Marine expert invited to join new Defra science advisory group

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has appointed a University of Plymouth marine expert as one of six senior academic Fellows to focus on some of the UK’s most pressing environmental issues to inform and shape key future policy decisions.

Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop is set to join the new Systems Research Programme that will look at five key areas: rural land use, food, air quality, marine, and resources and waste.

Abigail, Lecturer in Marine Conservation, and a NERC-funded Knowledge Exchange Fellow in the University’s Marine Institute, has a wealth of experience of providing evidence to help inform governmental policy-making. She is the lead scientist for pelagic habitats policy for the UK and North Atlantic within the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and spends considerable time working with European counterparts to determine the environmental status of such habitats.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to help shape and advise upon governmental policy," 

said Abigail. 

"At a time when our natural environment faces many challenges and stresses, not least climate change, the value and importance of scientific evidence underpinning policy cannot be over-stressed. It is great recognition for both my work and the University, which has always placed great value upon engaging with governments, NGOs and other key stakeholders."
The programme will be led by Professor Ian Boyd, Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA), and will be delivered in close partnership with the research community. Each of the five systems will be covered by one of the senior academic Fellow, taking a so-called ‘systems mapping’ approach to identify how a policy change in one area might affect another, and make sure the connections between environmental issues are properly considered. The sixth Fellow, the ‘design authority’, will look at broader methodology and make sure that cross-cutting themes are identified.

Professor Ian Boyd, Defra CSA, said: 

“The Systems Research Programme breaks new ground by taking a systems approach to understanding the key policy questions across the Defra group to deliver innovative, evidence-based solutions for the future. This is a very busy and exciting time for policy making in Defra. This programme gives us the chance to concentrate on the UK’s priority environmental issues and use the best possible science to inform our solutions. I look forward to working across the Defra group and the wider science community on this programme.”

The new project will support Defra’s extensive EU Exit work and will ensure that future policies are informed by the best possible research. 

Sir Patrick Vallance, Government CSA said: 

“It is important that government policies and decisions are informed by the best scientific evidence and strategic long-term thinking. The Defra’s Systems Research Programme is important to delivering this aim by bringing together multidisciplinary science in a policy-relevant manner.”

The successful candidates are based at universities across the UK and will spend part of their time supporting Defra in this project alongside continuing their academic roles. They will take up their role for Defra by the start of May.

Sitting alongside Abigail are: Design Authority – Professor Tom Oliver, University of Reading (School of Biological Sciences); Air Quality system – Dr Sarah Moller, University of York (National Centre for Atmospheric Science); Food system – Professor Bob Doherty, University of York (York Management School); Rural Land Use system – Dr Pam Berry, University of Oxford (Environmental Change Institute); Waste and Resources system – Professor Frank Boons, University of Manchester (Sustainable Consumption Institute).

Examples of a ‘systems mapping’ approach might include factoring in marine, waste management, landscape and other issues when looking at future policies on plastic, or considering the impact of food waste policies on waste and landscape management as well as water and air quality. As is common practice for all Defra research programmes, final reports from the Systems Research Programme will be published on the Defra Science Search Website.