Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: NERC pushing the frontiers of environmental research July 2023

Apply for funding to pursue an ambitious, high risk and high reward project in environmental research.

You must be:

  • based at a UK research organisation eligible for NERC funding
  • in a role that meets the individual eligibility requirements

We welcome:

  • multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research
  • projects delivered in partnership with other research funders and users

The full economic cost (FEC) of your project can be up to £1 million. We will fund 80% of the FEC.

Who can apply

Before applying for funding, check the following:

Who is eligible to apply

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is introducing new role types for funding opportunities being run on UKRI’s new Funding Service from 22 May 2023.

For full details, see eligibility as an individual.

This funding opportunity is open to research groups and individuals.

Your research project must address a significant environmental science question, but we welcome applications from individuals who can demonstrate a capability to collaborate with experts from other disciplines to generate innovative research.

We encourage multidisciplinary research and collaborations with other UK organisations.

We welcome applications from individuals at any career stage, subject to the UKRI eligibility criteria.

You may be involved in no more than two applications submitted to this funding opportunity. Only one of these can be as a project lead (previously principal investigator).

International applicants

We do not fund overseas organisations, except for specific costs for co-project leads (previously co-investigator) from Norway and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Read more about this in the NERC eligibility guidance for applicants.

You should include all other international collaborators (or UK partners not based at approved organisations) as project partners. This includes organisations from the business or financial sectors.

Project partners fund their own involvement. We will only fund minor incidental expenses, such as some travel costs, if needed for project partners.

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 NERC’s diversity and inclusion action plan.

What we're looking for


This funding opportunity supports researchers’ curiosity and imagination to enable discoveries that unlock new knowledge with a degree of adventure previously unrealised.

We are seeking to invest in our best environmental researchers to be truly adventurous and ambitious in the pursuit of curiosity driven, high risk and high reward projects.

We are looking for applications 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 welcome, and are increasingly supporting, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, designed, supported and delivered in partnership with other research funders and research users.

The research must sit predominantly within NERC’s research areas. We will work with other research councils to ensure that applications close to remit boundaries are assessed by the most appropriate lead council. We encourage you to contact us first to discuss your application if you believe your research may cross research council boundaries.

See our remit query form.


There is no defined project duration, but awards are usually for between three and four years.

Funding available

The FEC of your project can be up to £1 million.

We will fund 80% of the FEC with the following exceptions:

  • justified equipment would be funded at 100%
  • eligible costs for international project co-lead (previously co-investigator) involvement would be funded at 100%

Costs for ship time and marine equipment (SME) are not included in the application, so do not count towards the funding limit.

We are piloting a new process to reduce the information we request at the application submission stage and focus on information required for the expert review and assessment process. This is in line with the recommendations of the Tickell Review.

In your application you must include an indication of the likely cost of the project (at 100% FEC) by selecting one cost range:

  • up to £800,000
  • £800,000 to £1 million
  • £1 million to £2 million

No further information on costs will be submitted at the time of application. Most applications are expected to be under £1 million. We recognise that a small number of projects have exceptional costs that require the budget to exceed the £1 million limit. A third option (£1 million to £2 million) is available to recognise this limited number of cases. As costs will be indicative only you do not need to request permission in advance to exceed the limit.

Once a decision is made on applications that are in the funding frame, we will request further details about the funding required under each fund heading and justification for those costs from those applicants only.

What we will not fund

We will not fund PhD studentships.

Data management

You must adhere to the NERC data policy.

We will pay the data centre directly for archival and curation services. You will need to fund the costs of preparation of data for archiving by your research team from the grant budget. Outline data management plans are not required at the application stage but will be requested for those projects that are to be funded.

Services and facilities

You can apply to use a service or facility in your funding application.

You should discuss your application with the service or facility at least two months before the funding opportunity’s closing date to:

  • discuss the proposed work in detail
  • receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the funding

The facility will provide a technical assessment that includes the calculated cost of providing the service. NERC services and facilities must be costed within the limits of the funding.

You should not submit the technical assessment with the application, but you must confirm you have received it.

For more information, go to the ‘additional info’ section, and the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

Read the full list of NERC facilities that require a technical assessment.

High performance computing, SME and the large research facilities at Harwell have their own policies for access and costing.

Ship-time and marine facilities

Applications may require ship time and other marine facilities. If you wish to use NERC’s marine facilities, you must complete an online ‘SME or autonomous deployment (ADF) application form’ available from Marine Facilities Planning.

Include the SME or ADF number on the ‘facilities’ section of your application.

SMEs or ADFs must be submitted to and approved by NERC Marine Planning by the time your funding application is submitted. A PDF of the SME or ADF can be attached as a facility form to your application. If you do not do this, your request may not be included in the NERC marine facilities programme.

If you intend to apply for NERC’s marine facilities, you should contact to discuss ship time and equipment needs as soon as possible and by 28 June 2023.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Antarctic Logistics Support

Applicants requiring NERC BAS Antarctic logistics support must complete a pre-award operational support planning questionnaire (OSPQ) online.

You must email the Antarctic Access Office (AAO) at BAS (email: stating your name, institution and project title.

The AAO will set up a new and numbered pre-award OSPQ and send the link to the applicant along with instructions for completion.

The deadline for pre-award OSPQs to be submitted is 20 April 2023. Any funding applications that request Antarctic logistic support without having received prior logistic approval will not be awarded.

Supporting skills and talent

We encourage you to follow the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the Technician Commitment.

International collaboration

NERC has agreements with other funders:

This can make it easier for UK researchers to collaborate with research partners around the world by removing the risk that a proposed project will receive funding in one country but not in another.

Find out more about funding for international collaborations and the requirements for submission.

If you wish to work with US-based researchers (NSF) then you will need to submit an expression of interest form. The deadline for submitting the form is 19 May 2023.

Work with US-based researchers on environmental science research.

If your application includes international applicants, project partners or collaborators, visit Trusted Research for more information on effective international collaboration.

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment. This is not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set out in the NERC responsible business statement.

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion

You should consider the responsible research context of your project, not the host institution as a whole. You should take action to enhance your responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

COVID-19 impacts

UKRI recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their careers such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of ongoing work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic.

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts of the impact that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the application. They will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred you can highlight this within your application, if you wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

How to apply

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Funding Service

We are running the funding opportunity on the new UKRI Funding Service. You cannot apply for this funding opportunity on the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

If you do not already have an account with the UKRI Funding Service, you will be able to create one by selecting the ‘start application’ button at the start of this page. Creating an account is a two-minute process requiring you to verify your email address and set a password.

Research offices that have not already received an invitation to open an account should email

Watch our research office webinars about the new UKRI Funding Service.

Submitting your application

Collaborative applications should be prepared and submitted by the lead research organisation through a single application on the Funding Service. The content of the application should be co-created with input from all investigators and project partners and should represent the proposed work of the entire consortium. However, you should only add a single project lead (previously principal investigator) to the application.

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.

NERC, as part of UKRI, will need to collect some personal information to manage your funding service account and the registration of your funding applications.

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.

NERC will publish the outcomes of this funding opportunity.

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


We must receive your application by 4:00pm UK time on 25 July 2023.

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.

We will not be returning applications for amendment. If an application is withdrawn prior to peer review or office rejected due to substantive errors in the application, it cannot be re-submitted to the same round.

UKRI Funding Service: section guidance


Word count: 550

In plain English, provide a summary that will be viewed by assessors.

This summary may be made publicly available on external facing websites, so ensure it can be understood by a variety of readers, for example:

  • opinion-formers
  • policymakers
  • the general public
  • the wider research community

Succinctly describe your proposed work in terms of:

  • its context
  • the challenge the project addresses and how it will be applied to this
  • its aims and objectives
  • its potential applications and benefits


List the key members of your team and assign them roles from the following:

  • project lead (PL)
  • project co-lead (UK) (PcL)
  • project co-lead (international) (PcL (I))
  • researcher co-lead
  • specialist
  • grant manager
  • professional enabling staff
  • research and innovation associate
  • technician
  • visiting researcher

You can only list one project lead.

The project co-lead (international) (PcL (I)) role should only be used for applications making use of the UKRI-RCN Money Follows Cooperation agreement or the UKRI-IIASA agreement. NERC does not otherwise accept project co-lead (international) applicants.

Find out about UKRI’s new grant roles.

1 Section: Vision and Approach

Word count 5

You should upload the Vision and Approach document as a six-page PDF. The document must have single line spacing, margins of at least 2cm and be typed using Arial 11pt, or another ‘sans serif’ font with an equivalent size to Arial 11pt.

Question: What are you hoping to achieve with and how will you deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response 

For the Vision, explain how your proposed work:

  • is of excellent quality and importance within or beyond the field(s) or area(s)
  • has the potential to advance current understanding, generates new knowledge, thinking or discovery within or beyond the field or area
  • is timely given current trends, context and needs
  • impacts world-leading research, society, the economy or the environment

Within the Vision section we also expect you to:

  • identify the potential direct or indirect benefits and who the beneficiaries might be

For the Approach, explain how you have designed your work so that it:

  • is effective and appropriate to achieve your objectives
  • is feasible, and comprehensively identifies any risks to delivery and how they will be managed
  • if applicable, uses a clear and transparent methodology
  • if applicable, summarises the previous work and describes how this will be built upon and progressed
  • will maximise translation of outputs into outcomes and impacts
  • describes how your, and if applicable your team’s, research environment (in terms of the place, its location, and relevance to the project) will contribute to the success of the work

Within the Approach section we also expect you to:

  • demonstrate access to the appropriate services, facilities, infrastructure, or equipment to deliver the proposal

2 Section: Applicant and team capability to deliver

Word count: 1,500 (1,000 words to be used for R4RI modules and, if necessary, a further 500 words for Additions)

Question: Why are you the right individual or team to successfully deliver the proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Evidence of how you, and if relevant your team, have:

  • the relevant experience (appropriate to career stage) to deliver the proposed work
  • the right balance of skills and expertise to cover the proposed work
  • the appropriate leadership and management skills to deliver the work and your approach to develop others
  • contributed to developing the positive research environment and wider community

The word count for this section is 1,500 words – 1,000 words to be used for R4RI modules and, if necessary, a further 500 words for Additions.

Use the Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI) format to showcase the range of relevant skills you, and if relevant your team (project lead and project co-leads, researchers, other (technical) staff for example research software engineers, data scientists and so on, and project partners), have and how this will help to deliver the proposed work. You can include individuals’ specific achievements but only choose past contributions that best evidence their ability to deliver this work.

Complete this section using the R4RI module headings listed. You should use each heading once and include a response for the whole team, see the UKRI guidance on R4RI. You should consider how to balance your answer, and emphasise where appropriate the key skills each team member brings:

  • contributions to the generation of new ideas, tools, methodologies, or knowledge
  • the development of others and maintenance of effective working relationships
  • contributions to the wider research and innovation community
  • contributions to broader research or innovation users and audiences and towards wider societal benefit

You should complete this as a narrative and you should avoid CV type format.

Additions: Provide any further details relevant to your application. This section is not mandatory and can be up to 500 words. You should not use it to describe additional skills, experiences or outputs, but any factors that provide context for the rest of your R4RI (for example, details of career breaks if you wish to disclose them).

3 Section: References

Word count: 1,000

Question: List the references you have used to support your application.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

You should include all references in this section of the application and not in the rest of the application questions.

You should not include any other information in this section.

We advise you not to include hyperlinks as assessors are not obliged to access the information they lead to or consider it in their assessment of your application. If linking to web resources, to ensure the information’s integrity is maintained include, where possible, persistent identifiers such as digital object identifiers.

You must not include links to web resources in order to extend your application.

4 Section: Ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Word count: 500

Question: What are the ethical or RRI implications and issues relating to the proposed work?  If you do not think that the proposed work raises any ethical or RRI issues, explain why.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Using the text box, demonstrate that you have identified and evaluated the relevant ethical or responsible research and innovation considerations, and how you will manage them. Including:

  • research involving animals
  • research involving human tissues or biological samples, including the nature and quantity of the material used and its source
  • research involving human participation, including the numbers and diversity of the participants involved and any procedures
  • potential impacts of the proposed research on the environment or society in general

State the names of any bodies you will require approval from and whether you already have it. If it is not yet in place, then give an indicative timeframe for when it will be.

5 Section: Project partners: contributions

Word count: 1000

Question: Provide details about any project partners’ contributions using the template provided.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you do not have any project partners, simply add ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move to the next section.

If you do have project partners, download and complete the project partner contributions template (DOCX, 52KB) then copy and paste the table within it into the text box.

Ensure you have obtained prior agreement from project partners that, should you be offered funding, they will support your project as indicated in the template.

A project partner is a collaborating organisation that is contributing to the application and will have an integral role in the proposed research. Project partners cannot normally receive funding directly from the grant. Two exceptions to this are:

  • where a project partner is providing services or equipment that will go through a formal procurement process audited by the host research organisation
  • the project partner can receive small amounts of funding from the grant, such as for travel and subsistence to attend project meetings. These will need to be requested and fully justified in the application

For audit purposes, UKRI requires formal collaboration agreements to be put in place if an award is made.

6 Section: Facilities

Word count: 250

Question: Does your proposed research require the support and use of a facility?

If not, enter N/A into the text box, mark this section as complete and move on to the next section.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you will need to use a facility, you should follow your proposed facility’s normal access request procedures. Where prior agreement is required, ensure you obtain their agreement that, should you be offered funding, they will support the use of their facility on your project.

In the text box, for each requested facility you should provide under the following headings:

  • facility name: the name of facility, copied and pasted from this list
  • usage: the proposed usage time or costs, or costs per unit where indicated on that list
  • confirmation you have their agreement where required

Do not put the facility contact details in your response.

If you have to attach a facility form (for example, NERC ship-time and marine equipment or Antarctic logistics), then upload it as a PDF. If you need to upload multiple forms, then combine them into a single PDF.

7 Section: 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

If not, enter ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move on to the next section.

If your application is in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US, São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) in Brazil or Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR) in Luxembourg, please provide the name of which agreement you are submitting under in the textbox.

You should include further detail of the team, the collaboration and the added value to the project in the appropriate sections of the application, not here.

Add any further documentation required for the international funder as a single PDF attachment in this section.

Any involvement of international project co-leads from IIASA or Norway should be included in applicant details, applicant and team capability to deliver and any other relevant sections and are not applicable to this question.

Word count: 10 words

8 Section: Cost range

Word count: 10 words

Question: What is the estimated cost range of your project?

In your application you must include an indication of the likely cost of the project (at 100% FEC) by selecting one cost range:

  • up to £800,000
  • £800,000 to £1 million
  • £1 million to £2 million

This information is for NERC and not for consideration by the assessors.

Once the decision has been made on applications that are likely to be in the funding frame, we will request further details about the funding required under each fund heading and justification for those costs.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using a two-stage process where experts will be invited to form part of a panel to assess applications independently, against the published criteria (areas of assessment) for this funding opportunity. The panel will be comprised of NERC Peer Review College members, augmented if necessary, by relevant experts from outside the college.

Applications not considered a priority for funding may not be invited by NERC to proceed to the second stage of assessment. All applications will receive feedback from stage one assessment.

Applications invited to proceed to the second stage of assessment will be asked to respond to stage one panel feedback, which will be considered by the assessment panel at stage two. All applications invited to stage two will be provided with feedback.

Areas of assessment

The criteria against which your application will be assessed directly relates to the core responsive mode application questions:

  • vision of the project
  • approach to the project
  • Applicant and team capability to deliver
  • ethical and responsible research and innovation considerations of the project

Further detail on what the assessors are looking for is available in the questions in the How to apply section.


We aim to complete the assessment process within six months of receiving your application.

Principles of assessment

UKRI supports the San Francisco declaration on research assessment (DORA) and recognises the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI Principles of Assessment and Decision Making.

We reserve the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

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


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
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm

Sensitive information

If you, or a key team member, need to tell us something you wish to remain confidential, email the Funding Service helpdesk on

You must include in the subject line: ‘NERC pushing the frontiers, sensitive info, Funding Service application number’.

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • applicant is unavailable until a certain date (for example due to parental leave)
  • declaration of interest
  • additional information about eligibility to apply that would not be appropriately shared in the Applicant and team capability section
  • conflict of interest for UKRI to consider in reviewer or panel participant selection

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


  • 20 June 2023
    Word count for the '3 Section: References' increased to 1,000 under 'UKRI Funding Service: section guidance'.
  • 26 May 2023
    'researcher co-lead' added under applicant role list and 'approach to the project' added under area of assessment.

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