Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Engaging the public with environmental science 2021

Please note, dates for this funding opportunity have been updated on 26 August 2021.

Apply for funding to develop new ways to engage the public with environmental science.

To apply your team must include a UK researcher eligible for UKRI funding. NERC welcomes applicants from research and non-research focused organisations.

Your project must do at least two of these:

  • work across disciplines, or with people outside of academia
  • explore new opportunities that have appeared since you applied for other funding
  • trial new approaches
  • build capacity and capability
  • support leadership activity
  • focus on COP26.

Your project must end by 25 March 2022.

You can also apply to observe the assessment process.

Who can apply

This funding opportunity welcomes applications from researchers and practitioners from a diverse range of backgrounds and experience, including the following groups:

  • environmental science researchers, including early career researchers and PhD students with permissions from their PhD supervisor and their doctoral training programmes (DTP) or centre for doctoral training (CDT)
  • researchers across academic disciplines, or fields outside academia
  • public engagement specialists
  • community organisations, publics or public-facing groups (for example, learned societies, environment and diversity groups, charity members, community groups, local authorities, commercial companies providing a public service)
  • business, third sector and government bodies.

Costs for the involvement of these groups may be covered in the requested funding.

PhD students are welcome to apply as the main applicant for this grant fund with permissions from their PhD supervisor, and their doctoral training partnership (DTP) or centre for doctoral training (CDT) where applicable.

When applying for this grant, care should be taken that the proposed project does not negatively impact the student’s planned PhD training and workload.

Applications must include, as a main or co-applicant, a researcher who is:

For example, a public engagement coordinator from a charity sector organisation may apply for this grant as the main applicant, if one of the co-applicants is an environmental science researcher from an eligible research organisation.

The main applicant and co-applicant must be eligible to apply on behalf of their organisation. It is the individual applicant’s (main and co-applicant) responsibility to ensure that they have approval of this from their organisation to receive funding. The organisation representative’s signature is required on the application form.

Organisations that apply must be able to produce an annual financial report and accounts prepared or submitted by a qualified account who is a member of a recognised professional accountancy body, including:

  • The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
  • Association of International Accountants (AIA)
  • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
  • The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)
  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
  • Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI).

If this does not describe your organisation, you must work in partnership with an organisation that can receive the funding on your behalf.

Applicants may only be part of one application, either as the main applicant or as the co-applicant.

This funding opportunity also offers a handful of individuals the opportunity to observe the assessment process if you do not have experience of this. More information about this can be found in additional information.

Successfully funded proposals will be required to attend two short grant meetings in the week starting 13 December 2021 and the week starting 14 February 2022.

What we're looking for

‘Growing Roots: public engagement annual call’ is the new public engagement funding opportunity from NERC. This funding opportunity aims to support public engagement with environmental science research. Projects will be delivered between November 2021 and March 2022.

The size of these grants (minimum of £1,000 and maximum of £7,000 per project) is designed to allow individuals and organisations to trial public engagement projects that could be innovative in their way of delivery or subject area.

The projects should be designed and delivered as a ‘proof of concept’. NERC hopes that successful grant holders may go on to develop the projects further and access other funding including public engagement or science funding opportunities from NERC or UKRI.

Choose two objectives

Applications must meet a minimum of two of the following objectives.

Build partnerships

Build equitable partnerships for public engagement with environmental science:

  • across disciplines
  • with those outside of academia
  • both across disciplines and with those outside academia.

This could include creating equitable relationships with those working in a professional, such as:

  • business
  • third sector
  • government bodies.

Also non-professional capacity, such as:

  • citizen scientists
  • volunteers
  • environmental group.

These relationships are necessary before planning public engagement in a full research funding opportunity. For example, funding time for potential partners to:

  • meet
  • develop ideas
  • become familiar with the concerns, issues and expertise of the other
  • reframe and develop common agendas.

Read about:

  • forming community collaborations in the Connected Communities programme
  • working across disciplines in the Valuing Nature programme.

New public engagement opportunities

Engage the public with environmental science where new opportunities have arisen which were not available when a research grant award was initially made.

For example:

  • the change of dates of COP26 from 2020 to 2021 may bring about new opportunities for engagement
  • the completion of a project might point to relevant engagement which may not have been apparent at the start of a grant, or projects related to public engagement which hadn’t been listed in the original science grant application using spare grant funds.

Trial public engagement approaches

Trial public engagement with environmental science approaches, including those which may be innovative in the environmental sciences or with particular communities.

For example:

  • using public engagement methodologies from other disciplines or sectors which are rarely used in environmental science
  • new, innovative and exciting activities which may be considered ‘too risky’ or an ‘untraditional’ method of public engagement to receive funding elsewhere.

Build capacity and capability

Build capacity and capability for excellent public engagement with environmental science.

For example, this might include:

  • networks
  • training
  • seed funds
  • external critique
  • mentoring
  • sharing best practice
  • changing cultures.

Leadership in public engagement

Leadership activities in public engagement with environmental science, such as raising the profile within your organisation and more broadly.

For example, this small grant could cover staff time for leadership activities.

COP26 public engagement

Plan and deliver public engagement related to COP26.

This could include the design and delivery of public engagement activities or training of researchers to conduct engagement during and after COP26.


Applications should also consider how the project contributes to the NERC Responsible Business Statement.

Part of the assessment process for this opportunity will be focused around this. Specifically, you should consider how to adopt responsible practices through your public engagement activities to reduce harm or enhance benefit on the environment and society.

Specifically, this covers:

  • actions taken to reduce environmental harm, such as minimising travel and waste generation
  • actions taken to engage the local communities in your project, such as local school engagement
  • actions taken to promote equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) such as ensuring communications materials are accessible to a broad range of groups.


NERC will require proportionate evaluation of projects and as such collection of data for reporting purposes. NERC will provide specific evaluation guidance and templates to successful applications. These evaluation reports are usually no longer than 4 sides of A4. NERC will expect qualitative and quantitative evaluation to be provided by successful projects.

NERC is interested in sharing learnings from funded projects and the project evaluations will be one of the mechanisms used. NERC will also require participation in catch up video calls with all funded grant main applicants.

Additional leverage

We encourage applicants to secure additional leveraged funding as part of their submission from appropriate sources, where possible. Applicants must clearly state the source and amount of any existing leveraged funding (in-kind or cash).


As a responsible funder NERC will not fund projects which have already received funding through other means. In this instance other means could refer to:

  • projects which have been funded through other NERC and UKRI grants
  • where public engagement is considered to be part of an individual’s usual responsibilities as set out by their organisation.

Requirement scope

Successful projects must focus on new opportunities which could not have been foreseen or delivered when applying for previous funding opportunities.

Acceptable examples of funded projects could include:

  • new opportunity has become available
  • research staff capability has increased to enable new delivery of public engagement
  • a new reactive approach to public engagement is required due to implications of COVID-19 (such as social distancing, and greater reliance on digital engagement).

For this funding round of Growing Roots, an acceptable reason for requesting funding is because COP26 has been moved to a later date of November 2021.

The environmental science content of applications must have a focus on a specific NERC research area, more information can be found in the NERC delivery plan. Clear links between the project and the NERC funded research that it focuses on must be clear and succinct. General environmental science communication will not be accepted.

All public engagement activity must be linked directly to environmental science research (public engagement with research) and broader public engagement with science is not appropriate in this context.

Applications will need to be sensitive to social distancing and other restrictions brought about as a result of the coronavirus, including adhering to government COVID-19 guidelines.

Requirement best practice

Public engagement activity must have a clear purpose. Read the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement’s guidance on developing public engagement with a purpose.

Researchers must consider their responsibilities in-line with NERC’s responsibility approach, which may include but is not limited to conducting public engagement with the intention of generating impact.

Requirement audience

The audience for the engagement should be specified, and reasons for engagement justified using evidence. Read the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement’s guidance on identifying an audience.

Applicants planning to involve those outside of academia, such as public and community groups, must build equitable, ethical partnerships, managing risks in-line with best practice, such as that highlighted in the Creating Living Knowledge report.

Engagement must focus on the UK public. As a secondary audience, applications may plan to engage audiences internationally if the application is related to the COP26 opportunity objective.

Requirement and impact

Engagement activity should be planned such that it has intended outcomes and impacts. Impact may focus upon society, culture or the environment, or any other area of impact as described by the Research Excellence Framework. Proposed projects should focus on reach, significance of impact or both of these.

This is a public engagement funding opportunity, so there must also be demonstrable benefits to members of the public as well as to research or researchers.


Applications can include fully justified direct costs incurred in delivering the project. The budget and costings must be based on valid estimates.

This opportunity is funded outside of full economic costing rules. No VAT is chargeable, and the funding requested in applications should reflect this.

Funding requests may include, for example:

  • staff resources including:
    • administration and coordination
    • contributions to salaries (where a named individual will undertake work that would not be considered part of their normal duties)
    • sub-contracting of services
    • enabling public or community partners to take part
  • non-staff resources including:
    • cost of materials
    • travel and subsistence
    • meetings and events
    • consumables
    • materials and equipment
    • evaluation costs
  • the costs of additional childcare, beyond that required to meet the normal contracted requirements of the job, and that are directly related to the project, requested as a directly incurred cost if the institutional policy is to reimburse them.

Travel and subsistence costs should adhere to UKRI’s travel and subsistence policy.

Childcare costs associated with normal working patterns may not be sought.

Funding will not be provided for:

Directly allocated costs or indirect costs, such as:

  • travel and subsistence costs will not be covered to enable individual’s attendance at the main COP26 conference
  • estates and in-direct costs
  • fees or honoraria to people already in paid employment to deliver activities where such activities would reasonably be undertaken as part of their normal duties
  • retrospective funding, including those projects with a start date after the closing date but before the funding decisions are announced
  • Infrastructure or building costs
  • expenses incurred submitting the application
  • academic courses such as Master’s degrees or PhDs, and other tuition fees.

How to apply

Application process

Applications should be emailed to Hannah Lacey at by 1 October 2021 13:00. Any applications received after this date and time will not be accepted.

The application form can be found under ‘Additional Information’ of this announcement.

NERC has provided a template for applications to this opportunity which must be used when submitting applications. Any applications received not using the application form provided will not be accepted.

Applications must be submitted as one PDF document. Multiple documents will not be accepted, neither will documents submitted as word documents or in other formats.

Full details of the application content, word count and format can be found in the template document.

Disbursement of funds

Funds will be transferred to the successful main applicant’s research organisation in the first instance via a purchase order process. More information is available in the ‘additional information’ section of this funding announcement. It is then the responsibility of that organisation to disburse funds to the costed members of the partnership team.

The UK research organisation awarded the grant is responsible for the conduct and administration of the grant. It is accountable for the effective use of public funds, and must therefore ensure that all grant monies are subject to proper financial management processes.

It is the research organisation’s responsibility to ensure that expenditure on collaborations is subject to robust controls to ensure value for money and propriety and that all costs should be fully vouched and maintained for possible inspection and checks by, or on behalf of, UKRI.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

Eligibility sift

Applications will be sifted according to meeting eligibility as outlined in the funding opportunity, including:

  • main applicant or co-applicant is an eligible researcher as set out by UKRI’s funding eligibility
  • the funding amount requested does not exceed the £7,000 limit
  • project’s delivery within the required time period November 2021 to March 2022
  • application has been submitted as one PDF document using the template provided by NERC and does not exceed the two sides of A4 page limit. Full guidance of the formatting of the document is available in the template.

Please note that applications deemed out of eligibility for this funding opportunity, and therefore not going to panel will not receive feedback.

At this stage applications will also be assessed if they have been submitted using the correct format (application template, PDF and correct font) as outlined in the application template.

Scope sift

Applications that are eligible for funding will be checked to be within scope for this opportunity before being sent to panel for review. Applications that are in scope will meet a minimum of two of NERC’s objectives for this funding opportunity.

The opportunity objectives are:

  • build equitable partnerships across disciplines, with those outside of academia, or both of these
  • engage the public where new opportunities have arisen
  • trial public engagement approaches
  • build capacity and capability for excellent public engagement
  • deliver leadership activities in public engagement
  • plan and deliver public engagement related to COP26.

Any projects which do not meet a minimum of two of these objectives will be classed as out of scope and not eligible for funding.

Eligible applications go to panel for evaluation

All applications that have passed eligibility and scope checks will be assessed by a panel of individuals with public engagement and with environmental science research experience.

Panel members may include:

  • public engagement specialists
  • environmental scientists
  • interdisciplinary specialists
  • community engagement specialists
  • responsibility, sustainability or equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) specialists
  • early career researchers.

Applicants may be asked for more information before a grant is confirmed as successful.

Panel reviews and agrees on funded projects

The panel will review all eligible and in scope applications, and consider the portfolio as a whole, before making recommendations to NERC on which projects should receive funding.

NERC reserves the right not to fund up to the limit allocated to the opportunity and to make changes to the budgetary limits of the successful grants.

Assessment criteria

All applications will be assessed based on the following criteria:

  • the extent to which the application has the potential to achieve a minimum of two of the objectives of the funding opportunity.
  • the application demonstrates plans for high quality public engagement:
    • purpose: a clear, well-justified and proportionate vision and purpose for the project, responding to a need, with clearly defined desired outcomes
    • process: clear plans for delivery of the project
    • people: justification for who will be beneficiaries of the project (for example which public group or groups, professionals, researchers and so on), what the need is and why the chosen approach is taken
  • the project is well planned, researched and managed, allowing for a diversity of relevant perspectives to feed into plans, and has a clear approach to monitoring, evaluation and legacy (for example, how resources will be shared and partnerships sustained)
  • whether the project compliments and contributes to the NERC Responsible Business Statement – please see additional information for requirements around this
  • for applications looking to build partnerships: plans to deliver an equitable public engagement partnership demonstrating plans are collaborative across all partners, principles and best practice of partnership working are adhered to, and evidence as to how the partnership will be sustained
  • for applications looking to trial public engagement approaches: plans for an innovative activity or an existing activity being used in a new way, including through creative ways of engaging people, creative use of resources or an original approach.

Assessors will also check whether the resources requested are appropriate and reasonable for spend of public money.

General panel feedback will be provided by NERC to both successful and unsuccessful applicants.

Please note, NERC reserves the right not to fund up to the limit allocated to the opportunity and to make changes to the budgetary limits of the successful grants. NERC will reject applications judged not to be eligible, prior to the assessment panel.

Contact details

Ask a question about this funding opportunity

Hannah Lacey, Public Engagement Programme Manager


Additional info


Public engagement is an important mechanism by which NERC achieves the approach and commitment to both sustainability and corporate responsibility set out in the NERC Responsible Business Statement, ensuring that through our business operations we have a positive contribution to society and the environment across all NERC investments.

This framework includes four pillars under which we prioritise our actions to make the most of opportunities to enhance our performance and to meet the needs of NERC and UKRI.

Environmental sustainability

Enhancing our positive environmental impact and minimising harm (for example, public engagement can help deal with issues of equality, diversity and inclusion; and build community engagement).

Social responsibility

Engaging and supporting our community, while promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in the environmental science sector (for example, public engagement can help support behaviour change of members of the public or influence policy and business leaders).

Responsible decision making

Acting in a transparent and fair way across our business practices, with partners that share our ethical values (for example, listening and responding to public concerns and aspirations can improve our accountability).

Responsible research

Research with integrity, carried out by a diverse and outstanding body of researchers (for example, encouraging researchers to consider their responsibility as recipients of public funding can increase the openness and accessibility of research, its impact and relevance to the society in which it sits).

Public engagement at NERC

The NERC public engagement with Research Strategy outlines our purpose, objectives, approach and commitment to public engagement, to increase the responsibility, relevance and impact of our work.

Our strategy is supported by a NERC public engagement glossary, which has definitions of terms associated with public engagement as used by NERC, and provided for clarity for when NERC uses a term.

Other important information

Please note that in cases where this opportunity makes exception to the NERC Grant and Fellowship handbook (for example on eligibility) these exceptions are explained in this opportunity document.

Information relating to applications may be shared, on a confidential basis, across UKRI councils, and with other organisations to support cross-council learning

Main applicants will be expected to deliver their projects as outlined in their grant applications and full terms and conditions, which will include an expectation to deliver:

  • evaluation of the project as agreed with by NERC
  • working with UKRI communications team to promote the project where appropriate.

Payment of grants

The process to award these grants will be:

  • a purchase order will be raised, and a purchase order number will be shared with the successful main applicant
  • the grant will be paid by invoice process (which must include the purchase order number, site address, NERC’s address, and a unique invoice number)
  • invoicing must be completed in line with the timeline provided within the announcement of funding. Please note NERC cannot pay in advance of delivery.

Grant panel observation opportunity

This funding opportunity also offers a handful of individuals the opportunity to observe the assessment process as a professional development opportunity if you do not have experience of this and are not a named applicant.

Those without formal grant panel experience may apply to digitally attend panel meetings as observers, as a professional development opportunity.

This opportunity is available for NERC researchers, PhD Students and public engagement professionals who support NERC researchers, as part of their professional development.

Terms of observation attendance

Attendees must be able and willing to:

  • attend an allocated date of panel meeting or meetings
  • adhere to conflict of interest and confidentiality agreements
  • offer feedback about the process and their experience to inform future funding opportunities.

To be eligible for grant panel observation opportunity you must not be a named main applicant or co-applicant on a submitted application for this funding opportunity.

To apply for this opportunity please email no later than 1 October 2021 at 16:00 with no more than 200 words outlining the following:

  • name, job role, institution and best contact email address
  • why you are unable to access this experience elsewhere in your job role
  • how this will benefit your professional development
  • how this will benefit research projects, public engagement projects and so on which you work on
  • how you intend to share your learnings from the panel observation with others within your team, organisation and so on.

By emailing in your application for this opportunity you agree with the terms outlined above. If you are unable to make the panel date your place will be offered to another interested party.

The NERC public engagement team will review the applications. If there are more applications than spaces, NERC will invite individuals who demonstrate the most potential impact in their email statement. NERC will award places ensuring a diversity of job roles and institutions.

Unsuccessful applicants for this observation opportunity will not receive individual assessment feedback as to why an observation place was not awarded. NERC will provide generic feedback as to the characteristics of successful applications.

Supporting documents

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