Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Synthesising evidence in economics of biodiversity

Apply for funding to synthesise current evidence and identify future research opportunities for the upcoming Economics of Biodiversity programme.

Your project should focus on terrestrial and freshwater habitats. It must bring together critical thinking, data analysis and evidence to address at least one of these themes:

  • understanding biodiversity values in decision-making
  • biodiversity, natural capital and resilience
  • management tools for decision-making.

You must be based at a UK organisation eligible for NERC funding.

We will fund your project for up to three months.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £50,000. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

This funding does not cover equipment or facility costs.

Who can apply

Standard NERC eligibility rules apply.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) research and fellowship grants for all schemes may be held at:

  • approved UK higher education institutions (HEIs)
  • approved research council institutes (RCIs)
  • independent research organisations (IROs)
  • public sector research establishments (PSREs).

Check if you are eligible for research and innovation funding.

Eligibility rules for UK research organisations can be found in section C of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

Investigators may be involved in no more than two proposals submitted to this opportunity and only one of these may be as the lead principal investigator.

No studentships will be allowed under this opportunity.

What we're looking for

NERC and ESRC are seeking to support a portfolio of three-month duration awards that will gather and synthesise the current state of knowledge and evidence in topic areas relevant to the Economics of Biodiversity programme.

The Economics of Biodiversity programme will address critical gaps in our current understanding of the economic benefits and costs that society associates with biodiversity, a core component of the natural world.

The programme will:

  • examine how different values are applied and utilised
  • assess where and how economic and ecological knowledge combines effectively to manage resilience of ecosystems
  • consider how evidence-based synergies and trade-offs can be scaled, analysed, quantified, and incorporated into effective decision-making at local, national and global scales.

Research themes

The synthesis projects are expected to inform and help lay the foundation for subsequent programme funding opportunities and activities and place the programme in the contemporary policy context including the:

Three research themes have been identified for this opportunity:

Understanding biodiversity values in decision-making

The values associated with the economics of biodiversity are more nuanced than market valuation and the values that different individuals, groups, organisations and sectors assign to biodiversity are not uniform.

This theme will seek to better understand how biodiversity values are captured in decision-making and where new and existing data and evidence informs the types of interventions required to maintain, enhance and optimise biodiversity in terms of its value to functional landscapes and the economy.

Activities under this theme should:

Biodiversity, natural capital and resilience

In order to make informed decisions on the sustainable use of ecosystems, implementing ecosystem restoration and nature-based solutions, it is critical to understand:

  • the types and ‘level’ of biodiversity that are required to maintain, restore and enhance ecological function in multi-functional systems that support economic activities
  • how this might change and develop under different environmental conditions, scenarios and shocks.

Activities under this theme should build upon and update the existing evidence base such as the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Sustainability Programme (Ecosystems Knowledge).

Management tools for decision-making

Most decisions that impact upon biodiversity and ecosystems are made at the local scale, yet a majority of the established and emerging natural capital and ecosystem services decision support tools that capture the value of biodiversity operate at a broad ecosystem scale.

Hence, outputs often do not provide information at a resolution suitable for supporting local management decisions and there is a lack of integrated approaches to using existing tools and indicators.

Key challenges to improving scalability of decision support tools relate to:

  • temporal variability (for example, seasonality, land use change),
  • spatial variability (for example, topography, land parcel location, bordering land use),
  • differing knowledge requirements for various decision makers and users (for example, local, regional, national priorities),
  • economic factors (for example, costs of different solutions)
  • setting boundaries relevant to support decision-making (for example, political versus ecological boundaries).

Proposal requirements

Synthesis projects must be relevant to at least one of the three research themes detailed above.

Successful projects will provide critical thinking, data analysis and evidence synthesis to begin addressing these themes and highlight further research opportunities that could be taken forward under this programme.

Projects should focus on the economics of biodiversity associated with terrestrial and freshwater habitats (including coastal habitats such as saltmarshes and sand dunes), proposals that focus primarily on biodiversity in marine habitats are out of scope for this opportunity.

Examples of potential research questions that are relevant to the themes can be found in ‘additional information’.

For example, projects can include:

  • reviews that bring together different lines of evidence or discussion in line with the emerging global themes on the economics of biodiversity.
  • building on gap analyses by providing sense-checks and defining research opportunities to fill gaps and enhance knowledge application
  • analyses of existing methods and data, such as those used to capture use and non-use values associated with biodiversity
  • time-limited data collection that enable analysis and evaluation of existing approaches
  • comparison and evaluation of existing models, tools, metrics and indicators
  • reports focusing on where research can support relevant UK policy and UK leadership in the global policy context.

In addition to academic outputs, including peer reviewed publications, projects should produce short reports, recorded presentations and other outputs that are accessible to key stakeholders including policymakers.

Successful projects are encouraged to work with each other to share ideas and coordinate activities where possible, including exploring options to jointly disseminate their project outputs through appropriate channels such as journal special issue.

The funders will organise two online meetings to facilitate collaboration between projects and deliver impacts at the start and end of synthesis projects. Grant holders must attend and present at these meetings. Further details will be shared with successful projects.

Funding available

NERC and ESRC have provisionally allocated £440,000 to this funding opportunity. The maximum funding per project is £50,000 (at 100% full economic cost) with a duration of up to three months. We will fund 80% of the project’s full economic cost, that is, up to £40,000 per project.

All costs associated with the project must be itemised in the Je-S proforma and justified in the justification of resources document. Given the short duration, we do not expect any significant capital including equipment or facility costs on these projects. The expectation is staff time will be the major cost component.

The following are ineligible costs:

  • conference attendance, including both travel and subsistence and registration fees
  • standard office computing equipment
  • equipment over £10,000 (inclusive of VAT)
  • associated studentships.

Implementation and delivery

Projects should be no longer than three months in duration and start no later than 1 February 2022.

Data management

You must adhere to UKRI open research policy and NERC Data Policy and an outline data management plan produced as part of proposal development.

NERC data management planning guidance.

For details of data centres, see the NERC Environmental Data Service and ESRC UK Data Service.

NERC will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for archival and curation services, but applicants should ensure they request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team.

Reporting requirements

As for all NERC grant holders, there will be a requirement to report through the UKRI reporting system, Researchfish. This is required annually and continues for up to five years after funding ends.

In addition, synthesis grant holders must send their final report to NERC for publication on the Economics of Biodiversity programme website at a later date.

How to apply

Your full proposal must be submitted using the research councils’ Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

When applying select:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: directed
  • call/type/mode: Economics of Biodiversity Synthesis 2021

The Economics of Biodiversity Synthesis 2021 funding opportunity will close on Je-S at 16:00 on 5 October 2021 and it will not be possible to submit to the opportunity after this time.

Applicants should leave enough time for their proposal to pass through their organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date. Any proposal that is incomplete, or does not meet NERC’s eligibility criteria or follow NERC’s submission rules (see NERC research grant and fellowships handbook), will be office rejected and will not be considered.

All attachments submitted through Je-S, with the exception of letters of support and quotes for services, facilities or equipment, must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm.

Please note that Arial narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not allowable font types and any proposal which has used either of these font types within their submission will be rejected.

References and footnotes should also be at least 11 point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document. Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case. Applicants referring to websites should note that referees may choose not to use them.

Applicants should ensure that their proposal conforms to all eligibility and submission rules, otherwise their proposal may be rejected without peer review. More details on NERC’s submission rules can be found in the:

Proposals for this opportunity should be submitted in standard grant format following the requirements outlined in section F of the handbook but note the following differences for this funding opportunity:

  • case for support document should be no longer than four sides A4 including the previous track record (up to one side A4), and description of proposed research (up to three sides A4), which should include how the research fits to the Economics of Biodiversity synthesis opportunity
  • justification of resources document should be no longer than one side of A4.

Please note that on submission to councils all non PDF documents are converted to PDF. The use of non-standard fonts may result in errors or font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

Additionally where non-standard fonts are present, and even if the converted PDF document may look unaffected in Je-S, when it is imported into the research councils’ grants system some information may be removed. We therefore recommend that where a document contains any non-standard fonts (scientific notation, diagrams and so on), the document should be converted to PDF prior to attaching it to the proposal.

How we will assess your application

Sift process

NERC and ESRC reserve the right to implement a sift stage before the panel to reduce the number of applications to a manageable level for a two-day panel meeting. If the sift is conducted, all applications that meet the eligibility criteria will be assigned to two panel members who will then pre-score the proposals. Based on these scores, the sift will be carried out by the NERC office and approved by the panel chair.

Assessment process

All proposals received which meet the eligibility criteria will be directly assessed by an assessment panel of independent experts.

Proposals must clearly demonstrate how the project is relevant to the Economics of Biodiversity programme aims and the three themes for the synthesis call. Any proposal that fails to demonstrate a strong relevance to the programme will be office rejected on poor fit to scope of the call prior to panel assessment.

Proposals will be given a single score by the panel, which will be based on the following criteria:

  • quality of the proposed synthesis activity including:
    • importance of the questions or knowledge gaps being addressed
    • appropriateness of proposed approach and method
  • degree to which the proposed synthesis activity aligns with the aims of the programme and themes of the synthesis funding opportunity.

NERC and ESRC recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities and are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career, 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 proposal and 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 applicants can highlight this within their application, if they wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Feedback will be provided to both successful and unsuccessful applicants.

NERC and ESRC will use the recommendations of the assessment panel along with the overall opportunity requirements and the available budget in making the final funding decisions.

The assessment panel meeting is expected to be held in mid-November, with the funding decision expected by late November. Outcomes will be communicated to applicants at the beginning of December 2021.

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity

Economics of Biodiversity programme team


Additional info


Biodiversity loss is among the top global risks to society and is currently declining faster than at any time in human history. This continued loss undermines human health and well-being, societal resilience and progress towards global targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals and Aichi biodiversity targets.

Biodiversity is a critical component within the natural assets that support ecosystem services, through which humans receive the goods and benefits that can be essential for their existence. It is through this conceptual ecosystem service framework that both monetary and non-use values can be quantified and ascribed, and we can start to understand the economic importance of biodiversity, and therefore the impacts of its loss.

Despite this importance biodiversity and ecosystems are consistently undervalued in both conventional economic analyses and in decision making. In order that value-based decisions become more informed and robust, it is imperative that explicit values of biodiversity are determined.

Moreover, we need to better understand the types of biodiversity that are required to maintain, restore and enhance ecological function in multi-functional systems in order to support economic activity, and how biodiversity can or might change and respond to different environmental conditions and scenarios.

Advancing our knowledge in these areas will provide a critical step toward an improved, more holistic valuation of biodiversity, and in usefully informing decision making by developing and applying suitable tools and indicators, stimulating market development, and supporting practical evidence-based action.

In delivering evidence in this proactive way, there is an opportunity to shape political and economic thinking into the future (both nationally and internationally), rather than being reactionary to emerging policies and market forces.

Commissioned by the HM Treasury, The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review (GOV.UK) shows humanity’s demands on nature far exceeds its capacity to supply, and calls for fundamental changes to economics to enable sustainable engagement with nature including the need for economic and finance decision-making to reflect that humanity and the global economy are embedded within nature, not external to it.

The Economics of Biodiversity programme will build on the advances and thinking from relevant previous and current UKRI investments including:

Potential research questions

Research question that are relevant to the themes may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Understanding the values of biodiversity

What are the full suite of values (both use and non-use) that can be assigned to biodiversity, and how does the associated value chain (meaning, from biodiversity to asset to final benefit realisation) operate?

What financial and human capital inputs are required to realise benefits from natural capital assets and ascertain factors that influence the values assigned to assets?

Can we improve our understanding of the variation between the values held by different users and beneficiaries, and can more consistency in values of some aspects of biodiversity be achieved?

What affects the public ‘willingness to pay’ for biodiversity (including the spatial, temporal factors, and political economy)?

How might predicted societal changes impact upon values and perceptions of value-based management interventions in the future?

If biodiversity continues to decline until 2050, what level of investment (human and financial capital) would have to be made in order to compensate for projected losses?

Biodiversity, natural capital and resilience

What role does biodiversity play in the ecological functioning of the breadth of natural capital and the benefits that flow from it?

How do we move beyond “functional groups” thinking? What organisms can co-exist under different conditions and scenarios?

Are some species more substitutable/replaceable than others, and what are the predicted or observed effects on the ecosystem and impact on ecosystem service delivery through these changes? How do we incorporate this knowledge into adaptive management and policy design?

Which biological and ecological components are responding most significantly to environmental change or anthropogenic pressures, and what are the implications of this for functioning and resilience of these systems?

Management tools for decision-making

To what extent do existing models, tools or policies link biological, ecological, socio-economic factors sufficiently, and what critical components are existing ecosystem service decision-support tools missing?

How well are the requirements of decision makers met by currently available tools, and how are these tools being used?

How can decision support tools be scaled to support decision making across scales (including different policies, regulations and standards)?

To what extent can the measured complexity of biodiversity be reduced or simplified and still provide usable, robust and meaningful outcomes for informing management?

What role do biodiversity values play in assessing trade-offs in decision making?

How can we incorporate existing knowledge to predict or better understand future trade-offs (and how they affect economic outcomes), enable better decision making, and avoid unintended consequences?

Expected outcomes

Within this programme, this call will provide critical thinking, data analysis, and evidence to begin addressing these work packages and defining how the programme sits in the current fast developing landscape of biodiversity valuation.

This programme will deliver the following outcomes:

  • a step change in our understanding of the role that biodiversity plays in ecological function of natural capital assets.
  • improved understanding of the full suite of values of biodiversity, which will be standardly incorporated into the valuation of biodiversity within conventional economic analyses and put into practice by decision makers.
  • provide a clear narrative on how the use and when the preservation of the natural systems needs to be balanced to underpin the economy and human health and well-being.
  • provide new evidence and data to support changed practice and improved environmental performance reporting of natural assets in the private sector.
  • development of new decision support tools and management approaches, co-designed by academics and decision makers.

Projects supported in this opportunity are expected to help deliver these outcomes.

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