Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: NERC large grant outlines: March 2024

Start application

Apply for funding to support innovative, large-scale and complex projects that tackle big science questions and have the potential to produce world-leading research.

You must be:

  • a UK resident
  • employed by an eligible UK research organisation

Your project must be predominantly within NERC’s remit, although we will fund research that crosses over into other research council areas.

Funding of between £1.2 million and £3.7 million (at 100% full economic cost) is available for projects lasting up to five years.

Who can apply

Before applying for funding, check the following:

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

This funding opportunity is open to research groups and individuals.

Your research project must address a significant environmental science question, but we welcome applications from individuals who can demonstrate a capability to collaborate with experts from other disciplines to generate innovative research.

We encourage multidisciplinary research and collaborations with other UK organisations.

We welcome applications from individuals at any career stage, subject to the UKRI eligibility criteria.

You may be involved in no more than two applications submitted to this funding opportunity. Only one of these can be as a project lead.

International applicants

We do not fund overseas organisations, except for specific costs for project co-leads (previously co-investigator) from Norway and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). Read more about this in the NERC eligibility guidance for applicants.

You should include all other 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.

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

Large research projects must tackle big science questions. To achieve this, they will often involve multidisciplinary approaches. We expect your application to show several interdependent components (also called work packages) interacting in a single overall structure.

You can submit an application in any area of environmental science, provided it is predominantly within a research area or subject associated with our remit.

Applications can support pure, applied, technology-led or policy-driven research but must still address (or provide the means to address) clearly-defined scientific questions.

This is an outline stage and the information may change at the full opportunity stage. The full funding opportunity will open in July 2024 for invited applicants only.

UKRI is seeking to support researchers and innovators to develop and make use of novel technologies including AI, engineering biology, future telecoms, semiconductors and quantum technologies throughout its investment portfolio.

In developing your application, you may wish to consider how the use of contemporary technologies might offer opportunities to address your research questions in new and novel ways.

Duration

The duration of this award is a maximum of five years.

Projects must start by 1 June 2025.

Funding available

The full economic cost (FEC) of your project can be up to £3.7 million.

We will fund 80% of the FEC with the following exceptions:

  • justified equipment would be funded at 100%
  • eligible costs for international project co-lead (previously co-investigator) involvement would be funded at 100%
  • studentship stipend and fees would be funded at 100%

The total cost includes any associated studentships and facility costs (for example, ship time, and aircraft time).

You should submit ship-time or marine equipment (SME) and autonomous deployments (ADF) forms at least two months before the opportunity deadline to allow time for assessment and approval by Marine Planning and the production of costs to include in the application. SME/ADF forms are required at both the outline and the full application stage as costs are required for both stages of the submission process.

In your outline application you must include an indication of the likely cost of the project (at 100% FEC) by selecting one cost range:

  • up to £3 million
  • £3 million to £3.7 million

No further information on costs will be submitted at the time of application. Most applications are expected to be under £3.7 million. We recognise that a small number of projects have exceptional costs that require the budget to exceed the £3.7 million limit. As costs will be indicative only you do not need to request permission in advance to exceed the limit.

What we will fund

We will fund 80% of the full economic cost for UK organisations covering the following:

  • directly incurred costs such as staff payroll, travel and subsistence, and consumables
  • directly allocated costs such as investigators’ salaries, estates costs and shared resources
  • indirect costs such as research organisation administration

UK equipment is funded at 100% full economic cost.

Associated studentships based at the UK organisation can be requested through this funding opportunity. We will fund studentship stipends and fees at 100% direct costs and other related costs at 80%.

Eligible project co-lead (international) costs (under the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis or the Norway cooperation agreement) are funded at:

  • 100% for eligible direct costs
  • a maximum of 30% of the full economic cost value for all international costs

For eligible project co-leads (international), we will fund:

  • co-lead salaries
  • directly incurred (DI) costs (for example, travel and subsistence, consumables)
  • research and innovation associates

For eligible international project co-leads only, we will not fund:

  • estates and other indirect costs
  • capital or equipment (items over £10,000)

Associated studentships

The following is not applicable to the outline application stage of your Large Grants application but will be required for invited full applications.

Associated studentships based at the UK organisation can be requested through this funding opportunity. You should review the associated studentships guidance in the Research Grants and Fellowships handbook in advance of preparing your application.

Services and facilities

You can apply to use a facility or resource in your funding application.

You should discuss your application with the facility or service at least two months before the opportunity’s closing date to:

  • discuss the proposed work in detail
  • receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the funding

The facility will provide a technical assessment that includes the calculated cost of providing the service. Our services and facilities must be costed within the limits of the funding.

You should not submit the technical assessment with the application, but you must confirm you have received it.

For more information, go to the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

Read the full list of NERC facilities that require a technical assessment.

High performance computing (HPC), ship-time or marine equipment (SME) and the large research facilities at Harwell have their own policies for access and costing.

Ship-time and marine facilities

Applications may require ship time and other marine facilities. If you wish to use NERC’s marine facilities, you must complete an online ‘ship-time and marine equipment (SME) or autonomous deployment (ADF) application form’ available from Marine Facilities Planning. Include the SME or ADF number on the ‘facilities’ section of your application.

SMEs and ADFs must be submitted to, and approved by, NERC Marine Planning by the time your funding application is submitted. A PDF of the SME or ADF can be attached as a facility form to your application. If you do not do this, your request may not be included in the NERC marine facilities programme.

If you intend to apply for NERC’s marine facilities, you should contact marineplanning@nerc.ukri.org to discuss ship time and equipment needs as soon as possible and by 8 January 2024.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Antarctic logistics support

Applicants requiring NERC BAS Antarctic logistics support must complete a pre-award operational support planning questionnaire (OSPQ) online.

You must email the Antarctic Access Office (AAO) at BAS (email: afibas@bas.ac.uk) stating your name, institution and project title.

The AAO will set up a new and numbered pre-award OSPQ and send the link to the applicant along with instructions for completion.

The deadline for pre-award OSPQs to be submitted is 7 March 2024. Any funding applications that request Antarctic logistic support without having received prior logistic approval will not be awarded.

You should also be aware of the NERC update on polar research planning.

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.

International collaboration

We have agreements with other funders:

This can make it easier for UK researchers to collaborate with research partners around the world by removing the risk that a proposed project will receive funding in one country but not in another.

If your application includes international applicants, project partners or collaborators, visit UKRI’s trusted research and innovation for more information on effective international collaboration.

Find out about getting funding for international collaboration.

If you wish to work with US-based researchers (NSF) then you will need to submit an online expression of interest form. The deadline for submitting the form is 7 February 2024.

If you wish to work with researchers based in Sao Paulo (FAPESP) then you will need to check their eligibility with FAPESP. However, you do not need to submit your application to FAPESP SAGe system at the outline stage.

Any queries on utilising any of these international collaboration agreements should be directed to leadagency@nerc.ukri.org

Data management

You must adhere to the UKRI open research policy and NERC data policy.

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

We will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for archival and curation services, but you should ensure that you request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team. Additional services from the data centres, such as database development or a specialist in project data management during your project, will need to be discussed with the relevant data centre prior to submission, costs for additional services will need to be funded from the grant.

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

This funding opportunity takes part in two stages:

  • submission of an outline application
  • invited submission of a full application, if successful at outline stage

We are running this funding opportunity on the new UK Research and Innovation (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 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.

Watch our recording on how to apply for an opportunity in the Funding Service.

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 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 Please allow at least 10 working days for your organisation to be added to the Funding Service.
  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. Allow enough time to check your application in ‘read-only’ view before sending to your research office.
  5. Send the completed application to your research office for checking. They will return it to you if it needs editing.
  6. Your research office will submit the completed and checked application to us.

Where indicated, you can also demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. You should:

  • use images sparingly and only to convey important information that cannot easily be put into words
  • insert each new image onto a new line
  • provide a descriptive legend for each image immediately underneath it (this counts towards your word limit)
  • ensure that files are smaller than 8MB and in JPEG, JPG, JPE, JFI, JIF, JFIF, PNG, GIF, BMP or WEBP format

Watch our research office webinars about the new Funding Service.

For more guidance on the Funding Service, see:

Deadline

A mandatory outline application is required and successful applications at the outline stage will be invited to submit a full application. We will publish the full guidance on completing a full application and assessment criteria for stage two in July 2024.

We must receive your outline application by 7 March 2024 at 4.00pm UK time. You will not be able to apply after this time and we will not return applications for amendment. Make sure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines.

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

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
  • doctoral student
  • research and innovation associate
  • technician
  • visiting researcher

Only list one individual as project lead. The project lead should start the application and submit it through their research organisation to us.

The PcL (I) role should only be used for applications making use of the UKRI-RCN Money Follows Cooperation agreement or the UKRI-IIASA agreement. We do not otherwise accept project co-lead (international) applicants.

Find out more about UKRI’s new grant roles.

Application questions

Vision

Word count: 500

What are you hoping to achieve with your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Explain how your proposed work:

  • is of excellent quality and importance within or beyond the field(s) or area(s)
  • has the potential to advance current understanding, or generate 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:

  • identify the potential direct or indirect benefits and who the beneficiaries might be
  • explain why a large-scale project is more effective and appropriate than several smaller projects to achieve your objectives

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the Funding Service.

Approach

Word count: 500

How are you going to deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Explain how you have designed your approach 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
  • uses a clearly written and transparent methodology (if applicable)
  • summarises the previous work and describes how this will be built upon and progressed (if applicable)
  • 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:

  • demonstrate access to the appropriate services, facilities, infrastructure, or equipment to deliver the proposed work

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the service.

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

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the service.

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 Funding Service.

For full details, see Eligibility as an individual.

Ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Word count: 500

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:

Environmental sustainability is a broad term but may include consideration of such broad areas as:

  • reducing carbon emissions
  • protecting and enhancing the natural environment and biodiversity
  • waste or pollution elimination
  • resource efficiency and a circular economy

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

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the Funding Service.

Project partners

Provide details about any project partners’ contributions.

Add details about any project partners’ contributions. If there are no project partners, you can indicate this on the Funding Service.

A project partner is a collaborating organisation who will have an integral role in the proposed research. This may include direct (cash) or indirect (in-kind) contributions such as expertise, staff time or use of facilities.

Add the following project partner details:

  • organisation name and address (searchable via a drop-down list or enter the organisation’s details manually, as applicable)
  • project partner contact name and email address
  • type of contribution (direct or in-direct) and its monetary value

If a detail is entered incorrectly and you have saved the entry, remove the specific project partner record and re-add it with the correct information.

For audit purposes, UKRI requires formal collaboration agreements to be put in place if an award is made.

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, 37KB)
  • 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, 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 Funding Service.

Upload guidance

Upload a single PDF containing facility forms ensuring it is no larger than 8MB, if applicable.

For the file name, use the Funding Service number the system gives to your application when you create an application, immediately followed by the words ‘facility forms’. Then use the ‘upload’ button.

Unless specifically requested, do not include any personal data within the attachment.

Once you have uploaded, mark this section as complete and move to the next one.

NERC international partnership joint funding

Word count: 10

Are you submitting your application under a NERC international partnership joint funding agreement?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If not, enter ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move on to the next section.

If your application is in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US, São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) in Brazil or Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR) in Luxembourg, please provide the name of which agreement you are submitting under in the textbox.

You should include further detail of the team, the collaboration and the added value to the project in the appropriate sections of the application, not here.

Any involvement of international project co-leads from IIASA or Norway should be included in core team, applicant and team capability to deliver and any other relevant sections and are not applicable to this question.

Resources

Word count: 10

Select which cost band your application aligns to.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

In the text box enter the relevant cost band corresponding to the total project cost your application aligns to, from this list:

  • up to £3 million
  • £3 million to £3.7 million

The total cost of your project should be a single band figure, not a breakdown. Please share one cost band from the two options. If your application is successful, we will ask you to submit a full breakdown of costs as part of the next stage.

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.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

Outline applications

A panel of experts from the Peer Review College will assess all outline applications. We may also bring in independent experts, as needed.

We usually approve around eight applications at the outline stage.

Timescale

We will email you to let you know if your outline application has been successful and invite you to submit a full application. We’ll do this at least four months before the full application closing date.

Feedback

We will give feedback with the outcomes of your application.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment 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

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

If you have a question and the answers aren’t provided on this page

Important note: The Helpdesk is committed to helping users of the UKRI Funding Service as effectively and as quickly as possible. In order to manage cases at peak volume times, the Helpdesk will triage and prioritise those queries with an imminent opportunity deadline or a technical issue. Enquiries raised where information is available on the Funding Finder opportunity page and should be understood early in the application process (for example, regarding eligibility or content/remit of an opportunity) will not constitute a priority case and will be addressed as soon as possible.

Contact details

For help and advice on costings and writing your application, contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

For questions related to this specific funding opportunity, contact largegrants@nerc.ukri.org

Any queries regarding the system or the submission of applications through the Funding Service should be directed to the helpdesk.

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

To help us process queries quicker, we request that users highlight the council and opportunity name in the subject title of their email query, include the application reference number, and refrain from contacting more than one mailbox at a time.

Find out more information on submitting an application.

Sensitive information

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

Include in the subject line: NERC large grant Outlines: Mar 2024; sensitive information; your 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

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

Additional info

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.

Updates

  • 3 January 2024
    In the 'what we're looking for' section under 'scope', have changed 'In developing your application, you should consider...' to 'In developing your application, you may wish to consider...'
  • 6 December 2023
    Pre-Award OSPQ deadline updated to 7 March 2024 under 'What we're looking for'

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