NERC celebrates the finalists of the 2023 Impact Awards

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is delighted to announce the finalists of NERC’s 2023 Impact Awards.

The NERC Impact Awards 2023 shine a spotlight on the UK science at the heart of the responsible management of our planet.

Using satellites to protect wildlife from space. Finding new ways to tackle the human and financial costs of flooding. And using wastewater to monitor the nation’s health.

Real world impacts

These are just some of the positive real-world impacts generated by UK environmental scientists on NERC’s 2023 Impact Awards shortlist, announced today.

The awards celebrate NERC-funded scientists, as individuals or teams, whose work has had a big impact on the economy or society in the UK or internationally.

The shortlisting and judging were undertaken by independent panels of academic, industry and government figures and public engagement professionals.

Celebrating the science community

The chair of this year’s judging and shortlisting panels is Kathryn Monk, Chair of the international Collaboration for Environmental Evidence.

The judging panel will choose winners across the following award categories:

  • overall impact award winner
  • three award winners
  • one early career impact award winner

Supporting further research

The winners of each category will receive £12,000 and the runners-up £7,000 to further the impacts of their NERC-funded research.

The finalist judged to have had the most significant impact will be the Impact Awards overall winner and will receive £20,000.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Natural History Museum on 29 November 2023.

The event will bring together leaders and decision-makers from business, government and academia to recognise the diverse talent that is shaping our future.

Recognising research talent

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

The Impact Awards provides us with the opportunity to recognise the thriving community of people working hard to reveal the state of the environment and how we can respond.

We received an outstanding enthusiasm for this year’s competition.

The impacts of all entries are far-reaching, and I was impressed to see that the 10 shortlisted entries address some of today’s most pressing issues, such as rapid biodiversity loss, climate change and the impact of the environment on human health.

I look forward to celebrating the contributions of our shortlisted teams and individual researchers at the final stage of the Impact Awards in November.

The finalists

Watch out on NERC’s digital channels for videos showcasing the impacts of the finalists’ important research throughout November in the run up to the ceremony.

The full list of shortlisted research is:

Spurring global action against ocean acidification

Team led by Professor Stephen Widdicombe, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Research led by a team at Plymouth Marine Laboratory has raised awareness of the potential consequences of rising ocean acidity, which impacts biodiversity, fisheries, aquaculture, food security, tourism, and marine-based economies.

This work has driven international policy change and provided crucial data to the UK government to contribute to its compliance with United Nations ocean acidification goals.

Shaping England’s new biodiversity net gain policy

Dr Sophus zu Ermgassen, University of Oxford (early career entry)

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.

Protecting subsea global telecommunications networks

Team led by Dr Mike Clare, National Oceanography Centre

A team at the National Oceanography Centre have transformed how we protect the vulnerable network of subsea cables.

The cables carry 99% of the world’s data traffic including the internet, defence information, financial transactions and other services that underpin our daily lives.

The research is already being used in national risk assessments, potentially helping entire countries to avoid isolation and saving hundreds of millions of pounds.

Using wastewater to monitor the nation’s health: onwards from COVID-19

Team led by Professor Davey Jones, Bangor University

A team at Bangor University used their expertise 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.

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

Whales and walruses from space: using satellite imagery for conservation

Dr Hannah Cubaynes, British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

Dr Cubaynes from BAS has developed a new way to monitor wildlife from space.

The research has reduced the cost and risk of surveys and helped turn thousands of people worldwide into engaged citizen scientists, all to the benefit of wildlife including whales and walruses.

Bringing together citizen scientists and regulators to monitor the River Wye and beyond

Dr Liz Bagshaw, Cardiff University (now University of Bristol), Dr Roo Perkins and Elle von Benzon, Cardiff University

A team at Cardiff University has 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.

Tackling the human and financial cost of flooding

Professor Paul Bates and Professor Jeff Neal, University of Bristol, Dr Christopher Sampson and Dr Andrew Smith, Fathom

A team at the University of Bristol has pioneered the development of high-resolution flood prediction models, which has resulted in a spin-out company with an annual turnover of more than £4 million.

This research has revolutionised decision-making for a diverse range of users, and protects infrastructure valued at over $1 trillion, thanks to improved flood risk management in the UK and across the world.

Protecting satellites with daily space weather forecasts

Team led by Professor Richard Horne, 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
  • the UK’s population and economy by helping the government understand the impacts of space weather and the risks it poses to daily life

Speeding up climate change simulations to tackle global warming

Professor Piers Forster and Dr Chris Smith, University of Leeds

A team at the University of Leeds has developed an ultra-fast computer model.

The model has transformed our understanding of the connection between global temperatures and the amount of emissions we release into the atmosphere.

This research has helped shape the global discourse on tackling climate change.

It 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.

Protecting sensitive species and habitats in Antarctica and beyond

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

BAS has provided critical expertise and evidence that has had a profound impact on conservation, sustainability, and climate awareness in Antarctica.

This includes protecting 12% of the Earth’s marine areas, identifying 204 important bird and biodiversity areas, as well as eradicating a non-native species of grass and helping protect humpback whales.

Commended entrants

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

Professor Jim Haywood, University of Exeter

Research led by Professor Haywood had a significant impact on aviation safety and operational practices following the Icelandic volcanic eruptions.

Changes in practice based on this research kept UK airspace open, preventing widespread disruptions and potential costs of £500 million.

Professor Ivan Haigh and team, University of Southampton

Research led by the University of Southampton has transformed understanding of sea-level changes and coastal flooding, influencing policy decisions to address growing flood risks and climate change indicators.

The work has been instrumental in protecting coastal areas and infrastructure, making the public more resilient to floods.

Dr Simeon Hill, Dr Philip Hollyman and team, BAS

Research at BAS has contributed to sustainable fishing practices in the Southern Ocean and protection of the region’s biodiversity.

Evidence from BAS’s ecosystems programme and long-term research on krill, birds and seals influences UK policy decisions, shaped international conservation regulations, and informed commercial fishing practices in the Southern Ocean worth $1 million.

Professor Dapeng Yu and team, Loughborough University

A team at Loughborough University has developed the world’s first real-time street-level surface-water flood ‘nowcasting’ technology.

This has led to significant improvements in surface-water flood forecasting capacity, enhancing resilience and helping to predict near future flood events, all while saving lives, property and money.

Dr Molly Grace, University of Oxford (early career entry)

A novel assessment framework coordinated by Dr Molly Grace at the University of Oxford has transformed how species recovery is measured.

This work has provided a standardised approach to evaluating conservation success and is helping scientists to plan future efforts with the highest return on investment for wildlife.

Further information

Judging panel members

Judging panel members are:

  • Chair: Kathryn Monk, Chair of the international Collaboration for Environmental Evidence, Honorary Professor at Swansea University and, until 2021, Head of the Government Science and Engineering Profession and Group Head for Integrated Evidence at Natural Resources Wales
  • Damitha Adikaari, Director of Science and Innovation for Climate, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero
  • Ian Cheshire, Chair of Land Securities plc, Chairman of Channel 4 and Chairman of Spire Healthcare Group Plc
  • Hannah Cloke, Professor of Hydrology, University of Reading and member of NERC Council
  • Doug Gurr, Director, Natural History Museum
  • Rebecca Heaton, Director of Environmental Sustainability, Lloyds Banking Group plc and member of NERC Council
  • Charlie McNichol-Fardon, Head of Sustainability, UK Hydrographic Office and chair of the NERC Future Leaders Council
  • Sonia Medina, Executive Director Climate, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation
  • Robyn Thomas, Deputy Director of Funding Services, UKRI

Shortlisting panel members

Shortlisting panel members are:

  • Chair: Kathryn Monk, Chair of the International Collaboration for Environmental Evidence, Honorary Professor at Swansea University and, until 2021, Head of the Government Science and Engineering Profession and Group Head for Integrated Evidence at Natural Resources Wales
  • Rubina Ahmed, Director of Research Policy and Services, Blood Cancer UK
  • Tom Chant, CEO, Society of Maritime Industries
  • Hannah Cloke, Professor of Hydrology, University of Reading and member of NERC Council.
  • Mark Fletcher, Director of Global Water, ARUP
  • Alexandra Holder, net zero buildings and climate change lead, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
  • Kathryn Jeffs, Series Producer, The Americas, BBC Natural History Unit
  • Laura Bellingham, Head of Plant and Bee Health, Defra
  • Isobel Stephen, Executive Director of Strategy, Performance and Engagement, UK Research and Innovation
  • Richard Swannell, Interim CEO, WRAP
  • Anna Turrell, Chief Sustainability Officer, Decathlon

Top image:  Credit: BeyondImages, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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