Chair's Introduction

Welcome to the Winter 2013 edition of Nature News.  After an extraordinary year weather-wise, for some in the UK, one filled with problems and even devastation, I expect everyone is wondering about the winter we face. Will it be another cold and dry one, or will it be mild and wet? While weather fluctuations cause problems for us as a species, spare a thought, whatever the weather, for our wildlife, and help where sensible!


While not wanting to prolong the gloom and doom theme, I cannot pass without mention of the hot item – ash dieback (caused by a fungus, Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus, often referred to by its earlier name of Chalara fraxinea) which has been discovered in recent weeks in many places across the UK. Much remains to be understood about the dynamics of this outbreak, but the actions of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, have proved decisive in recognising both the serious potential of this outbreak and searching for ways to manage it. 


This disease is actually one of an increasing number of tree and shrub fungal diseases detected in the UK in recent years, and the Committee has discussed the nature conservation aspects of such outbreaks. JNCC will continue to contribute in building the evidence base for effective responses. Such responses will have to involve many government agencies, non-government organisations and, not least, the community at large. To the latter end, JNCC is playing a key role in gathering data sets and undertaking analysis to build up a picture of important ash locations in Great Britain. One of JNCC’s staff, Chris Cheffings, is part of the Government’s emergency response group. JNCC is developing a surveillance strategy (with partners) which will encourage citizen engagement in surveillance, monitoring and action in tackling the problem, as part of the wider government response.   


While all that is taking place on land, we have been especially busy on, and in, the seas around the UK. Following our formal advice, with Natural England, to Government, Defra has recently launched a three-month public consultation on Marine Conservation Zones, which recommends 31 sites to be designated in 2013. In November, JNCC and Scottish Natural Heritage also submitted their formal advice on the selection of Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas to the Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change and Marine Scotland.  Through these efforts JNCC is playing its part in helping governments across the UK deliver an exciting future for marine conservation, as part of ensuring healthy and clean seas around our coasts.


Elsewhere, JNCC staff have taken their place on the global environment stage, attending and chairing key meetings in Europe and globally. JNCC’s Chief Executive, Marcus Yeo, chaired the latest meeting of the network of European Nature Conservation Agencies in Brussels in September and I was also pleased to participate in that meeting. JNCC takes over the secretariat for this network in 2013. In October, Vin Fleming and Vicky Morgan participated in the UK delegation to the 11th Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in India, and I was also able to be there for the first week, partly to help launch a new guide on biodiversity and health.


Also in October, our Head of Marine Advice, Mark Tasker, chaired the latest Meeting of Parties of ASCOBANS (Agreement of the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas) in Brighton.  


Along with some important new work highlighted in this edition, the coming year will continue to bring challenges.  A key issue for JNCC is that, as a non-departmental public body, we will be formally reviewed early in 2013 under the Triennial Review process.  We believe we contribute well to the nature conservation work undertaken by governments across the UK, but we also know there are always ways to do better, and we look forward to taking part in the review, learning from its results and emerging re-invigorated for the challenges ahead!


Since our last issue we have seen the end of a long and distinguished period of service by independent Committee member David Pritchard.  David was appointed to the Committee in 2006 and in 2007 took on the role of Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee.  His role as Chair has now been taken by Guy Duke.  We expect to start the process of replacement for David after the conclusion of the Triennial Review. The new representative from Scottish Natural Heritage, Susan Walker, took her place at her first Committee meeting in November and is already actively and helpfully contributing to our discussions.


Finally, best seasons greetings to all of our readers, and a very happy New Year, and Year of the Snake!


Peter Bridgewater, Chair, JNCC



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