NERC Future Leaders Council


Terms of reference


The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is committed to creating and sustaining a positive, fair and inclusive environment for both our employees and the environmental science research community.

NERC Council is the most senior committee within NERC and is responsible both for advising the NERC Executive Chair and making decisions, as delegated to it, by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Board, on scientific, research and innovation matters.

NERC Council members represent the breadth of environmental research and innovation across higher education, industry and commerce, policy or civil society, reflecting different characteristics and professional backgrounds.

The NERC Future Leaders Council was established to broaden the pool of talent we have in our governance system and provide independent advice and challenge to NERC council, while also offering the opportunity for future leaders to gain governance experience.

Our aim over time is to ensure NERC becomes more representative of the communities we serve alongside ensuring we benefit from constructive challenge from a wider range of perspectives.

The Future Leaders Council is a sub-committee of NERC Council. The NERC Executive Chair on behalf of NERC Council has delegated authority to the NERC Future Leaders Council to perform the role set out below under ‘Purpose’. It will operate in a complementary way to the NERC Science Committee.

Future Leaders Council members will be recruited from a wide sphere of lived experiences, whether that is from an early career researcher perspective, from business including small and medium sized enterprises, from groups representing wider society or from other disciplines with a cross over to environmental science.

We also seek to target individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, with unconventional career trajectories and from underrepresented groups in the environmental science sector.

Recruitment will be targeted to ensure balance within the group where individual members bring different contributions and perspectives to the group. Members of the Future Leaders Council will not have previously sat on senior boards.

NERC will proactively provide support and guidance to members of the Future Leaders Council that we do not routinely provide to other governance structures, for instance will offer mentoring, opportunities to actively engage with NERC Council and other development opportunities. We will learn and adapt how we work with the Future Leaders Council.


The NERC Future Leaders Council will provide a diverse group of people with a development opportunity and experience to enable them to become future NERC Council or committee members or join boards of other organisations.

It will allow individuals from a range of backgrounds and at different career stages to gain first-hand experience of the workings and dynamics of a senior board.

It will not duplicate the responsibilities of other NERC committees or groups including decisions made by NERC Council and will be forward looking.

The purpose of the Future Leaders Council may evolve over time. Any proposed changes will be agreed by NERC Council.

Membership and Ways of Working


The Future Leaders Council Chair and members will be recruited through an open and transparent recruitment process as individuals with expertise.

This may come from lived experience or through professional knowledge established through engagement with communities of interest or a relevant subject matter.

The board chair is invited to NERC Council in their capacity as chair of the Future Leaders Council.

Members will ordinarily be appointed for a period of two years with an option to extend for one year (on the agreement of both NERC and the member).

For the initial recruitment we will appoint half the members for two  years and half for three years to stagger turnover of initial membership and ensure continuity.

There will be a comprehensive induction for members including access to development opportunities. Evaluation of these activities will be used to inform effectiveness of the council as a development pathway.

There will be an annual effectiveness review of the Future Leaders Council by the NERC Governance, Assurance and Performance  team.

The review will include feedback between NERC Council and the Future Leaders Council to assess effectiveness and impact of the governance arrangement.


The main responsibilities of the Future Leaders Council are:

  • reviewing and advising on specific papers that go to NERC Council to bring in more perspectives (shared with NERC Council though a tabled paper and meeting attendance by the Future Leaders Council chair who will also share feedback from Council to the Future Leaders Council)
  • providing a body for consultation related to the development or clarification of policy, where NERC Council has agreed or required a consultation

Specific responsibilities delegated by Council include:

    • oversight of the development and implementation of the NERC net zero pathway
    • advice on the implementation of the NERC digital strategy and use of digital approaches across NERC’s portfolio.
    • funding governance of the sustainability themed funding line of £1.5 million under the strategic research and innovation budget, including spend for diversity and inclusion enrichment activity – the Future Leaders Council will make recommendations on programme spend to the NERC Executive
    • provide challenge and oversight of plans for delivery against the current NERC Public Engagement strategy and development of future public engagement strategies
    • acting as NERC advocates within their community and beyond and sharing with NERC perceptions and insight from the community
    • facilitating communication and sharing information between meetings and in relation to meetings
    • preparing an annual report to NERC Council summarising their activities retrospectively, and potential topics for future meetings
    • providing feedback to NERC on the effectiveness of the Future Leaders Council as a development pathway
    • all members should uphold the seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership

Discussion and advice by the Future Leaders Council will be added to NERC Council papers ahead of the NERC Council meeting where practical. Otherwise, comments from the Future Leaders Council will be raised at NERC Council by the Future Leaders Council Chair.

Commensurate with its purpose, the Future Leaders Council meeting will be forward-looking and primary function to support NERC Council.

Meetings and attendance

The NERC Future Leaders Council will consist of up to a maximum of eight members who are independent of the NERC Council or any other senior NERC committee.

The NERC Future Leaders Council will meet twice a year (some virtually and some face to face).

It is expected that, including meetings, preparation time and invitations to participate in other NERC activities on an ad hoc basis, members should allow around 10 days per year of their time to fulfil this commitment.

The chair of the NERC Future Leaders Council will attend NERC Council meetings to provide input on behalf of the Future Leaders Council.

Future Leaders Council members will be invited to attend the NERC annual Council retreat.

The NERC Future Leaders Council can escalate concerns where they arise with the NERC Council Senior Independent Member.

Reporting structure

The Future Leaders Council will formally report to the NERC Council through the Future Leaders Council annual report and NERC Council will provide feedback of the Future Leaders Council as part of the annual effectiveness review.


The quorum for a council meeting is at least half the number of its members. Five members can be deemed to be in attendance via live tele or video conferencing to enhance accessibility.

Council secretariat

The council will be serviced by a secretariat from NERC including production of the NERC Future Leaders Council meeting summary for NERC Council.

Meeting papers will be circulated at least five days in advance of the meeting.

Terms of reference review

This document will be reviewed at least every two years by the members of the Future Leaders Council and significant changes to the council’s remit agreed with NERC Council and documented.

Last updated: 15 June 2023

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