06 May 2016

Policymakers feel fear when making science-led decisions

APPG_Annabel Cook _GWCTAngela Smith MP has expressed increasing concern about how the growth of digital communications is leading to an environment where Members of Parliament sometimes feel fear. The statement was made at an informal meeting of scientists and MPs at Westminster.

During her presentation, Ms Smith stated: “In certain topics the debate has become polarised. We should be able to work in an environment without fear or favour. That principle is being compromised by the growth of social media, which can put huge pressures on us within a matter of hours.”

The phrase ‘without fear or favour’ has been around for centuries. Historically, the public has been more aware of the issue of favour, in the form of inducements; the concept of Members of Parliament feeling fear is alien. But because they are working in a public arena and making potentially unpopular decisions, they can be susceptible to bullying from individuals and organisations. This can have a negative impact on making important policy decisions on topics close to the public’s heart, such as wildlife and conservation.

The recent growth of online petitions has allowed unprecedented access to the government as a whole. But email campaigns, which overwhelm inboxes in a matter of hours, and social media campaigns can be personal, intimidating and instant.

Rob Yorke, independent rural commentator, warned that: “Many audiences will only read a press release or the abstract on a piece of research, rather than digging deeper into the details. This can lead to misinterpretation, often influenced by the pre-existing beliefs of readers.”

The discussion took place at the recent Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Game and Wildlife Conservation. The APPG focused on how politicians can be supported in making science-led decisions, even if these choices are unpopular. These regular meetings allow the GWCT to continue to work directly with Members of Parliament. This ensures our scientific research reaches those policymakers best placed to support wildlife and conservation.

Angela Smith, MP
Nick Sotherton, GWCT Director of Research
Rob Yorke, independent rural commentator

Notes to editors

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – providing research-led conservation for a thriving countryside. The GWCT is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife since the 1930s. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats. We employ 22 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse.

ISDN radio broadcast line – at our Fordingbridge HQ we have an ISDN radio broadcast line, allowing us to conduct interviews remotely.

For information, contact:
Kate Williams
Telephone: 01425 651000
Email: press@gwct.org.uk

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