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Plans to merge UK polar and marine science are flawed


In April this year, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) announced plans for the proposed merger of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) with the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) to create a single body responsible for marine and polar science.

Walking on the iceWWF's work on Antarctica is driven by the science that BAS provides - science that would be undermined by this proposed merger. © Rod Downie

At WWF, we work closely with BAS. We view them as a leading light in Antarctic science, and one of the most iconic and prolific scientific organisations in the UK. NOC hold a similar status in marine science. And both are hugely respected internationally.

Crucially for us, BAS science underpins much of our policy work in the polar regions, including our input to the Antarctic Treaty and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Oh, and of course they do some really cool work with penguins as well!

So WWF has good reason to be very concerned that the proposed merger (as set out in NERCs flawed Consultation Document) could diminish the impact of British scence in the polar regions, and lead to a loss of the BAS brand, which is vitally important to communicating polar and climate science.

I asked David Nussbaum, our CEO, about his views on the proposed merger:

‘The British Antarctic Survey is an internationally respected centre of excellence on polar science. It has long provided the UK’s national capability to deliver Antarctic science and logistics, and is an increasingly important player in the Arctic at a time when this region is undergoing rapid and alarming change due to climate warming. Much of WWF’s polar policy work is underpinned by BAS’ research.

Emperor penguin in front of the RRS James Clark RossThe RRS James Clark Ross is one of the research ships that allows BAS to operate in one of the most inhospitable seas in the world. © British Antarctic Survey

WWF is concerned that NERC’s proposed merger could erode BAS’ capacity to deliver globally relevant science and policy, and the impact this would have on the UK’s reputation for scientific excellence.’

And I also have a very personal reason to be concerned by what is going on. Having worked there for 14 years and spent two and a half years of my life on the ice with the Survey, I understand and value the importance of teamwork and trust in such a remote and extreme environment. For the dedicated BAS staff, their work is not just a job – it’s a vocation. Just as it is here at WWF.

So I’m dismayed by NERCs proposals. It could tear apart the teamwork that is so vital to the delivery of world leading and globally relevant polar science.

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