Announcing the NERC Impact Awards 2023 winners

Researchers whose work has had a significant, wide-reaching impact on the economy, society or environment were celebrated at NERC’s 2023 Impact Awards.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Impact Awards shine a spotlight on the UK environmental science at the heart of the responsible management of our planet.

Around 150 guests gathered for the ceremony underneath the skeleton of the blue whale, ‘Hope’, in the Natural History Museum’s iconic Hintze Hall.

The ceremony was compered by:

  • Professor Hannah Cloke, Professor of Hydrology, University of Reading and member of NERC Council
  • Charlie McNichol-Fardon, Head of Sustainability, UK Hydrographic Office and chair of the NERC Future Leaders Council

Celebrating impact

Professor Peter Liss, Interim Executive Chair of NERC, said:

The 2023 NERC Impact Awards recognise the remarkable work of our environmental science community.

The research of our winners, finalists and all this year’s entries are tackling some of the planet’s most pressing issues. These include tracking COVID-19 during the pandemic in our wastewater, informing England’s biodiversity net gain policy and helping shape the global discourse on tackling climate change.

The inspiring impacts demonstrate the huge benefits that environmental science brings to our society, economy and environment.

I would like to congratulate the winners and finalists of this year’s NERC Impact Awards.

Encouraging, recognising and rewarding scientists

Each winner was awarded £12,000 and each finalist received £7,000 to further the impacts of their research. The overall winner judged to have had the most significant impact was awarded £20,000.

The awards were shortlisted and judged by independent panels of academic, industry, government and public engagement figures.

The chair of this year’s judging and shortlisting panels was Kathryn Monk, Chair of the international Collaboration for Environmental Evidence and Honorary Professor at Swansea University. She said:

The NERC Impact Awards has been a wonderful opportunity to encourage, recognise and reward scientists across the complete spectrum of environmental research. Scientists who have received awards have taken their research to the next level and the awards have celebrated the real reason many work in this area, and that is to improve our world.

Dr Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum, said:

It was an honour to be part of the judging panel that recognised the scientific community’s work in finding solutions to the urgent issues our planet faces and to reward the scientists for their vital contributions.

It was fitting that the NERC Impact Awards ceremony was overseen by our resident blue whale, Hope, a symbol of humanity’s power to shape a sustainable future where both people and the planet thrive. At the Natural History Museum, we see our research and collections as being an integral part of building that future.

Further information

Overall Impact Award

Wastewater-based monitoring: a new holistic approach for public and environmental surveillance

Team members:

  • Professor Davey Jones, Bangor University
  • Dr Kata Farkas, Bangor University
  • Dr Shelagh Malham, Bangor University
  • Professor William Gaze, University of Exeter

Research led by researchers at Bangor University was used to monitor the prevalence of COVID-19, at one point covering 80% of the UK population through wastewater monitoring. The monitoring system played a crucial role in shaping national policy during the pandemic.

It has since been adapted to measure many other diseases of public health concern in the UK and globally.

Impact Award winner: Early Career Impact

Shaping the design and implementation of England’s new biodiversity net gain policy

Dr Sophus zu Ermgassen, University of Oxford

Dr zu Ermgassen’s research has raised public awareness about England’s biodiversity net gain policy, a strategy to develop land and contribute to the recovery of nature.

The research has played a crucial role in shaping its design and implementation.

Evidence from the research has influenced policy changes, including £8 million in increased funding by the government to local authorities, helping to ensure the necessary measures are in place to improve environmental outcomes.

Impact Award winner: Economic Impact

Reducing risks to satellites through daily space weather forecasts

Team members:

  • Professor Richard Horne, British Antarctic Survey (BAS)
  • Dr Sarah Glauert, BAS
  • Dr Peter Kirsch, BAS
  • Dr Nigel Meredith, BAS

Space weather forecasts produced by a team at BAS play a vital role in protecting satellites from the dangers of radiation high above the Earth’s atmosphere. This research delivers positive impacts for the UK’s population and economy by helping the government understand the risks of space weather to daily life.

Impact Award winner: Public Engagement Impact

Collaborative citizen science water quality monitoring networks for the River Wye and beyond

Team members:

  • Dr Dr Liz Bagshaw, University of Bristol (formerly Cardiff University)
  • Dr Roo Perkins, Cardiff University
  • Elle von Benzon, Cardiff University

A team at Cardiff University brought together citizen scientist groups, agencies and regulators to transform our knowledge of pollution in the River Wye.

The project’s methods have been adopted by over 180 citizen scientist groups who are providing samples of water across 15,000 sampling points in the UK. This data is freely available and used by regulators, helping to improve freshwater systems across the UK.

Impact Award winner: Societal Impact

Informing international net zero emission targets and national legislation through physical climate model emulators

Team members:

  • Professor Piers Forster, University of Leeds
  • Dr Chris Smith, University of Leeds

A team at the University of Leeds has transformed our understanding of the connection between global temperatures and the amount of emissions we release into the atmosphere. Their research has played a crucial role in informing international climate policies linked to the Paris Agreement and helped nations to enshrine net zero emissions targets into law.

Finalist: Early Career Impact

Monitoring whales and walrus from space: reducing cost and risk, engaging citizens in conservation

Dr Hannah Cubaynes, British Antarctic Survey

Finalist: Economic and Societal Impact

Transforming global flood risk management for businesses, governments and people

Team members:

  • Professor Paul Bates, University of Bristol and Fathom
  • Dr Jeffrey Neal, University of Bristol and Fathom
  • Dr Andy Smith, Fathom
  • Dr Chris Sampson, Fathom

Finalist: Economic and Societal Impact

Ensuring the global subsea telecommunications network remains resilient

Team members:

  • Dr Michael Clare, National Oceanography Centre (NOC)
  • Dr Brian Bett, NOC
  • Dr Christine Sams, NOC
  • Dr Gaye Bayrakci, NOC
  • Dr Isobel Yeo, NOC
  • Dr James Hunt, NOC
  • Dr Jennifer Brown, NOC
  • Dr Lucy Bricheno, NOC
  • Dr Veerle Huvenne, NOC
  • Dr Yevgeny Aksenov, NOC
  • Professor Ivan Haigh, University of Southampton
  • Dr Esther Sumner, University of Southampton
  • Dr Edward Pope, Newcastle University
  • Dr Matthieu Cartigny, Newcastle University
  • Dr Megan Baker, Newcastle University
  • Professor Peter Talling, Newcastle University
  • Professor Christine Peirce, Newcastle University
  • Durham University, Newcastle University
  • Dr Sanem Acikalin, Newcastle University
  • Professor Jeff Neasham, Newcastle University
  • Dr Steve Simmons, University of Hull
  • Professor Dan Parsons, Loughborough University

Finalist: Environmental Impact

Protecting sensitive species and habitats in Antarctica and beyond

Team members:

  • Professor Richard Phillips, BAS
  • Dr Jennifer Jackson, BAS
  • Dr Kevin Hughes, BAS
  • Dr Susie Grant, BAS

Finalist: Societal Impact

Ocean acidification: ensuring national and international decision makers understand this global threat to set targets and inform international agreements

Team members:

  • Professor Stephen Widdicombe, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
  • Dr Jerry Blackford, PML
  • Dr Helen Findlay, PML
  • Dr Carol Turley, PML

To enable the panels to consider the full breadth of the impacts entered, entries were judged for the reach and significance of all the impacts described. Once the winners and finalists were identified, the awards were named according to the major impact type (for example, ‘societal’ impact).

Commended entries

Congratulations also go to five entries specially commended by the shortlisting panel:

Enabling sustainable fisheries management in the southern ocean

Team members:

  • Dr Simeon Hill
  • Dr Philip Hollyman
  • team from BAS

Rising tide: informing management, planning and policy on acceleration of sea level rise, increased coastal flooding and changes in tide around the UK coast and globally

Team members:

  • Professor Ivan Haigh, University of Southampton
  • Dr Matt Wadey, University of Southampton
  • Dr Hagen Radtke, University of Southampton
  • Dr Mark Pickering, University of Southampton
  • Dr Robert Mawdsley, University of Southampton
  • Addina Inayatillah, University of Southampton
  • Sunke Trace-Kleeberg, University of Southampton
  • Professor Robert Nicholls, University of Southampton

Surface water flood ‘nowcasting’: an international ‘first’ to reduce flooding impacts for business, governments, and humanitarian organisations

Team members:

  • Professor Dapeng Yu, Loughborough University
  • Ms Sarah Johnson, Loughborough University
  • Professor Robert Wilby, Loughborough University
  • Dr Andrew Pledger, Loughborough University
  • Dr Avinoam Baruch, Previsico
  • Dr Vivian Camacho-Suarez, Previsico
  • Dr Mingfu Guan, Previsico
  • Dr William Johnson, Previsico
  • Professor Jie Yin, East China Normal University

Developing the resilience to Icelandic volcanic eruptions

Professor Jim Haywood, University of Exeter

Enabling ambitious and effective species conservation action through delivery of a novel impact assessment framework (early career entry)

Dr Molly Grace, University of Oxford

Top image:  The NERC Impact Awards ceremony in the Hintze Hall at the Natural History Museum, London. Credit: UKRI

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