Director’s Introduction - January 2008

Professor Mervyn Humphreys

Due to Governance changes this will be the last Annual Report for IGER in its current form. In 2008, IGER-Wales will merge with the Institutes of Rural Sciences and Biological Sciences at Aberystwyth University (AU) to form the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS). This major new research and teaching centre in Aberystwyth will tackle some of the most pressing issues in environmental and biological science with implications for agriculture, sustainable land use, food production, nutrition and health, and energy. The IGER North Wyke Research Station will become part of BBSRC, supported by Rothamsted Research, with a distinctive scientific remit and role to develop a national facility for work on bioenergy, diffuse pollution and biodiversity.

IGER was established in 1990 to include the main laboratories and administrative centre at Plas Gogerddan near Aberystwyth plus sites at Hurley in Berkshire, North Wyke in Devon and Bronydd Mawr in Powys. Part of IGER’s roots go back to 1919 when the Welsh Plant Breeding Station (WPBS) was established under the guidance of Sir George Stapledon. Initially based at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth, the WPBS moved to Plas Gogerddan in 1953. Bronydd Mawr was acquired as part of the WPBS in 1983. Other sections of IGER originated at Drayton, near Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, with the establishment of the Grassland Improvement Station in 1940. In 1949, the Station was renamed as the Grassland Research Institute (GRI) and moved to a new site at Hurley in Berkshire. The Devon site at North Wyke was acquired in 1981. In 1985, GRI and the National Institute for Research in Dairying (Shinfield, Reading) were merged to form the Animal and Grassland Research Institute (AGRI). In 1987, the Institute of Grassland and Animal Production (IGAP) was established by amalgamating WPBS, AGRI and the poultry nutrition and production sections of the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh. The site at Hurley was closed in 1992 and the staff transferred to the Welsh and Devon sites.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank IGER’s existing Governing Body, ably chaired by Professor Alan Gray, for its continuing enthusiastic support of IGER’s work and diligence in overseeing IGER’s recent past and dealing with the current Governance changes. In particular, I would like to thank Professor Gray for his genuine concern for the well-being of IGER staff during this time of rapid change.

Professor Chris Pollock retired as IGER Director at the end of March 2007 with a very distinguished and continuing scientific career. He came to Aberystwyth in 1974 as a carbohydrate biochemist and became Director of IGER in 1993. Throughout his career, his high scientific reputation was widely recognised and led to Honorary Professorships at Aberystwyth and Nottingham Universities and Fellowships of the Royal Agricultural Society and the Institute of Biology. He was also an invited member of the Climate Change Impacts Review, Chair of the BBSRC Plants and Microbial Sciences Committee and the Review Group on Sustainable Agriculture and Land Use and a member of the Sustainable Agriculture Strategy Panel. He chaired Defra's Research Priorities Group for Sustainable Farming and Food, the Advisory Committee for Releases into the Environment (ACRE), the GM Farm Scale Trials Committee and, more recently, the Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Science Sub-Panel in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. In 2002 he was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to the environment. Since his retirement from IGER he has been in great demand and has recently been appointed to a new post to advise the Welsh Assembly Government on scientific matters. IGER owes Chris Pollock a great debt of gratitude that will extend through its successor organisations for a long time to come.

A year ago, in his final Annual Report Introduction, Chris Pollock questioned the assumption that food security, safety and supply are not issues for developed countries. He pointed out that ‘population increases and enhanced prosperity will increase demand for cereals both for direct nutrition and for animal feed’. Also that ‘pressures on water and land associated with urbanisation, the impacts of climate change, progressive environmental degradation of marginal environments and competition for land by energy and timber crops will all constrain production’. These very perceptive comments are becoming increasingly relevant and real. Today’s newspapers are full of articles concerning the food security debate which is rising rapidly up the political agenda.

On 3rd January 2008, the Strategy Unit of the Cabinet Office released an analysis of the issues surrounding food supply, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn, MP, presented a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference on ‘A climate of change: agriculture: the solution not the problem’. He pointed out that global demand for meat and milk is projected to more than double over the next 40 years and that we face ‘A world of changes which will come whether any of us like it or not. Changes which represent both a challenge and an opportunity for farming. Changes which will demand innovation, forward thinking and optimism, but which will also value the stored knowledge of how to live in harmony with the earth that is agriculture’s greatest treasure.’

In this context, the range of research to be carried out in IGER’s successor organisations will be as relevant and important as it has ever been.

North Wyke will continue to carry out high quality research to enhance the scientific understanding of multifunctional grassland-dominated landscapes and to provide an evidence base through which an increased understanding of how management and environment impact on the interactions between soil, microbes, plants, animals, water and the atmosphere can be developed. It will contribute to the economic competitiveness and quality of life nationally and internationally through innovation, training and dissemination of its research findings to users, policy makers, stakeholders and the general public by devising systems that help to protect our natural resources (soil, air, water, biodiversity), mitigate against climate change, and boost the adaptability of production systems whilst maintaining biodiversity goals and taking account of social and economic pressures.

In Wales, IBERS will use extensive multidisciplinary approaches to address fundamental problems in agriculture, sustainable land use, food production, bioenergy, nutrition and health. It will carry out internationally competitive research of the highest quality into how biological and agricultural systems respond to and mediate rapid environmental change. Its research outputs will inform sustainable economic development and policy directions in Wales, the UK and internationally. IBERS will be a widely recognised centre of excellence and students’ choice for the study of biological, environmental and rural sciences. It will work closely with diverse stakeholders and users to promote technology transfer and knowledge exchange delivering economic and social benefits. IBERS will be established as a department of Aberystwyth University in 2008, and a Director will be appointed to drive forward the scientific vision and direction and to enhance collaborations with Bangor University and with other UK and international institutions. With proposed new teaching, research and enterprise facilities at Aberystwyth University’s Penglais Campus and IGER’s Gogerddan site, it is anticipated that total investments of over £40m will be made in IBERS over the next 5 years with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Aberystwyth University, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), the Welsh Assembly Government and the European Union.

I believe that it is a very exciting time to be working in science, with new technologies across a broad range of disciplines opening doors into poorly understood areas of research with tangible benefits for the well-being of our lives and our planet. It is something that should excite young people both in terms of personal rewards for inquisitive minds and in securing a sustainable future for mankind.