Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Innovation in environmental monitoring

This programme is designed to fund projects demonstrating innovative approaches to environmental monitoring at a sensor or systems-based level. It aims to connect industry and the growing UK environmental monitoring sector, ensuring that the public and private sectors work in partnership to develop new sensing capabilities.

Total budget is £12 million: £5 million from NERC, £1 million from Innovate UK, £6 million from Defra
The programme runs from 2024 to 2027, with two parts: the NERC-led element was announced in August 2023 with projects commencing in March 2024, the Innovate UK-led element will be announced in winter 2023
Partners involved:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC, lead), Innovate UK, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

The scope and what we're doing

The programme will accelerate the development of sensors and sensing systems for environmental monitoring.

Research and innovation projects will be funded to develop enhanced monitoring capabilities in areas of joint strategic interest for UKRI and Defra across all areas of the data lifecycle, from data collection and processing through to analysis and visualisation.

This integrated programme spans multiple maturity levels of technology through sensor development and testing, to allow robust and effective deployment of sensing systems in the real world to address environmental challenges.

The sensing systems and capabilities will be of use to those responsible for environmental management, such as governments, industry, non-governmental organisations or researchers.

The sensors and systems may be helpful by, for example:

  • increasing the range of variables monitored
  • improving the quality of datasets
  • optimising how sensors and systems are used together
  • developing lower cost sensors for use in a variety of environmental conditions

We will encourage consortia to work closely with delivery bodies, existing monitoring networks or businesses, in order to demonstrate the value of their product.

The programme will:

  • support the development of new sensing systems and monitoring capabilities that will either improve existing approaches or introduce new ones, including improving the sustainability and connectivity of data collection, analysis and reporting
  • support the testing of these products (including checking the data against direct observations, using existing monitoring regimes) and verify their accuracy and reliability, thus improving their chances of successful deployment at scale in the public and private sectors
  • deliver new and strengthened partnerships and collaborations between the public sector, academia and private sector, helping to connect across disciplines, and stimulate innovative approaches
  • develop an understanding of the capabilities and principles required for the effective development and real-world deployment of environmental monitoring systems for broader impact and use

The programme will focus on four terrestrial monitoring challenge areas:

  • biodiversity and natural capital
  • soil health (including measuring soil carbon sequestration)
  • freshwater or estuarine water quality
  • monitoring greenhouse gas emissions

Why we're doing it

Monitoring networks are integral to environmental research and to effective environmental management, as they ensure compliance with increasingly ambitious laws and regulations.

The growing ambition to finance natural capital also creates a clear market opportunity for innovations in sensing technologies. They offer the potential to further improve our understanding of the environment, including what we can measure, how often, and where.

As data flows steadily increase in size and distributed networks increase in complexity, there is also a need to complement the development and deployment of sensors with systems-based approaches to maximise value from the data that is generated.

These twin approaches have the potential to:

  • improve operational efficiency
  • reduce carbon emissions
  • optimise the management of data flows
  • minimise computing requirements
  • support the agile deployment of mobile sensing systems and capabilities

Opportunities, support and resources available

Funding opportunities

The Innovation in environmental monitoring programme will take effect in two main parts:

UKRI and Defra intend to bring together the grant holders from both funding opportunities to develop a broad UK community in innovative environmental sensing and monitoring.

Programme resources

Who to contact

Emma Morgan, Senior Programme Manager


Include ‘IEM’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within three working days.

Last updated: 9 January 2024

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