tomorrow's meeting as it feels it is appropriate that council members should "consider the responses and discuss them before they are made publicly available."

However, a number have already been put into the public domain by their authors, and some are remarkable for their strength of language.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds urges Nerc to reconsider, commenting: "These cuts will have serious consequences for vital ecological research and could not come at a worse time."

The National Trust also says that it is "alarmed by the prospect of any cut-backs in the resourcing of CEH's scientific research," and similarly comments that "the timing could hardly be worse".

The Royal Society, Britain's science academy and the most prestigious scientific body in the land, says: "Of particular concern are the threats posed to the vitally important long-term environmental monitoring sites, programmes, and data sets that play such a key role in underpinning our understanding of the natural environment and environmental change."

The Government's own wildlife conservation agency, English Nature, says it has "major concerns over the scale of the proposed cuts in staff and facilities". It comments: "We are concerned that even if biodiversity research programmes, and work on long term research and data, are retained, closure of centres and relocation of staff may mean that key staff with skills and knowledge essential to such work may be lost. This risks compromising these vital programmes."

And the Government itself is expressing concern. The submission from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) attacks - in the opaque language of Whitehall - Nerc for presenting its plans as a virtual fait accompli.

It says: "While we welcome the opportunity to comment on Nerc's plans for the restructuring of CEH, we are concerned that only a single option is presented, which narrows the opportunity for constructive debate. We assume that other scenarios have been considered, and presentation of these would have given greater transparency [to the way in which Nerc arrived at its decision].

The scientists of the Ukrainian State Museum of Natural History add a trenchant view of their own. They write: "The closures [are] a very grave error. "Europe needs more ecologists, not fewer. European biodiversity requires long-term studies, long-term monitoring and continuity - not disruption and redundancy." LEADING ARTICLE, PAGE 30

The centres under threat ... and what they have achieved


* Spring coming earlier: Monks Wood researchers have given clear proof that global warming is impacting on the natural world. They have shown that spring, as evidenced by the coming into leaf of oak trees, and other natural events, is arriving about three weeks earlier than it was 50 years ago.

* The Big Bee Project: Half of Britain's 16 species of bumble-bees, right, are in decline. Monks Wood scientists Dr Matt Herder and Claire Carvell have devised a wildflower seed mix, containing pollen-rich and nectar-rich species such as red clover, which farmers can plant at field margins to bring bumblebees back. It works.

* Wildlife atlases: The Biological Records Centre at Monks Wood keeps detailed records of all British wildlife except birds (20 million records on 10,000 species). Many of these data sets have been turned into distribution maps and atlases showing the marked effects of climate warming and habitat loss on wildlife over the past century.

* The Great Fen Project: The re-creation of 3,000 hectares of wild fenland between Peterborough and Cambridge, is the largest habitat restoration project in western Europe. Monks Wood conducted the feasibility study and advised on which habitats should be restored, and how much water will be needed.


* Rebirth of the blues: The large blue butterfly became extinct in Britain in 1979 but has been reintroduced thanks to Winfrith's Jeremy Thomas. It has a life cycle that involves it spending most of the year in nests of red ants; Dr Thomas found which ant species was key.

* Restoring biodiversity on Twyford Down: In the Nineties the M3 motorway extension through chalk downland near Winchester caused great controversy. Winfrithscientists helped create new chalk grassland next to the motorway, and after 12 years the site is an important habitat for animal and plant species, including orchids and blue butterflies.

* Oystercatcher problems: Oystercatchers are a protected bird, but they cause problems for the shellfish industry. Winfrith researchers are developing ways to manage mussel beds that would reduce losses. In the Menai Strait, north Wales, hundreds of thousands of pounds have been saved.


* Seabird declines: Seabirds, such as the kittiwake, are thought to be increasingly threatened by climate change. Work at Banchory, led by Professor Sarah Wanless, has already established a link between warming sea water and declining kittiwake breeding.

* Invasive species: Britain has more than 1,000 alien species, such as Japanese knotweed, right. Some present a threat to native wildlife. Banchory's Dr Phil Hulme has carried out Britain's first alien species audit, looking at Scotland; this is being extended to England and Wales.

* Shooting conflicts: Grouse shooting is a significant contributor to Scotland's rural economy; but hen harriers, birds of prey, are also partial to grouse, and can make shoots uneconomical. Dr Steve Redpath is seeking to resolve the conflict between shooters and the harriers, without shooting the latter.

Michael McCarthy

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star