HC Deb 29 November 1990 vol 181 cc465-6W
Mr. Hanley

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science, whether he has received the annual report of the Natural Environment Research Council for 1989–90; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Alan Howarth

The annual report of the Natural Environment Research Council has been submitted to my right hon. and learned Friend under the requirements of the Science and Technology Act 1965, and a copy is being laid before the House today.

In the year that the Government's White Paper on the environment, "This Common Inheritance" was published, I believe that the council's report amply demonstrates the way it has been able to focus multidisciplinary research on a range of important global, regional and local environmental issues, including:

  1. (a) the uptake of carbon dioxide by the oceans through two studies
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    • the North sea project, from which results indicate that the physical uptake of carbon dioxide by the oceans globally may be less than previously thought, the biogeochemical ocean flux study—BOFS—where work in the north Atlantic shows that the biological transfer of carbon dioxide from the surface to deeper waters is stronger than previously supposed;
  3. (b) the development of diagnostic tests to assess the impact of particular pollutants on key marine species, and the use of these species as "biological detectives" to monitor the impact of pollution for the ecosystem as whole;
  4. (c) the development of new analytical methods for the study of pesticides within river sediment, leading to the identification of reservoirs of compounds such as DDT, which have remained undetected for more than 20 years;
  5. (d) the development of computer-based models of changes in river quality, required for the effective management of water resources, which the council has also been able to exploit;
  6. (e) the successful development of efficient methods of reintroducing symbiotic fungi that help trees obtain essential nutriments from the soil, which should increase the success in replanting deforested areas.
  7. (f) geochemical surveys which have helped to highlight areas of the United Kingdom where
    • toxic trace elements, organic compounds or soil gases for example radon, are present,
    • or essential elements such as copper are lacking, with implications for human, livestock or crop health.

I congratulate the council on these and its many other achievements and commend this report to hon. Members.