Taxonomy & Systematics

Programme Overview

A report published in 2008 on the status of taxonomy and systematics in the UK by the House of Lords highlighted the decline in the science base, a potential loss of expertise and the lack of a clear strategy among relevant UK institutions. This issue has significant implications for the delivery of much NERC science which depends upon taxonomic expertise.

Background & objectives

The House of Lords report highlighted that training and research opportunities may need to be advanced to arrest this decline but these should be developed against a full understanding of current needs and capabilities in the UK.

The Taxonomy & Systematics programme was a first step to addressing this issue and encompassed two key activities:

  • An expert review to explore needs and capabilities and allow a UK strategy for taxonomy and systematics to be developed.
  • Co-funding support for the new Research Councils Systematics and Taxonomy scheme (SynTax). This is designed to provide short-term funding for preliminary research that will form the basis of novel responsive mode proposals with a substantial systematics/taxonomy component.

Following an open competition £95k was awarded to The Natural History Museum to manage the UK Taxonomy & Systematics Review.

Reports & key findings

In response to the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee report, highlighting concerns over the state of taxonomy and systematics in the UK, the Natural Environment Research Council commissioned a study on behalf of all research funders in this area. The study comprised two parts:

  1. The UK Taxonomy and Systematics Review, which provides quantitative data on the current state of the subject in the UK, as requested by the Science & Technology Committee. This was conducted by a team from the Natural History Museum led by Professor Geoff Boxshall.

  2. A document, 'Developing a National Strategy in Taxonomy & Systematics', exploring the need for a national strategy in this area and how it might be developed. This was written by an independent group of nine scientists working in taxonomy and cognate areas chaired by Professor Charles Godfray. It makes 19 strategic recommendations about how the UK taxonomy and systematics sector can be strengthened to ensure the future health of the discipline.

UK Taxonomy & Systematics Review (PDF, 514KB)

Developing a National Strategy in Taxonomy & Systematics (PDF, 251KB)

The published review and associated strategy document were broadly welcomed by the key funders and stakeholders, with strong support for the establishment of a Taxonomy Coordination Committee.

A full response to the study is published below - compiled by NERC on behalf of the community of taxonomy and systematics funders.

UK Taxonomy & Systematics Review - Response (PDF, 250KB)