A PETITION calling on ministers to save a closure-threatened marine research base used by Scottish universities has attracted more than 10,000 signatures.
The University Marine Biology Station in Millport is expected to close at the end of the year after £400,000 in annual funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) was withdrawn. The University of London, which owns the facility and receives the money from HEFCE, will decide later this month whether to keep the station open.
Yesterday, the university met education secretary Mike Russell after campaigners gathered more than 10,000 signatures in a week calling for the centre – the only one of its kind in the UK – to remain open.
It is hoped another university can be found to take over the facility, or the centre – which supports 39 jobs – can be taken into community ownership.
Used by Edinburgh, Napier, Heriot-Watt, Glasgow, Stirling and the West of Scotland universities, the station allows biology students to carry out vital field work. It provides education and research in marine science, including sustainable fishing and the ecological impact of human activities on marine habitats.
Among those who have signed the petition calling for it to remain open is Dr George McGavin, a Scottish scientist who presents natural history programmes for the BBC.
Professor Mark Blaxter, a biologist at Edinburgh University who co-ordinated the petition, said he had been surprised by the level of response.
“Signatures have come from people on the island as well as thousands of students who have used it and hundreds of academics,” he said. “It’s the only coastal field station in the UK that students can visit – 1,200 from all over the UK visited last year.
“It’s the place they go to experience on the shore and on boats what they’ve only heard about in lecture theatres. It’s where we see students turning from rank amateurs into being able to spout Latin names – it’s an incredibly important resource.”
Following yesterday’s meeting, Mr Russell said: “The meeting on the future of the Millport research base was well attended with the owners, the University of London, representatives from the Scottish higher education sector and those with local interests all involved.
“Discussions were helpful and productive, with a number of ideas identified for further exploration prior to a second meeting in February. I hope we can secure a future for the facility and safeguard its contribution to Scottish education and the local economy.”
A spokesman for the HEFCE, which funds the base with the Scottish Funding Council, added: “The HEFCE Board agreed to phase out funding from the University of London for Millport Biological Station. A decision about the future is a matter for the University of London.”