Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: NERC large grant to tackle big environmental science questions

Apply for funding to support innovative, large-scale and complex projects that tackle big science questions and have the potential to produce world-leading research.

You must be:

  • from an eligible UK research organisation
  • eligible for NERC funding.

Your project must fall predominantly within NERC’s remit. This opportunity can fund research that crosses over into other research council areas.

The full economic cost of your project can be between £1.2 million and £3.7 million. NERC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Projects can last up to five years.

Who can apply

You cannot apply for this opportunity on our Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S). It is one of the opportunities being run on the new UKRI Funding Service.

Both research groups or individuals can apply. For this funding opportunity you must select only one principal investigator, based at an eligible submitting organisation (see eligibility links below).

To be eligible as a principal investigator you must be:

  • resident in the UK
  • employed by an eligible UK research organisation:
    • higher education institution
    • research council institute
    • recognised independent research organisation
    • public sector research establishment
  • employed at lecturer level (or equivalent) or above.

We encourage multidisciplinary research and collaborations with other UK organisations. International and non-academic collaborators can be involved as project partners.

More information on eligibility can be accessed using these links:

Research office professionals

Register to hear about exciting developments in the new UKRI Funding Service on Wednesday 8 December 2021, 14:00 to 15:00 (GMT).

This webinar is aimed at research office professionals who will be supporting applicants using the new service.

If an application is made by a member of an organisation where we don’t 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 8 March 2022 at 16:00 (GMT).

If you anticipate researchers from your organisation applying for this opportunity, but have not already received an invitation to open an account, email:

As an administrator, you will be responsible for the final submission of the application to UKRI. Ensure internal deadlines are made clear to applicants from your organisation.

Register for our webinar on the new research office functionality (eventbrite).

What we're looking for

You can submit a proposal in any area of environmental science, provided it is predominantly within a research area or subject associated with NERC’s remit.

We also welcome multi-disciplinary proposals that cross into other research council areas.

We’re looking for proposals that can support pure, applied, technology-led or policy-driven research but still address, or provide the means to address, clearly defined scientific questions.

We expect that the research projects we fund will have the potential to be world-leading.

Large research projects must tackle big science questions. To achieve this, they will often involve multidisciplinary approaches. We expect your proposal to show several interdependent components (we call these work packages) interacting in a single overall structure.

We will fund 80% of the full economic cost for:

  • directly incurred costs such as staff payroll, travel and subsistence, and consumables
  • directly allocated costs such as investigators’ salaries, estates costs and shared resources
  • indirect costs such as research organisation administration.

Equipment is funded at 100% full economic cost.

Associated studentships can be funded through this opportunity. We will fund studentship stipends and fees at 100% direct costs and other related costs at 80%.

How to apply

This opportunity takes part in two stages:

  • submission of an outline proposal
  • invited submission of a full proposal, if successful at stage one.

If you have any questions about your eligibility, the application process, or you have sensitive information you want conveyed to NERC in confidence, contact the funding service team on

For information about how UKRI handles personal data please see UKRI’s privacy notice.

Stage one questions

What follows is a copy of the sections and questions you’ll need to complete and answer for your stage one application on UKRI’s Funding Service. You cannot apply for stage one of this opportunity on Je-S. Only the person creating this application can edit it. If you need to collaborate with other co-applicants, you should do so offline.

Applicants will need to take the following steps to apply:

  • select the ‘Start application’ button at the start of this page
  • 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
  • start answering the questions detailed in this section of ‘how to apply.’ You can save your work and come back to it later
  • 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
  • once happy, your research office will submit it to UKRI for assessment. Only they can do this.

Make sure you get any necessary approval from your organisation in advance and give your research office plenty of time before the closing date.

If you’re submitting a proposal as a joint application, then only the lead organisation should submit a proposal at this stage.

Details and summary

Application name

This should be the title of your proposed project.

Limited to 20 words.

Question: describe your research idea

Provide a brief overview of the challenge you’re looking to address and how you are planning to do it.

Guidance: you should also include an estimate of your total costs. This should be a single figure, not a breakdown. If your application is successful, we will ask you to submit a full breakdown of costs as part of the next stage.

Limited to 500 words.

Add applicants

In this section you will be asked to provide principal investigator and co-investigator details.

Case for support

Question: provide a case for support, making sure to include the information asked for in ‘what the assessors are looking for in your response’.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

You should make sure you include enough information for assessors to score your application against all the assessment criteria, so they can decide whether to invite you to submit a full proposal. Structure your response using the subheadings (in bold) provided below.

Research vision

What is your research vision and how does it fall within NERC’s remit.

Research challenge

Identify the overall aims of your research and the challenges it will address. Explain why the proposed research is novel, timely and innovative. Explain how the proposed research fits the aims of this opportunity.

Project team

Briefly explain who will be involved in the project and what expertise they’ll contribute. We’re committed to DORA and you should not quote journal-based metrics as evidence.

Proposed programme

Describe the programme of research that will be carried out using the funding, showing how the work packages relate to each other. Outline the methodology to be used in the research and justify this choice.

Data collection and management

Outline what data you’ll be collecting as part of your project and how you’ll manage it.

Large versus small scale: explain why a large-scale project is more appropriate than several smaller projects.

You will be able to include up to two images, each no larger than A4 and accompanied by no more than 20 words, in a single PDF that’s a maximum of 8MB.

Word count: 2,200 words.

NERC international partnership joint funding

Question: Are you submitting your proposal under a NERC international partnership joint funding agreement?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

NERC is working internationally with other funding organisations to help support excellent research collaborations. Agreements are now in place with:

  • the US’s National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • FAPESP (Brazil)
  • Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR) in Luxembourg.

The assessors want to understand whether you intend to submit a full proposal using an existing international partnership if your outline proposal is successful.  Find out more about our international funding agreements.

If ‘yes’, please provide the details of which agreement you’re submitting this proposal under. Please also detail the team, the collaboration and the added value to the project, including bottom line estimates of funding the team will be requesting from the collaborating organisation.

If ‘no’, please enter ‘not applicable’.

Word count: 500 words.

How we will assess your application

Outline proposals

A panel of experts from the NERC Peer Review College will assess all outline proposals. We may also bring in independent experts, as needed.

We will assess proposals against the following criteria:

  • the capability of the team to deliver
  • the potential for research excellence – idea, timeliness, and so on
  • how appropriate your proposed scientific challenge is for large grant funding.

We usually approve around 10 proposals at this stage. We will provide feedback on your proposal.

We’ll email you to let you know whether your outline proposal has been successful and invite you to submit a full proposal. We’ll do this at least four months before the closing date.

Read more about our pre-award assessment criteria.

Full proposals

If we accept your outline proposal, we will invite you to submit a full proposal at least four months before the closing date.

You must submit your full proposal through the Je-S system.


  • council: NERC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: large grant (date)

Your proposal must include:

  • a case for support
  • an outline data management plan
  • justification of resources
  • curriculum vitae for all applicants and named research staff.

If relevant, you should also include:

  • a letter of support from any named project partner
  • a technical assessment
  • details of non-UK components, for example, if you are collaborating with an international partner
  • quotations for items of equipment over £25,000.

If your project involves collaboration with several research organisations, you can submit a joint proposal. There is no limit on the number of organisations that can take part.

We will expect the lead institution to act as coordinator, but other partners may submit separate proposals through Je-S as part of the overall project.

For more information:

External experts will assess the full proposal. We reserve the right to reject your proposal at this stage if it receives consistently low scores.

If approved, you will have the opportunity to respond to their comments before NERC’s large grants interview panel assesses your full proposal.

This panel will include members of the NERC peer review college and independent experts, as needed. We’ll invite you to make a presentation to the panel and answer questions to help with the assessment process.

The panel usually meets in March. We will let you know the date as soon as it is set.

Contact details

Discuss any queries by contacting the UKRI Funding Service



01793 265810

Additional info

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