NERC invests £40 million in a green future for the UK

Marshes at Thornham, Norfolk

Scientists will begin work on four studies that will tackle key challenges facing the UK as it adapts to climate change and moves to net zero emissions.

Led by the universities of Cambridge, Exeter, Glasgow and Oxford, each team will work to develop solutions to four issues:

  • biodiversity loss
  • achieving net zero cities
  • helping rural communities adapt to climate change
  • providing timely data, analysis and evidence for policy decisions.

The four programmes have each received £10 million from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to bring together teams drawing on expertise from a range of disciplines.

These include:

  • economics
  • environmental science
  • engineering
  • social science
  • natural sciences.

Helping Glasgow reach net zero

The Glasgow living lab programme, GALLANT, will help Glasgow move towards climate resilience whilst tackling health, social and economic inequalities.

It will focus on:

  • capturing greenhouse gases in formerly derelict land
  • improving biodiversity
  • valuing riverbanks as community spaces
  • promoting active travel
  • creating energy solutions.

Almost 50 new jobs will be created in Glasgow.

A green, inclusive economy

Lead research Professor Jaime L Toney, director of the Centre for Sustainable Solutions, University of Glasgow, said:

Using Glasgow as a living lab is an exciting opportunity to collaborate with communities and stakeholders across the city to deliver tangible environmental solutions that also improve public health, wellbeing, and move us toward a green, inclusive economy.

Environmental and ecological threats

Researchers from University of Cambridge will tackle environmental threats to nearly half the UK’s home-grown vegetables and more than a quarter of its rare and endangered wild animals.

It is part of a major countryside regeneration project to safeguard the country’s most important agricultural land and beloved rural idylls.

Farming in the Fens, pine martens in the Cairngorms, and disappearing woodlands in the Lake District will all benefit from a £10 million grant to work with:

  • farmers
  • landowners
  • conservation groups
  • local communities.

They will address ecological threats such as:

  • extinction
  • flooding
  • drought
  • pollution.

Regenerating landscapes

Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said:

The interlinked extinction and climate crises pose a major threat to our future.

Harnessing the full-breadth of expertise across Cambridge, this project will develop evidence-informed solutions and provide tools for government and stakeholders to regenerate landscapes for the benefit of climate, nature, the economy and society.

Achieving UK commitments

The University of Oxford’s AGILE project will undertake rapid six-month sprint studies to better input scientific expertise and data into the government’s environmental policymaking.

These studies will include:

  • scaling up nature-based solutions across the UK
  • decarbonising shipping, which is responsible for 2.5 % of greenhouse gas emissions
  • carbon capture and storage
  • tackling biodiversity loss.

The project will take lessons learned from the work to create the Oxford Astra Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Rapid, measurable impact

Professor Nathalie Seddon, professor of biodiversity and director of Oxford’s Nature-based Solutions Initiative, says:

The AGILE initiative intends to change how research and evidence are embedded in environmental policy.

The first five sprint projects and their teams are already established, and these will be the focus of our first year.

But this is a five-year project with the mandate and the funding to keep pinpointing and working on those areas of environmental policy where rapid scientific insight can have rapid and measurable impact.

Improving biodiversity

Researchers at the University of Exeter with the National Trust will investigate and tackle biodiversity loss in the UK through partnerships and community action.

The ‘renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach’ (RENEW) project will work with landowners, businesses, and communities to restore woodlands, wetlands, and farmland across:

  • England
  • Northern Ireland
  • Scotland
  •  Wales.

The project will put people at the centre of action on biodiversity renewal and build expertise across different sectors and communities.

Creating sustainable solutions

Project lead, Professor Kevin Gaston at the University of Exeter said:

Currently, the UK is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, with 40% of monitored species having declined in abundance in recent decades.

We rely on the biodiversity of the planet’s ecosystem to provide oxygen, pollination of plants, food and much more, making this a crucial time to act.

We will bring together wide-ranging research and partnership expertise with environmental and community intelligence to create the sustainable solutions required.

Investing in world-leading science

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of NERC, said:

As COP26 has shown, it’s imperative that we invest in world-leading science to find solutions now to climate change and recovery of our natural environment.

This investment by NERC will enable an ambitious step change in how the best science from across different disciplines can come together to address major environmental challenges facing the UK and support the transition to a net zero and nature-positive future.

Further information

Project summaries

Delivering a climate resilient city through city-university partnership: Glasgow as a living lab accelerating novel transformation (GALLANT)

Led by the University of Glasgow, in partnership with Glasgow City Council.

GALLANT’s vision is to develop whole-systems solutions for a just and sustainable transition delivered at the city scale.

Cities are increasingly seen as drivers of a carbon neutral future.

Through shared policy and knowledge exchange it is possible for successful action in one city to be adopted by others, creating scalable and rapid change.

GALLANT seeks to work with local partners and communities to transform the city into a thriving place for people and nature.

Partners:

  • C40 Cities
  • Korn Ferry
  • Deloitte MCS Limited
  • UN Economic Commission Europe
  • The Alan Turing Institute
  • Bike for Good
  • British Geological Survey
  • Cycling Scotland
  • Environment Agency
  • ERS Remediation
  • Glasgow Natural History Society
  • Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery
  • ITM Mechanical Solutions
  • NatureScot
  • Paths for All
  • Public Health Scotland
  • Ramboll UK
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency
  • SLR Consulting Limited
  • Star Refrigeration Ltd
  • Sustrans
  • Zero Waste Scotland
  • CSIRO
  • Seven Lochs Wetland Park
  • Clyde Mission
  • Glasgow Life.

Landscape regeneration solutions to the interlinked extinction and climate crises that support sustainable development

Led by the University of Cambridge.

Nature-based solutions (NbS) can contribute significantly to achieving net zero emissions.

UCam-Regen will apply a whole systems approach to deliver knowledge and tools necessary to regenerate UK landscapes using NbS approaches.

At the heart of the project is a recognition that local communities must be engaged with decisions regarding their landscape’s future and co-produce solutions.

Solutions informed by scientific assessments of the optimal landscape management approaches to maximise the delivery of ecosystem services.

Key partners in this programme include researchers from:

  • Cambridge Conservation Initiative
  • Cambridge Zero
  • Endangered Landscape Programme, a philanthropic venture that funds landscape-scale restoration activities across Europe.

AGILE: providing rapid evidence-based solutions to the needs of environmental policymakers

Led by the University of Oxford.

AGILE will build capacity within the University of Oxford to rapidly bring together inter-disciplinary research, and identify evidence-based solutions to major social and environmental challenges.

AGILE is composed of three overarching goals:

  • deliver a collection of sprint projects
  • create a critical mass of insights driven research (IDR) researchers
  • drive forward a culture shift in the way universities evaluate IDR.

Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach (RENEW)

Led by the University of Exeter and the National Trust.

The RENEW programme will develop solutions to the renewal of biodiversity.

The team will reshape understanding and action on biodiversity renewal across scales, creating knowledge at the cutting edge of global debates and policy development, and influencing:

  • national institutions
  • communities
  • individuals.

RENEW will focus on a set of challenges:

  • how popular support for biodiversity renewal can be harnessed
  • how populations that are disengaged, disadvantaged, or disconnected from nature can benefit from inclusion in solutions development
  • how renewal activities can be designed and delivered by diverse sets of land-managers and interest groups
  • how biodiversity renewal can most effectively be embedded in finance and business activities.

Top image:  Credit: whitemay, Getty Images

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