Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Land use for net zero – research (LUNZ-Research)

Apply for funding for research projects to develop the UK’s capacity and capability for transforming land use, soil health and agriculture. Your research must contribute to achieving net zero while meeting other environmental and societal goals.

This funding opportunity is for transdisciplinary, high-impact innovative research projects as part of the ‘Transforming land use for net zero, nature and people’ programme.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.

The full economic cost (FEC) of your project can range from £2,500,000 to £4,500,000. UKRI will fund 80% FEC.

Funding is available for up to 36 months, starting on 1 March 2024

Who can apply

Before applying to this funding opportunity, check the following:

Eligibility for this funding opportunity

Institutional eligibility

Institutions and research organisations normally eligible for UKRI funding include:

  • higher education institutions
  • strategically funded institutes
  • approved public sector research establishments (PSREs)
  • approved independent research organisations (IROs)

Please note that applications from organisations or individuals that are not eligible will be rejected without reference to panel review.

PSREs

PSREs with 10 or more researchers with PhDs (or equivalent) are eligible to lead on an application.

If PSREs wishing to apply have not previously applied for UKRI funding and do not currently have a designated IRO status, they will be required to complete both:

See the guidance on eligible PSREs for details.

Private and third sector

Private sector organisations, charities and non-governmental organisations which do not have UKRI-approved IRO status may participate as collaborative partners, but such organisations are not eligible to apply for, or receive direct funding from this funding opportunity.

However, they may receive funding as sub-contractors to successful projects (see subcontracting section in the collaborations section of the BBSRC grants guide). Where applicable the nature of the collaboration and the role of private and third sector partners should be made clear.

International partners

This funding opportunity is primarily for research in the UK but partnership with international research groups, where they add value to the project through access to key facilities or in-kind contributions are encouraged.

Funding will only be provided to UK eligible researchers, but international researchers can be named as project partners as per UKRI policies and guiding documents such as the standard BBSRC guidance for applicants.

Collaborators and project partners

In all instances of collaborative activity with organisations other than the classes of eligible institutions listed, both applicants and collaborators or project partners must be aware that any costs incurred, direct or otherwise, by either collaborators or collaborators’ institutions (project partners) in connection with collaborations, cannot be met through this funding opportunity.

Institutions are encouraged to rigorously consider and prioritise applications submitted to this funding opportunity.

Investigator eligibility

To be eligible to apply for this funding opportunity as principal investigator or co-investigator, you must be resident in the UK and meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • be employed by an eligible UK research organisation at lecturer (or equivalent) level or above
  • be on a fixed-term contract that extends past the duration of the proposed project

Before you proceed with the application, please check if you meet the requirements for eligibility as an individual. If you are not eligible to apply as principal investigator or co-investigator but you are interested to participate in this funding opportunity, please refer to the BBSRC guidance for applicants.

For this funding opportunity, an individual may apply only once as a principal investigator but may appear as a co-investigator on other applications, preferably not more than two in total (one as principal investigator and one as co-investigator).

There is no limit to the number of co-investigators per application, but it must be clear from the application what unique contribution each co-investigator will make to the success of the proposed project.

Principal investigators should normally hold a permanent post, but fixed-term employees may be eligible provided that the host research organisation commits in writing to give the individual all the support normal for a permanent employee and that there is no conflict of interest between the investigator’s obligations to UKRI and to any other organisation or employer. The term of employment of a fixed-term employee must extend beyond the duration of the proposed research project.

Equality diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI and BBSRC’s equality, diversity and inclusion action policy.

What we're looking for

Scope

This funding opportunity is co-funded by UKRI, Defra (on behalf of England and Wales), DESNZ, and has been co-designed with Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Welsh Government and Scottish Government.

Agriculture and other land uses currently have a major impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, carbon sequestration, biodiversity and a wide range of other environmental, social and economic outcomes. Land use change has three major roles to play in meeting net zero:

  • reducing direct GHG emissions (especially from agriculture and degraded peatlands)
  • sequestering carbon to offset emissions in hard to mitigate sectors
  • enabling decarbonisation of other sectors (for example, generating energy from woody biomass, solar and wind, producing low-carbon building materials, and growing feedstocks for the bioeconomy)

To achieve net zero by 2050 while meeting our wider environmental goals, a large-scale transformation is urgently needed in the way land is used and managed. The scale of change needed is unprecedented and will be highly complex to achieve. World-class research and innovation working in partnership with government and other stakeholders is needed to help:

  • understand how the desired change can be achieved
  • predict impacts across multiple environmental, societal and economic objectives

Programme aims

The aim of the ‘Transforming land use for net zero, nature and people (LUNZ)’ programme is to mobilise and support research that works in partnership with government and industry to tackle net zero through action in the UK land sectors.

The programme will fund research that feeds directly into policy and decision-making in three interlinked themes:

  • soil health
  • agricultural systems
  • land use change

Consortia will be expected to form relationships with government, industry and other stakeholders to develop and explore plausible and innovative pathways to net zero across these three themes that:

  • are adapted to the impacts of climate change
  • provide societal and environmental benefits
  • meet policy commitments of the UK government and devolved administrations such as those set out in the 2023 Environment Improvement Plan

In doing so the programme will seek to fast-track the uptake of research outputs back into policy and decision-making, while adding value to relevant previous and other current programmes such as:

  • Farming Innovations programme
  • GHG Removal Demonstrators programme
  • Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund
  • Agri-food net zero Network+ (Agrifood4Netzero)
  • UK Treescapes Programme

Programme objectives

The programme aims:

  1. To support government and industry to deliver UK legal commitments on net zero and the environment, increasing food security and economic growth.
  2. To deliver strategic high impact transdisciplinary research, expert knowledge and community that is co-designed and co-led with policymakers.
  3. Transform the way research and government work together to tackle our most pressing environmental and societal challenges.
  4. To build on past investments and deliver impact.

Programme outcomes

Putting the UK at the forefront of a sustainable transition to net zero by:

  • strengthening UK transdisciplinary capability and capacity that results in community mobilisation, advancing knowledge, partnerships, and skills in net zero for land use practitioners and policymakers. This will be achieved through research, tools and evidence that inform policy to explore different UK land-use scenarios and appraise the economic, energy security, biodiversity and carbon impacts of these
  • integration of new and existing evidence on land use for climate mitigation, biodiversity, agriculture, and other land uses, to enable policymakers or decision makers to design climate resilient land-policy for 2030 and beyond
  • developing clean growth opportunities (practices and technologies) that have real world transformational impact

The programme consists of two components:

  1. The coordination and translation hub: convene a transdisciplinary, cross-sectoral community building relationships with government and industry to co-develop pathways, advance research, integrate knowledge, identify routes to impact and fast-track evidence into policy to support the UK in the transformation towards net zero, while meeting other environmental and societal goals.
  2. Research projects: transdisciplinary research consortia that can deliver cutting edge research to find solutions and provide evidence to inform policy options for driving the desired systems transformation.

This funding opportunity is for the research projects. There is a separate funding opportunity for the hub: land use for net zero – Hub (LUNZ-Hub).

Transforming land use, soil health and agriculture to reduce GHG emissions, while halting biodiversity loss and supporting the economy and communities, requires transdisciplinary approaches involving multiple stakeholders across sectors, including academia, policy, industry, and civil society.

Therefore, this funding opportunity is for transdisciplinary research consortia that can deliver cutting edge research to find solutions and provide evidence to inform policy options for driving the desired systems transformation. Research projects will be required to link with, provide inputs to, and receive feedback from the Coordination and Translation Hub.

Key themes

Proposals are invited for high-impact transdisciplinary research to inform policy and drive transformation of the UK land system to achieve net zero in three thematic areas:

  1. Soil system health and carbon dynamics.
  2. Reduce agricultural emissions.
  3. Land use change.

In the context of this programme the term ‘agriculture’ refers to all activities related to crops and farmed animals, including horticulture, aquaculture, as well as mixed systems such as agroforestry and silvopastoral systems.

Within each theme, projects will need to shed light on:

  1. The nature and scale of change that is needed in order to achieve net zero and other environmental goals.
  2. The drivers of change and potential policy levers.
  3. Outcomes from change including co-benefits, trade-offs and risks to the wider environmental, social and economic policy goals (such as air and water quality, biodiversity, and so on.

The three themes are heavily interdependent and must be considered as parts of a wider system to deliver net zero. Research should focus on UK soils, agricultural systems and land use, spanning multiple scales from fields to landscape.

The research projects must be transdisciplinary, integrating all relevant disciplines, and closely involving policymakers and other stakeholders in co-design and co-delivery through a systems approach.

Proposals should seek to address key policy questions in these thematic areas through cutting edge research focusing on a combination of new knowledge, technical innovations, and socio-economic change.

Research proposals should aim to:

  • address research questions across at least two of the three themes and seek to explore the linkages between or among them
  • support the transformation that is needed within the system and to enable the development of tools and strategies to address the challenges outlined
  • demonstrate solutions and facilitate decisions on policy options for achieving net zero targets while meeting other societal benefits and environmental commitments

Research proposals should also deliver broader environmental goals and enhance value to society and the economy.

Projects should consider how solutions can be delivered at scale through local or national policy action.

Please note that this funding opportunity focuses strictly on UK land use and does not include land use and net zero research and interventions in overseas countries that are part of the UK supply chain or that are under its influence.

Key challenges

This funding opportunity will seek to address key challenges in the three thematic areas. These include, but are not limited to:

Land use change

Drivers

Including:

  • what are the key drivers of land use change in the UK?
  • how do they interact?
  • how are these drivers likely to change by 2050?
  • how might environmental, economic or social change influence land use change in the UK?
  • how might emerging market opportunities affect UK land use?
Outcomes

Including:

  • how does UK land use drive multiple social, environmental, and economic outcomes?
  • what is the value of natural assets associated with land use under different future scenarios?
  • what are the risks to natural capital from climate change?
  • what are the intended and unintended consequences, and co-benefits of land use changes on people (including future generations)?
  • what are the solutions to facilitate a just transition, as part of changes to land management?
  • what are the tensions between national and local priorities for land use, and how can they be reconciled?
Scenarios

Including:

  • what does our understanding of the drivers tell us about trajectories of UK land use change to 2050?
  • what land use changes (including agri-system or nature-based solutions) are needed to meet net zero and our wider environmental and socio-economic goals at national and local levels?
Policy

Including:

  • how is the breadth of government policy driving land use change and which drivers of future land use change can be influenced through policy action?
  • how can changes be achieved at national, regional and local scales?
  • how can national and local interventions work effectively together?
  • what levers can be used to influence change in different land-based sectors?
  • how can actors be effectively engaged to enhance collaboration and deliver solutions?
Decision support

Including:

  • what is the underpinning research required to support development of accessible and usable decision support tools to drive land use policy and day-to-day decision-making at multiple levels, from national to local, and how can their use be embedded?
  • to support these tools, data must be at the heart of land use decision-making
  • how do we obtain and utilise the complex socio-economic, biological and environmental data required to inform decision-making?

Soil system health and carbon dynamics

Rethinking soil health

Including:

  • in its own context, what defines a healthy soil system?
  • what new and novel indicators (biological, physicochemical, social, economic, cultural) need to be developed to gauge the extent to which a soil system is delivering multiple functions including sustaining low carbon agricultural production, biodiversity recovery and carbon sequestration?
Soil monitoring

What tools and technologies do we need to develop and adopt at scales suitable to enable reliable measurement, monitoring, and thereby prediction of soil system state including carbon fluxes and biodiversity change under different land use and management practices, and climate scenarios?

Rethinking soil management

How can we use multiscale and layered datasets to drive innovative analysis, visualisation and prediction to transform farming and wider land management systems to deliver sustainable soil systems that support carbon sequestration and biodiversity, among other ecosystem services?

Reduce agricultural emissions

Solutions

Including:

  • how might changing patterns of land use and land availability influence the adoption and use of production technologies and management choices that would help reduce or mitigate GHG emissions or adaptation to their impacts?
  • what solutions will enable transformation of production systems under different climate scenarios to achieve lower input production with reduced emissions and impacts on biodiversity and other ecosystem services?
  • what could the impact be on other policy goals relating to agriculture?
  • which emerging approaches might present new solutions for agriculture?
  • how can crop and livestock systems be balanced or integrated to optimise productivity while minimising emissions, or both?
System transformation

Including:

  • how can the UK agri-food system be transformed to deliver net zero and biodiversity goals while maintaining food security and rural livelihoods?
  • what new systems and business models can drive change?
  • what social innovations do we need to address cultural and socio-economic barriers to the delivery of net zero agriculture?
  • what solutions are needed to enable change at national and local scales?
  • to what extent do different models leave us exposed to climate, critical input, and infrastructural disruptions?
Monitoring and scaling up

Including:

  • what agriculture production systems are there that can be demonstrated at farm-scale, and which may sustainably enable UK agriculture to adapt to different climate change scenarios?
  • what improved metrics of emissions and biodiversity are required to track progress, identify target areas, develop interventions, and flag unintended consequences of change at farm, regional and national levels?
  • how could new metrics be integrated into, and be applied alongside existing monitoring, reporting and validation methodologies so that they add value and impact at the farm-scale?

Duration

Proposals are invited for large research projects that would run for up to 36 months, anticipated to start in March 2024.

Funding available

For this funding opportunity the funding partners will make available up to £14 million to support cutting edge transdisciplinary, innovative high-impact research projects at 80% FEC.

The FEC of each project can range from £2.5 million to £4.5 million and UKRI and co-funders will fund 80% FEC.

Responsible innovation

As directed by the UKRI policies and standards, responsible innovation aims to ensure that:

  • unintended negative impacts are avoided
  • barriers to dissemination, adoption and diffusion of research and innovation are reduced
  • the positive societal and economic benefits of research and innovation are fully realised

You will be required to practice responsible innovation following the UKRI guidance. This includes avoiding solution options that would require decreasing the overall fraction of locally produced UK food and avoiding negative offshore environmental outcomes as a result of the changes in UK land use.

Environmental sustainability

UKRI recognises that we must embed environmental sustainability in everything we do.

You are expected to consider the environmental impact of the research projects activities and to put in place actions that encourage sustainability and mitigate any risk of environmental harm.

How to apply

You must apply using the new UKRI Funding Service

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Information for research office professionals

If an application is created by a member of an organisation where we do not currently have contact details with their research office, we will contact them to enable administrator access. This provides:

  • oversight of every Funding Service application opened on behalf of your organisation
  • the ability to review and submit applications, which must be received by 16 November 2023 4:00pm UK time

If you anticipate researchers from your organisation applying for this funding opportunity, but have not already received an invitation to open an account, email support@funding-service.ukri.org

As an administrator, you will be responsible for the final submission of the application to UKRI and ensuring internal deadlines are made clear to applicants from your organisation. To hear more about the role of administrators, and the current functionality of the new Funding Service and how it will further develop, please see a recording of the most recent research office webinar.

For applicants

What follows is the essence of the sections and questions you will need to complete and answer on the UKRI Funding Service. You cannot apply for this funding opportunity on the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

Submitting your application

Applications should be prepared and submitted by the lead research organisation but should be co-created with input from all investigators, and project partners, and should represent the proposed work of the entire consortia.

You will need to take the following steps to apply:

  1. Select the ‘Start application’ button at the start of this page.
  2. This will open the ‘Sign in’ page of UKRI’s Funding Service. If you do not already have an account, you’ll be able to create one. This is a two-minute process requiring you to verify your email address and set a password.
  3. Start answering the questions detailed in this section of ‘How to apply’. You can save your work and come back to it later. You can also work ‘offline’, copying and pasting into the text boxes provided for your answers.
  4. Once complete, use the service to send your application to your research office for review. They’ll check it and return it to you if it needs editing.
  5. Once happy, your research office will submit it to UKRI for assessment. Only they can do this.

As citations can be integral to a case for support, you should balance their inclusion and the benefit they provide against the inclusion of other parts of your answer to each question. Bear in mind that citations, associated reference lists or bibliographies, or both, contribute to, and are included in, the word count of the relevant section.

Deadline

Your application must be successfully submitted via the Funding Service by 16 November 2023 at 4:00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

General text on processing personal data

UKRI will need to collect some personal information to manage your funding service account and the registration of your funding applications. Some information may be shared with other funders as part of the assessment process.

We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice. For more information on how our co-funders use personal information, visit Defra, DESNZ, DAERA, Scottish Government, and Welsh Government websites.

If your application is successful, some personal information will be published via the UKRI Gateway to Research.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application in two stages:

Stage one: expressions of interest (closing date: 11 July 2023)

Expressions of interest (EoI) will be required for each proposed project no later than 11 July 2023.

The EoI should state the principal investigator full name and institution (including position held), and briefly describe the research idea (indicative title, high-level objectives and the targeted outcomes). The EoI should also list confirmed project partners and collaborators. More partners can be added at the full proposal stage.

Funding partners will check EoI for eligibility and remit fit against the requirements of this funding opportunity as outlined in the scope, and standard UKRI eligibility criteria. This will be a light touch check to ensure that prospective principal investigators and co-investigators and their host institutions are eligible for funding, and that the research idea fits within the remit of the programme.

Full proposals will be invited only from eligible applicants who have submitted an EoI. This will be done after light touch eligibility and remit checks. Proposals from principal investigators who had not submitted an EoI or who have not been invited to submit full proposals will not be admitted for review. They will be considered as non-eligible for this funding opportunity.

If there is exceptional demand the funding partners reserve the right to implement appropriate demand management measures at this stage.

You will be informed of the outcome of the screening exercise and only EoIs that have passed the eligibility and remit checks will be invited to submit full proposals.

For EoIs that are considered out of scope or ineligible, BBSRC will convey the decision to the individuals or the lead applicant.

Stage two: full proposals (closing date: 16 November 2023)

Full proposals for research projects on transforming land use for net zero, nature and people will be assessed in a two-step process according BBSRC standard practice:

Step one: external expert peer review (November 2023 to February 2024)

The proposals will be reviewed by several (two to three) independent expert reviewers. You will then be given a chance to respond to the feedback you receive prior to the panel assessment step.

Step two: panel assessment (February 2024)

All proposal will then be assessed by an independent panel of external experts following the peer review step.

Assessment criteria

What we are looking for

Scientific merit (assessed from the information provided in the ‘Vision’)

To what extent does the proposal demonstrate:

  • an ambitious strategic vision to transform land use for net zero, nature and people
  • high scientific quality through cutting edge research (including technical feasibility, objectives and deliverables)
  • potential to advance current understanding, generate new knowledge, thinking or discovery
Fit to the opportunity (assessed from information on ‘Vision’ and ‘Approach’)

To what extent does the proposal demonstrate:

  • transdisciplinary systems research with integration of different types of expertise from relevant disciplines
  • address challenges across two or more themes covered in the scope of the opportunity
  • added value to related past or current investments, or both
  • includes activities that are feasible with the resource and time available and provide value for money
Transformative potential, policy relevance and impact (assessed from information on ‘Approach’ and custom section on ‘Transformative potential, Policy Relevance and Impact’)

To what extent does the proposal:

  • address a real-world challenge to transform land use for net zero, nature and people
  • demonstrate how the research outputs will contribute to addressing industry, policy and societal needs
  • fast-track delivery of solutions
  • demonstrate what success would look like, and how this will be monitored and measured
  • and dissemination of outputs, including knowledge exchange and engagement with the Hub
Capacity and capability of the research team (assessed from information provided in the sections on ‘Applicant and team capacity to deliver’, ‘Project partners contributions’, and ‘Approach’)

To what extent does the proposal demonstrate:

  • adequacy of areas of expertise and skills set across the consortium, including non-academic partners and collaborators, for delivery of the proposed research
  • robustness and feasibility of the management plan for the project, and clarity of the management or governance structure
  • experience of the PI in working with a range of stakeholders across disciplines and sectors
  • adequacy and feasibility of the project monitoring and evaluation plan (definition of milestones, indicators and a monitoring and evaluation framework
  • that the resources requested, relative to the anticipated outputs, represent an appropriate investment of the partners (value for money)
  • the degree of support from project partners, both during research and after funding (if relevant)
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

To what extent does the proposal demonstrate:

  • embedding of EDI in the design and development of the project proposal
  • a clear and feasible plan and strategy to ensure EDI throughout the delivery of the project

Timescale and feedback

The outcome of the assessment process will be communicated to principal investigators alongside the panel feedback to applicants shortly following the panel meeting.

The funders will make the final funding decision, which will be communicated by BBSRC.

Find out more about BBSRC’s assessment process.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment and recognise the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making.

Contact details

Get help with your application

For help on costings and writing your application, contact your research office. Allow enough time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Email: support@funding-service.ukri.org

We aim to respond to emails within two working days.

Phone: 01793 547490

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm UK time
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm UK time

Additional info

About the programme

Transforming land use for net zero, forms part of a portfolio of investments under the UKRI ‘building a green future’ strategic theme as set out in the UKRI strategy 2022 to 2027.

The ‘building a green future’ theme addresses environmental and net zero challenges in all sectors of the economy, including amplifying investments to mitigate greenhouse gas issues and support the adaptation and monitoring of climate change. Investments made under the ‘building a green future’ theme are intended to support research and innovation activity across the full breadth of UKRI’s remit and are overseen by a cross-UKRI programme board.

The programme will deliver high impact, cutting-edge research and innovation to transform the UK land sectors and achieve net zero, while meeting biodiversity, water, air and other environmental and societal goals.

This is a complex and system challenge that will require multiple policy changes to drive behaviour change across multiple stakeholder groups to achieve multiple environmental, social and economic goals. The programme will establish transdisciplinary, multi-sectoral community to navigate this complexity and find effective solutions.

Agriculture and wider land uses are major drivers of emissions, biodiversity loss and impacts a wide range of other government commitments. For the UK to achieve net zero by 2050 urgent action is needed. The scale of transformation is large and complex. It calls for world class research and innovation to work closely with policy to inform:

  1. What land use change is needed?
  2. How can it be achieved sustainably, while also delivering societal and economic objectives?

This programme aims to transform the way UKRI, central government and devolved administrations work together to establish transdisciplinary, multi-sectoral community that is co-designed and co-led. The programme community will navigate this complexity and find effective solutions needed to achieve multiple environmental, social and economic goals, including achieving net zero.

Online webinar

We held a webinar on 19 April 2023. The webinar provided more information about the funding opportunity and a chance to ask questions.

Watch webinar recording on YouTube

Webinar slides (PDF, 3MB)

In person workshop

An in person workshop on 12 June 2023 provided prospective applicants a chance to:

  • meet the funders
  • learn more about how the research projects will work with policymakers and other key stakeholders
  • begin networking with other applicants

Workshop report (PDF, 225KB)

Workshop presentation slides: overview (PDF, 1.7MB)

Workshop presentation slides: Welsh Government (PDF, 1.6MB)

Workshop presentation slides: DESNZ (PDF, 195KB)

Supporting documents

Frequently asked questions (PDF, 165KB)

Updates

  • 18 September 2023
    The closing date for the invited full proposals has been extend by a month to 16 November 2023 at 4:00pm
  • 4 July 2023
    Added workshop report and workshop presentation slides documents to the 'Additional info' section.
  • 25 May 2023
    Added webinar recording link, webinar slides document and frequently asked questions document to the 'Additional info' section.

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