Research budget beefed up at Defra

April 4, 2003

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced a £20 million increase to its research budget this week, offering some stability after years of cuts, writes Anna Fazackerley.

The department's new science and innovation strategy, released last week, indicated that the budget for 2003-04 would be £153 million, compared with £131 million in 2002-03.

Defra's chief scientific adviser Howard Dalton told The THES that this was good news for the science community. But he stressed that the increase looked bigger compared with previous years because the department had suffered a 10 per cent cut in its planned research budget last year.

Such cuts have been taking place annually within Defra and its predecessor, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

In 1986, the Maff budget, which did not include the environment part of Defra's current portfolio, was £201.6 million in real terms. By the time Maff was wound up in 2001, this had been cut to £116 million.

Professor Dalton said: "This budget still represents a cut in real terms.

There are still tremendous demands on that budget and it still has a number of strings attached."

Within the 2003-04 budget, several new research areas have been identified.

These include a £4.5 million programme on the global atmosphere; a £1 million programme on energy crops used to create biofuels; £1 million for research into the rural evidence base; and £2 million for horizon-scanning research.

The department has set aside £3 million to meet some of the demands arising from last year's Royal Society inquiry into infectious diseases in livestock. The report recommended that this area get £250 million over ten years for research.

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