Growing concern was expressed over the merging of the British Antarctic Survey with the National Oceanography Centre.
Prof Duncan Wingham, Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), said:
“In recognition of the importance of polar research and of their role in maintaining the UK presence in Antarctica and South Georgia, NERC has provided BAS with a higher level of settlement – level cash – for this CSR period than any other NERC institute, and higher than the headline reduction in the NERC budget at the CSR. Far from seeking to damage polar science, we are continuing to sustain our polar activity in spite of the difficulty times we find ourselves in. There are no plans to close BAS.
“It is true that there are some planned reductions in BAS staff, because even a level cash settlement is a real terms reduction. However, these are part of NERC’s general response to the CSR settlement, which has demanded some reductions across the board at all our Centres and in our grant research funding lines. They are not related to the merger plans and would have anyway to happen. In considering these reductions, it is important to appreciate that NERC must consider its entire scientific portfolio. Whilst NERC recognises the present importance of polar science to environmental sciences, there are other challenges, equally as great, to which NERC must also respond.
“What is in fact being proposed is a merger of the BAS and NOC institutes, in order to provide a single institute that can take on the largest challenges of polar science, north and south, and that can make the most effective use of the combined NERC fleet as possible. NERC Council announced in May its intention to consider detailed plans at its December 2012 meeting, and NERC is presently holding an open consultation on the detailed plans.
“Access to the consultation, and the detailed proposals, are available on the NERC website (www.nerc.ac.uk).”
Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, said:
“The threatened end to the British Antarctic Survey, which is one of our most important research institutions, is evidence that major cuts in the amount of funding that the Coalition Government is investing in the UK’s world class science base are beginning to cause real damage. The Survey has been responsible for the discovery of the ozone hole and many other breakthroughs, and is at the forefront of efforts to understand how climate change is affecting the land-based ice sheets in Antarctica, which could cause large rises in global sea level if they melt and become unstable.
“But the Government’s Natural Environment Research Council, which funds the Survey, has been told by Science Minister, David Willetts, to reduce its annual expenditure by more than 10 per cent in cash terms by 2015, and to slash its capital spending by 45 per cent from £32.2 million in 2011-12 to just £17.8 million for each of the next three years. The massive drop in funding for environmental research is part of the Government’s plan to reduce annual public investment in science by 14% in real terms over the period of the Spending Review, which was carried out in 2010.
“These cost-cutting plans show the current Government’s apparent disregard for the broad benefits of curiosity-driven research that have been realised through the achievements of the British Antarctic Survey, such as the discovery of the ozone hole. New figures published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development this summer show that UK spending on research and development dropped to just 1.76 per cent of our gross domestic product in 2010, well below the European Union average and, for the first time ever, less than China. The UK’s science base is one of the most important drivers of economic growth. If the Government wants to ensure the future prosperity and well-being of the UK, it needs to invest more, not less, in our world class researchers and scientific organisations like the British Antarctic Survey.”