British Antarctic Survey merger plan ruled out

Glacier, Antarctic (Image: BAS) The British Antarctic Survey operates five research stations within the continent

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Plans to merge the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) have been ruled out, the science minister has announced.

In a written statement, David Willetts said the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) had decided not to proceed with the proposal.

Scientists had voiced concerns that the controversial move would damage world-leading research in the region.

Nerc had said a single body could tackle "polar science challenges".

From the mechanics running the snow ploughs to the cooks producing four much-needed meals a day to the scientists researching what makes Antarctica tick, a visit to the British Antarctic Survey's main base at Rothera reveals an unmistakable pride.

Working in Antarctica is so challenging, and Britain's polar heritage is so laden with triumph and tragedy, that BAS inspires fierce loyalty among insiders and supporters.

Today's news that it will remain a separate entity will be greeted with huge relief.

The merger plan had always envisaged that the body would survive in some reduced form but BAS insiders were irritated at the prospect of being subsumed into a larger institution.

However, celebrations may be muted by the uncertainties about the small print of future reforms and budget battles to come. Polar science is expensive. So is oceanography. The pressure to share resources will not go away.

Mr Willetts said the decision was taken during a meeting by Nerc's Council on Thursday.

"Having completed its consultation, Nerc Council agreed that it [would not] proceed with the proposal," he stated.

"The British Antarctic Survey is a national and international asset that delivers world-class environmental science, and this country's strategic presence in Antarctica and the South Atlantic.

"The UK's commitment to continuing this dual mission in the region is as strong as ever."

'Devil in the detail'

Reacting to the news, former British Antarctic Survey (Bas) deputy director Dr John Dudeney said he was delighted by the news.

But he cautioned: "However, the devil will be in the detail - the detail which is not included."

His concerns included "whether the Bas fleet will remain under the control of Bas and not be merged with the NOC fleet, and whether Bas will continue to be an integrated operation carrying out a substantial research programme as well a providing the presence in Antarctica, policy advice to government, and wide-ranging scientific collaboration".

Bas is the UK's national Antarctic operator and has been responsible for most of the UK's scientific research in Antarctica over the past 60 years.

The organisation employs more than 400 staff and operates five research stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft in and around Antarctica.

NOC, based in Southampton, was formed in April 2010 by the merger of two marine science institutions - the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory in Liverpool and the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

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