NERC wishes to support a single project that explores the role of ecological quality of the environment in:
- health and wellbeing
- health equity
- environmental benefits of interventions and strategies to connect people with nature.
NERC is seeking a research team with existing networks of researchers and practitioners working on the links between the environment, health and wellbeing, and health equity. This team will lead an activity that aims to:
- facilitate greater engagement of environmental scientists with wider disciplines and practitioners in the area of ‘environment, health and wellbeing, and health equity’
- explore how methods, approaches and datasets from the environmental sciences (for example, concepts of non-linearity and multiple scales, longitudinal datasets of environmental change) can be incorporated into mixed-methods approaches to investigate the role of ‘ecological quality of the environment’ in:
- health and wellbeing
- health equity
- environmental benefits of interventions and strategies to connect people with nature
- provide foundations for understanding how best to mobilise natural assets to address health inequalities, whilst also securing environmental benefits of interventions and strategies.
It is anticipated that the activity will take the form of a series of facilitated events. In these events researchers and practitioners from relevant disciplines and backgrounds (for example, environment, health, arts and humanities, and social sciences) will:
- explore advances in different fields
- build partnerships
- develop collaborative ideas for methodological advances.
This will culminate in the network awarding funding to the new collaborations to progress small proof of concept studies.
The network should outline the proposed approach to delivering this in the proposal and may choose to draw on lessons learned from similar UKRI-supported network activities.
There may also be opportunities to interact with the AHRC fellow appointed to coordinate the ‘Mobilising Cultural and Natural Assets to Combat Health Inequalities’ research programme, which will be facilitated by NERC.
The successful research team is expected to use its reach and connections through existing networks to attract a range of participants from different disciplines and diverse backgrounds. This includes those from the environmental sciences who may not have engaged with these issues previously.
The proposal should include information about how this will be achieved and how equality, diversity and inclusion will be considered and monitored when selecting participants for the collaborative activities.
Potential questions to focus on
The research team will specify a range of key questions around which underpinning approaches, methodological development and proof of concept ideas can be focused. These will be for the research team to propose, but might include:
- what concepts of ecological quality are appropriate and feasible for use in different types of blue and green environments in urban and rural areas relevant to the UK?
- what is the role of biodiversity and ecological quality in the causal pathways between natural environments and health and wellbeing benefits?
- how can improved biodiversity and ecological quality be achieved and maintained to benefit health and wellbeing?
- how does ecological quality link with other aspects of environmental quality such as safety, facilities, and ease of access?
- what are the environmental outcomes of nature-based strategies and interventions to improve health and wellbeing and health equity and how can they be managed for mutual benefit of people and the environment?
- what are the links between the environment, spending time in nature, health and wellbeing benefits and health inequalities across the life-course?
Previous work to draw from
The project will be guided by various national and intergovernmental strategies and ambitions to connect people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing. Specifically:
- emerging priorities relating to supporting mental health in addition to physical health
- children and young people
- tackling inequality for a more inclusive society.
Examples of national and intergovernmental strategies include:
Whilst focused largely on the situation relevant to the UK, the project should also draw on ongoing national and international work, including, but not limited to:
- environment and health
- natural capital
- planetary health
- eco-health approaches.
Examples could include:
It should also draw on ongoing work on health inequalities and various strategies and interventions proposed to build back fairer from the COVID-19 pandemic.
To identify where greater traction of the environmental sciences may be achieved in mental health research, proof of concept ideas generated through the collaborative activities should be guided by the Review on Environmental Science and Mental Health scoping work. This is commissioned by NERC and delivered by the Valuing Nature Network.
The report identified key opportunities as:
- exploiting large-scale datasets using novel data linkage methodologies
- taking longitudinal approaches and advantage of natural experiments to capture the impact of environmental change over time and understand exposure and manifestation of disorders over the life-course
- bringing ecological concepts of multiple scales and non-linearity to offer understanding of how socio-ecological systems iteratively interact on health
- developing mixed-methods approaches using qualitative methods to add depth and breadth of understanding to quantitative research
- fostering a community of practice around the intersectionality of environmental, health and social sciences and practitioners to facilitate interdisciplinary research and impact.
All proof of concept ideas supported with funding from the grant should include a concept, approach, method, data or similar from the ecological and/or environmental sciences.
Up to £250,000 at 80% of full economic cost (FEC) (£312,500 at 100% FEC) is available to support a single project.
Funds can be used to support:
- investigator time to plan and deliver the activities
- costs for professional facilitation, if required
- venue hire, travel and subsistence costs, if in-person activities are proposed
- funds to be disbursed to the proof of concept studies
- indirect and estates costs.
The network should propose an appropriate breakdown of costs between running the collaboration building activities and funds to support the proof of concept ideas. The proposal should include a project plan with information about:
- key milestones
- key delivery risks and contingency plans, especially if in-person activities are planned.
Participation of the voluntary sector in planning and delivering the collaboration activities is welcomed. Subcontracts to such organisations that are not recognised independent research organisations and therefore eligible to apply directly, may be supported at 100% full economic cost, recognising their often-limited capacity to engage as project partners.
No studentships will be allowed under this opportunity.
Implementation and delivery
NERC will award this grant directly to a single lead organisation via a purchase order and UKRI standard terms and conditions will apply with some variation due to the method of payment. Invoices for payment must include:
- the purchase order number
- site address
- NERC’s address
- a unique invoice number.
Invoicing must be completed in line with the timeline in the offer letter.
The project should aim to commence in November 2021, holding the collaboration activities and disbursing funds for the proof of concept studies before March 2022. Proof-of-concept studies may continue up to six months beyond the end of the grant.
You must adhere to UKRI open research policy and NERC Data Policy and an outline data management plan produced as part of proposal development. For details of data centres, see the NERC Environmental Data Service and NERC data management planning guidance.
NERC will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for any archival and curation services. However, applicants should ensure they request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team.
The grant holder is expected to report monthly to NERC on progress and must send NERC a final report and final expenditure statement no later than six months after the end of the grant.
Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, 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:
- the natural environment
- the local community
- equality, diversity and inclusion.
Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project and take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.