Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Tools for automating image analysis for biodiversity monitoring

Apply for funding to develop software systems, which will help to improve biodiversity monitoring by automating the analysis of images and videos.

Your application should:

  • outline how the tools proposed for development will improve the monitoring of biodiversity through automated analysis
  • develop robust and verified software tools which can be broadly used across environmental science
  • include research technical professionals such as research software engineers and data scientists

The full economic cost (FEC) of your project can be between £500,000 and £750,000. We will fund 100% of the FEC.

Who can apply

UKRI has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new Funding Service. For full details, visit Eligibility as an individual.

Before applying for funding, check the following:

Who is eligible to apply

This funding opportunity is open to eligible researchers at:

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

We encourage applications from interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary teams and collaborations between UK organisations.

We encourage the inclusion of digital research technical professionals such as research software engineers and data scientists in applications.

Who is not eligible to apply

  • you may be involved in no more than two applications submitted to this funding opportunity. Only one of these can be as project lead
  • project leads and project co-leads based outside the UK are not permitted

You should include any 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.

We encourage successful applicants to foster knowledge exchange and collaborative working between the research technical professionals involved in the delivery of projects.

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

Scope

Biodiversity affects every aspect of life, from the air we breathe to regulating our climate and providing food and freshwater. We rely on it for our health and stability of natural resources like forests, aquatic environments, and grasslands. The health of the environment depends on the diversity of species that interact with it and vice-versa. Biodiversity monitoring is used to determine the stability of ecosystems.

The demand to improve biodiversity assessment is driving a need for more accurate, efficient, and timely data across a wide spectrum of spatial and temporal scales. Tools and technologies for imaging and the management of resulting data flows have huge potential to advance our biodiversity monitoring capabilities. These imaging technologies are enabling the collection of increasing amounts of complex biodiversity data across a broad range of parameters.

Imaging platforms can rapidly collect hundreds of thousands or millions of high-resolution images. However, the resulting large and complex datasets quickly exceed the capabilities of human analysts. There is a clear opportunity to improve use of automated image analysis to interpret a diversity of biodiversity data of increasing scale and complexity.

The aim of this funding opportunity is to support the development of software systems for image analysis in the laboratory, and in the field, to maximise the value of physical imaging technologies.

This investment will support the development of software toolkits, pipelines, and workflows for the automated analysis of images and videos. This could include, for example, automated image annotation and segmentation, high-throughput image analysis, the development and use of training data sets, and of automated pipelines.

Successful projects will develop robust and verified environmental image processing and software tools which can be broadly used across environmental science and can be maintained beyond this initial investment.

What we expect to see in applications

You will need to make the case for the capital investment required to develop tools, software, and learning datasets to address biodiversity challenges. It is not intended that significant investment will be made in new physical imaging technology, for example cameras.

It is not expected that this will primarily be a scientific research activity. The focus of this investment is on the development of software, pipelines, and systems, which can be used and maintained as tools for research. It will require dedicated effort from research technical professionals such as research software engineers and data scientists.

It is anticipated that approaches may learn from developments in other domains such as healthcare and image and vision computing, and that they will incorporate validation and verification methodologies building on environmental expertise.

We note that the work may include citizen science, or other approaches, to develop labelled training datasets, and will need to interface with the NERC Environmental Data Service or other appropriate data infrastructure.

Duration

The duration of this award is 36 months.

Projects must start by 29 February 2024.

Funding available

This is a capital funding opportunity, as such NERC will fund 100% of the full economic cost for equipment only. The full cost of your project can be between £500,000 and £750,000.

A total of £3.6 million funding is available

What we will fund

Costs can include staff time, but such costs must be directly associated to the creation, production, development, and preparation of an asset, so that it is capable of operating as a tool or system for the advancing our understanding of biodiversity and biodiversity loss. For a definition of an asset in the context of this opportunity please refer to the additional information section of this funding opportunity.

Development costs that are directly attributable to bringing the asset into working condition are allowable.

What we will not fund

  • requests for resource, including staffing costs related to operation and maintenance of the tool (after the creation of the asset) and to user training
  • single-user or single-project equipment
  • development of novel technologies which are unlikely to generate a productive tool or asset
  • applications have also been submitted to other award schemes during the same time frame (including all UKRI grant schemes)
  • associated studentships

As this is a capital funding opportunity the following costs are also not permitted:

  • pure research – original and planned investigation undertaken with the prospect of gaining new scientific or technical knowledge and understanding
  • management overheads – unless that is performing technical development or solely purposed on the project
  • incidental costs such as project office support, travel and subsistence, and training
  • costs that only restore or maintain future economic benefit that was expected from the original asset

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.

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.

Research disruption due to COVID-19

We recognise 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 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 that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the capability to deliver 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

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

The project lead is responsible for completing the application process on the UKRI Funding Service, but we expect all team members and project partners to contribute to the application.

Only the lead research organisation can submit an application to UKRI.

To apply:

Select ‘Start application’ near the beginning of this Funding finder page.

  1. Confirm you are the project lead.
  2. Sign in or create a UKRI Funding Service account. To create an account, select your organisation, verify your email address, and set a password. If your organisation is not listed, email support@funding-service.ukri.org
  3. Answer questions directly in the text boxes. You can save your answers and come back to complete them or work offline and return to copy and paste your answers. If we need you to upload a document, follow the upload instructions in the Funding Service. All questions and assessment criteria are listed in the How to apply section on this Funding finder page.
  4. Send the completed application to your research office for checking. They will return it to you if it needs editing.
  5. Your research office will submit the completed and checked application to UKRI.

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

Deadline

We must receive your application by 18 October 2023 at 4.00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Make sure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines.

Personal data

Processing personal data

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.

Publication of outcomes

NERC, as part of UKRI, will publish the outcomes of this funding opportunity on What NERC has funded.

If your application is successful, we will publish some personal information on the UKRI Gateway to Research.

Summary

Word count: 550

In plain English, provide a summary that we can use to identify the most suitable experts to assess your application.

We may make this summary publicly available on external-facing websites, so make it suitable for a variety of readers, for example:

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

Guidance for writing a summary

Clearly describe your proposed work in terms of:

  • context
  • the challenge the project addresses
  • aims and objectives
  • potential applications and benefits

Core team

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 (RcL)
  • specialist
  • grant manager
  • professional enabling staff
  • research and innovation associate
  • technician
  • visiting researcher

Only list one individual as project lead.

Find out more about UKRI’s new grant roles.

Vision and Approach

Create a document that includes your responses to all criteria. The document should not be more than six sides of A4, single line spacing in 11-point Arial (or equivalent sans serif font) with margins of at least 2cm. You may include images, graphs, tables. You can have an additional page for a diagrammatic project plan including milestones and timelines in the form of a Gantt chart or similar

For the file name, use the unique UKRI funding service number the system gives you when you create an application, followed by the words ‘Vision and Approach’.

Save this document as a single PDF file, no bigger than 8MB. Unless specifically requested, please do not include any personal data within the attachment.

If the attachment does not meet these requirements, the application will be rejected.

The UKRI Funding Service will provide document upload details when you apply.

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 fields or areas
  • 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:

  • set out your vision for the new environmental image analysis tools and capabilities that will be developed within your proposed work
  • outline how the tool or asset developed will to address identified user needs and capability gaps in assessing and monitoring biodiversity
  • articulate a clear pathway from the tool you develop to its impact upon biodiversity monitoring
  • demonstrate a demand for the tool being developed from multiple beneficiaries, including significantly beyond the development team
  • include links with industry and government users of the technology if relevant, and in such cases provide evidence that the asset could stimulate innovation or support policymaking, or both

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, and relevance to the project) will contribute to the success of the work

Within the Approach section we also expect you to:

  • outline how you will create or support the development of robust tools for automated image analysis to improve biodiversity monitoring capabilities. This could include software toolkits, pipelines and workflows for image analysis in the laboratory and in the field, to maximise the value of physical imaging technologies.
  • articulate how users of the tool will be engaged in its design and development to ensure it addressed their needs
  • include appropriate validation, verification, and quality assurance to ensure your tools are reliable and trustworthy for use in environmental science.
  • demonstrate clear and effective plans for how the asset will be accessed, utilised, and shared by users across an appropriately broad user base, and how this use and access will be supported within and beyond this initial investment
  • provide a project plan including milestones and timelines in the form of a Gantt chart or similar

Applicant and team capability to deliver

Word count: 1,500

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 a 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 and project co-leads, researchers, technicians, specialists, partners and so on) have and how this will help 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. 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
Additions

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

Complete this as a narrative. Do not format it like a CV.

UKRI has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new UKRI Funding Service.

For full details, see Eligibility as an individual.

Ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Word count: 1,000

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

Demonstrate that you have identified and evaluated:

  • the relevant ethical or responsible research and innovation considerations
  • how you will manage these considerations in particular:
    • preventing environmental harm and enhancing environmental benefit in line with the NERC responsible business statement
    • how the asset will be designed and developed within a sustainability context; it should be appropriately efficient in terms of use of data, compute, and energy
    • promoting an open and inclusive approach to research activities that recognises the benefits of diversity

If you are collecting or using data, identify:

  • any legal and ethical considerations of collecting, releasing or storing the data including consent, confidentiality, anonymisation, security and other ethical considerations and, in particular, strategies to not preclude further reuse of data
  • formal information standards with which your study will comply

Resources and cost justification

Word count: 1,000

What will you need to deliver your proposed work and how much will it cost?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Justify the application’s more costly resources, in particular:

  • staff time, costs must be directly associated to the creation, production, development, and preparation of an asset, so that it is capable of operating as a tool or system for the advancing our understanding of biodiversity and biodiversity loss
  • significant travel for field work or collaboration (but not regular travel between collaborating organisations or to conferences)
  • any equipment that will cost more than £10,000
  • any consumables beyond typical requirements, or that are required in exceptional quantities

Assessors are not looking for detailed costs or a line-by-line breakdown of all project resources. Overall, they want you to demonstrate how the resources you anticipate needing for your proposed work:

  • are comprehensive, appropriate, and justified
  • represent the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes
  • maximise potential outcomes and impacts

References

Word count: 1,000

List the references you have used to support your application.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Include all references in this section, 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 maintain the information’s integrity, include persistent identifiers (such as digital object identifiers) where possible.

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

Project partners

Word count: 1,000

Provide details about any project partners’ contributions.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

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

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.

Facilities

Word count: 250

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

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you will need to use a facility, follow your proposed facility’s normal access request procedures. Ensure you have prior agreement so that if you are offered funding, they will support the use of their facility on your project.

For each requested facility you will need to provide the:

  • name of facility, copied and pasted from the facility information list (DOCX, 35KB)
  • proposed usage or costs, or costs per unit where indicated on the facility information list
  • confirmation you have their agreement where required

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.

If you will not need to use a facility, you will be able to indicate this in the UKRI Funding Service.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

Panel

We will invite experts to assess the quality of your application and rank it alongside other applications after which the panel will make a funding recommendation.

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

Timescale

We aim to complete the assessment process within 6 months of receiving your application.

Feedback

We will give feedback with the outcome of your application.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment (DORA) and recognise 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.

Assessment criteria

The criteria against which your application will be assessed are:

  • Vision
  • Approach
  • Applicant and team capability to deliver
  • Ethics and responsible research and innovation

Find details of assessment questions and criteria under the ‘Application questions’ heading in the How to apply section.

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

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 core team member need to tell us something you wish to remain confidential, email the UKRI Funding Service helpdesk on support@funding-service.ukri.org

Include in the subject line: [the funding opportunity title; sensitive information; your UKRI Funding Service application number].

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • individual 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
  • the application is an invited resubmission

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

Additional info

Data management

It is not expected that data will be produced as an output of this funding opportunity, therefore an outline data management plan is not required.

Reporting requirements

If you are successful in getting funding, you will need to report your research outcomes through a service called Researchfish. This is required annually and continues for up to five years after funding ends. Find out about UKRI reporting requirements

Assets

An asset is usually defined as something that depreciates with time. For the purposes of this funding opportunity, we intend it to mean development of a software toolkit, pipeline, or  workflow for the automated analysis of images and videos. It could include automated image annotation and segmentation, high-throughput image analysis, the development and use of training data sets, and of automated pipelines.

NERC reserves the right to conduct asset verification, which could include site visits to view the asset. NERC also reserves the right to request further relevant details with respect to the assets funded at any point.

To encourage equipment sharing, grant holders of equipment must list their asset on the equipment.data website.

The URL link to the equipment will be requested in the grant reporting.

To encourage best practice, NERC welcomes impact case studies detailing how capital assets have been successfully utilised and shared or used by people outside of the host institute.

NERC also welcomes case studies that demonstrate what actions have been taken to promote sustainable research practices.

NERC must be informed as soon as possible if, during the lifetime of the asset, the need for the asset diminishes substantially or it is not being used for the purpose for which it was funded.

NERC reserves the right to withdraw funding or determine the disposal of equipment and to claim the proceeds of any sale if these requirements are not being met.

Webinar

A webinar will be held on 24 July 2023. A recording of the event will be provided to everyone who registers. The event will include a talk on the intersection of computer vision communities, showcasing the tools and technologies for automated image analysis that have been developed in other domains for example medical imaging and image and vision computing, as well as in the private sector. This will be followed by a question and answer session.

If interested, following registration, you will be asked to provide a short biography to detail relevant experience. You will also have the option to submit examples of images you wish to analyse, with a description of the information you are seeking to extract from them. These will be shared with all attendees to support networking and collaboration building.

Our commitment to the principles of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

Modern slavery is a crime and a violation of fundamental human rights. It takes various forms which deprive a person of their liberty in order to exploit them for personal or commercial gain, such as:

  • slavery
  • servitude
  • human trafficking
  • forced and compulsory labour.

We are committed to the principles of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the abolition of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Supporting documents

Frequently asked questions (PDF, 312KB)

Webinar presentation slides (PDF, 2.6MB)

Updates

  • 28 July 2023
    Two new supporting documents added to the 'Additional info' section: frequently asked questions and webinar presentation slides.

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