Scientists to walk out in wildlife centre row


Environmental scientists have threatened to hold a virtually unheard-of mass demonstration over proposals to close Britain's three leading wildlife research centres.

Researchers at the Winfrith, Dorset station of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), which faces the axe along with sister stations at Monk's Wood, Cambridgeshire, and Banchory in Scotland, are planning a "day of action" next week, when they will take a co-ordinated day's leave from their own duties and instead carry out voluntary work for the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

Their planned demo is an indication of swelling opposition to the closures, which were highlighted in The Independent last month, and which proved an embarrassment for Tony Blair on Wednesday in the House of Commons. Mr Blair was taunted by the Conservative leader, David Cameron, for the fact that one of his junior ministers, Jim Knight from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), had written a letter to him protesting at the closures and asking the Prime Minister to intervene - which Mr Blair refused to do.

Now the Tories are looking to push the closure threat even further up the political agenda with visits to some of the threatened laboratories from senior Conservatives. Next Monday, the shadow Environment minister, Greg Barker, will visit the Winfrith centre, and later in the week Peter Ainsworth and Alan Duncan, shadow Secretaries of State for Environment and Trade and Industry, will be visiting the research station at Monk's Wood.

Mr Duncan is joining Mr Ainsworth because the Department of Trade and Industry controls the science budget, the ultimate source of funding for the CEH centres.

The funds are distributed by the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc), and it is the decision of the Nerc council to cut back on funding for CEH which has prompted the plans to close the centres, and to sack 200 of the CEH scientific staff.

Mr Ainsworth said last night: "Our aim is to prevent the closures and get those involved to think again. The work the CEH centres do is of immense value in our understanding of biodiversity, and in the context of the concerns about climate change it is of even more importance. Closing them is utterly ridiculous."

His opinion is remarkably similar to that of Labour's Mr Knight, the minister responsible for wildlife, who told Mr Blair in his letter that the closures did not make sense scientifically or economically, at a local or a national level. The Environment minister, Elliot Morley, revealed in the House of Commons yesterday that Defra itself had joined in the Nerc consultation on the future of the laboratories - strongly implying that the Government's green ministers are joining the calls for a rethink.

The day of action at Winfrith is being planned by the union Prospect; about 80 per cent of the Winfrith staff are Prospect members. The Prospect section secretary, Bill Beaumont, said: "This is not a strike, but our members will be taking a day's leave, and we will go and help a conservation group with scrub clearance and fencing. We simply want to highlight the Nerc consultation process, and try and encourage all local stakeholders to write in to it."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power