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Spend more on biologists to save species - UK report

20.05.2002
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Spend more on biologists to save species - UK report
LONDON - Britain urgently needs to spend more money on its biologists to help save the world\'s endangered species, a parliamentary report said yesterday.

The report \"What on Earth? The threat to the science underpinning conservation\" aims to help form government policy ahead of the second world earth summit at the end of August in Johannesburg. It said specialist eco-system scientists must not be tempted to drift into less vital sectors through lack of money. \"Systematic biologists are essential if we are to preserve the biodiversity of the world,\" said Baroness Joan Walmsley. \"Unless we know what we have got, we can\'t preserve it,\" she told a news conference at London Zoo. Walmsley, chair of the House of Lords select committee on science and technology that penned the report, said British funding for the major institutions involved in biodiversity research had dropped by nearly one-third in a decade in real terms. \"The government must return the funding...to what it was 10 years ago in real terms,\" she said. Walmsley said systematic biology was the foundation of the Convention on Biological Diversity that came out of the first World Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. But governments across the world - including Britain - had scaled back funding to the extent that few posts were available for these scientists and many research programmes had shut down. She said Britain had a lead role to play because of its vast repository of information and expertise amassed over more than two centuries by people such as Charles Darwin whose theories on evolution caused a revolution in scientific thinking. Not only had Britain to train its own scientists, but it had to help train people from developing countries which had huge arrays of different species but lacked the resources or expertise to protect them from over-exploitation. Walmsley said her committee\'s report would give ample time for the government to consider its position before Prime Minister Tony Blair sets off for the Johannesburg summit. The avowed aim of the World Summit on Sustainable Development is to assess progress in the decade since Rio. But scientists are dubious that it will achieve anything other than a restating of the deep divide between the rich, mostly northern hemisphere, developed nations and the poor southern countries struggling under mountains of debt. \"It is really very depressing. It doesn\'t look like there will be any science at Johannesburg,\" Professor Georgina Mace, director of science at the Zoological Society of London, told Reuters. \"Everything is stuck in politics. That is why so few scientists are actually going there,\" she said. \"They know nothing will come of it. There will be no targets set and no initiatives taken. We need movement and we will not get it at Johannesburg,\" she added. Story by Jeremy Lovell REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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