Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Research solutions for UK treescape expansion and resilience

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Apply for funding to investigate how we can improve the expansion and resilience of UK treescapes at different scales.

‘Treescapes’ are landscapes in which trees are an important element, for example woodland, parks or hedgerows.

You must be based at a UK organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.

Your project must:

  • aim to provide ‘real world’ evidence to find solutions for treescape challenges
  • include disciplines from at least two of the three funding research councils
  • work with at least one stakeholder group or relevant non-academic organisation.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £625,000. We will usually fund 80% of the full economic cost.

We will fund your project for up to two years, which must start by 1 August 2022.

Who can apply

Normal NERC individual eligibility rules apply. See section C of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

Investigators may be involved in no more than two proposals submitted to this opportunity and only one of these may be as the principal investigator.

Principal investigators can be from any discipline supported by NERC, AHRC or ESRC.

UKRI research grants for all schemes may be held at:

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

Check if your organisation is eligible for research and innovation funding.

The proposal must:

  • take an interdisciplinary approach that crosses into at least two of the funding research council remits. Proposals where collaboration is limited to researchers within the remit of a single research council are out of scope and will be rejected
  • engage with at least one stakeholder group or relevant non-academic organisation.

The organisations you engage with could be, for example:

  • government departments
  • non-governmental organisations
  • charities
  • local authorities
  • membership groups
  • community groups
  • industry or business organisations
  • land owning businesses or land owner representatives.

A ‘collaborator finder’ tool is available to help researchers and stakeholders interested in developing a proposal and to find and contact potential partners.

Find a collaborator.

Applicants do not have to be in receipt of funding from the first UK Treescapes programme funding opportunity or have attended the webinar organised by the programme ambassadors to be eligible for this opportunity.

Unsuccessful project teams from the first opportunity may submit to this funding opportunity if:

  • their ideas are substantively revised
  • they can demonstrate a close fit and delivery to this second opportunity’s priorities and focus
  • they reflect the scope of the budget available.

What we're looking for

NERC, AHRC and ESRC are inviting proposals to the second funding opportunity for research projects under the Future of UK Treescapes programme.

The Future of UK Treescapes is an interdisciplinary research programme designed to improve environmental, socio-economic and cultural understandings of the functions and services provided by UK treescapes. This is in order to inform future decisions on treescape expansion, management and resilience for the benefit of the environment and society.

In the first Future of UK Treescapes funding opportunity, a portfolio of large scale, interdisciplinary projects have been funded to:

  • investigate the adaptability and resilience of different types and configurations of treescapes
  • explore the social and cultural values that people attach to trees and woodland.

Explore projects funded by the programme.

In this second funding opportunity, applications are invited for projects that address gaps and research priorities not covered by this first set of funded projects.

Gaps include, but are not limited to:

  • landscape-scale effects of treescape expansion
  • the barriers to, and challenges of, treescape expansion on farmland
  • the ecological impacts of treescape expansion
  • economic and financial aspects of expansion, including the potential for new or
  • expanded wood-based industries and tree nurseries.

In particular, we encourage projects that take a solutions-focused approach to addressing the ‘real world’ evidence needs of a diverse community of policymakers, stakeholders and practitioners associated with treescape expansion and resilience at different scales.

Priority areas for this opportunity

Proposals must address at least one of the overall programme themes:

  • forms, functions and values of UK treescapes
  • opportunities, barriers and pathways to expansion of UK treescapes
  • resilience of UK treescapes to global change.

See ‘additional information’ for details on overall programme themes.

Within this context, proposals should also focus on one or more of the following priorities for this opportunity:

  • investigating the challenges and benefits of delivering treescape expansion at a landscape scale
  • exploring, testing and designing innovative ways to future-proof the UK’s treescapes
  • developing frameworks for decision making about treescape establishment and management.

Priority one: investigating the challenges and benefits of delivering treescape expansion at a landscape scale

The UK government plans to plant up to 30,000 hectares of trees per year for 25 years as part of its commitment to achieving net zero by 2050. Such large-scale planting, subject to variations in strategy and approach between the devolved governments, will lead to changes in our treescapes at a landscape scale, some of which may prove to be controversial and contested.

We are, therefore, inviting projects that investigate:

  • the landscape-level effects (for example environmental, social, cultural) of treescape expansion
  • the extent to which positive and negative impacts, and unintended trade-offs, might arise.

This could include considering how the design, siting and management of future forests can best be integrated at a landscape scale to achieve the best outcomes for:

  • climate mitigation
  • biodiversity protection
  • tree health
  • nature recovery
  • timber production and other economic activity
  • human health and wellbeing.

Pathways to treescape expansion are likely to include planting trees on farmland (woodland, hedgerows, agroforestry) and in other areas. This is likely to take the form of:

  • commercial plantations
  • woodland delivering multiple private and public benefits
  • small woods on farms
  • tree planting outside existing woodlands.

We are interested in projects that address:

  • how tree planting on farmland (and identifying what farmland is appropriate – or not – for tree planting), and other areas, can best be incentivised through a combination of grant aid and market-based measures
  • what the barriers to achieving this integrated approach might be.

Priority two: exploring, testing and designing innovative ways to future-proof the UK’s treescapes

Existing and future treescapes are threatened by various risks, including:

  • the impacts of climate change (for example, drought, fire)
  • increased pest and disease outbreaks
  • competition from other land uses.

All of these risks will impact on the delivery of ecosystem, biodiversity and society benefits and the ability of new woodland and forests to store carbon over the long-term.

Any expansion of treescapes needs to consider both short-term disturbances and long-term stresses to ensure the treescapes of the future are resilient and have the adaptive capacity to respond to these.

We invite proposals that explore:

  • how these, and other, threats are likely to manifest themselves over time and across different settings
  • how they might be addressed through better planting combinations, natural regeneration, forest design, new technologies and long-term management.

Applicants might take a holistic approach to identifying the impact of multiple threats across different temporal scales, particularly over decadal time spans or they might focus on specific risks or threats and how to manage them.

We are also interested in work which investigates:

  • how these risks are currently perceived, managed and adjusted for by current treescape owners and managers
  • what needs to be done to improve awareness and communication around these threats for the future, amongst practitioners and across the stakeholder landscape.

This might involve integrating local knowledge or historical perspectives into the design of approaches to future-proofing.

Alongside managing threats to treescape resilience, we are also interested in projects that seek to address economic, financial and supply chain constraints and opportunities for long term treescape expansion in the UK.

This might include assessments of:

  • the design and delivery of grant aid schemes
  • the viability of market-based approaches to incentivise treescape expansion
  • innovations and new technology for:
    • reducing carbon loss from treescapes
    • ensuring biosecure and resilient planting stock, including through choices on species, provenance, sourcing and breeding.

Priority three: developing frameworks for decision making about treescape establishment and management

Delivering treescape expansion and tree resilience in a wide range of settings, at varying scales, and with a diverse set of actors, will require careful planning and effective coordination.

While decision support tools for forest design and siting already exist, there is a gap in understanding of how these might best be deployed at landscape scales.

Under this priority, we invite proposals to develop and field-test frameworks, methodologies and tools that can be applied by treescape managers of different types (for example, policymakers, planners, landowners, foresters and community groups) to produce planting schemes that work for climate and nature at the level of whole landscapes.

Examples of such tools include, but are not limited to:

  • modelling the impacts and inherent trade-offs (environmental, socio-economic, cultural and carbon sequestration potential) of different pathways to treescape expansion
  • developing approaches or understandings that integrate the needs, held values, visions and preferences of a wide range of stakeholders, including policy, land owners, commercial forestry, communities and social groups.

Alongside decision support tools, appropriate evaluation frameworks (for example indicators, methodologies) to monitor and assess the contribution of treescapes expansion in meeting net zero and biodiversity targets are also needed.

Evaluation frameworks should also include analysis of the interventions needed across government, civil society and land ownership to achieve treescape expansion and to improve the resilience of future treescapes.

Proposal requirements

Each proposal must address both:

  • one or more of the programme’s research themes
  • one or more of the opportunity priorities listed above.

Proposals must take an interdisciplinary approach that crosses at least two of the three funding research council boundaries. Proposals where collaboration is limited to researchers within the remit of a single research council are out of scope and will be rejected.

We expect proposals to be interdisciplinary and are seeking collaborations that will generate new perspectives and solutions. We also welcome engagement from research areas that previously have rarely engaged in this field.

This is likely to require the convening of new partnerships, interdisciplinary learning and development opportunities for early career researchers in order to build capacity for the next generation of treescape researchers. Each proposal must demonstrate what activities and actions will be undertaken to ensure projects are well integrated across work packages and disciplines in the ‘case for support’.

In delivering the solutions focus of this funding opportunity, projects must involve at least one relevant stakeholder. It is expected that stakeholder partners will help shape the proposal to enable it to contribute to ‘real world’ decision making and will collaborate with the research team throughout the duration of the grant.

Applicants are reminded that strong engagement with wider stakeholders and users of research is a requirement of this opportunity.

Proposals must set out the anticipated impacts and outcomes of their projects for policy, society and academia in the ‘case for support’ section of their application.

This should also outline the intended beneficiaries of the research and how impact will be achieved and maximised. Impact activities do not have to be cost-incurring, but relevant costs can be included and must be fully justified within the Justification of Resources statement.

Funding available

The maximum funding per project is £625,000 (at 100% full economic cost) with a duration of up to two years. We will usually fund 80% of the project’s full economic cost, that is, up to £500,000 per project.

Note some directly incurred costs can be funded at 100% full economic cost as exceptions while equipment costs will be funded at 50% full economic cost. Please refer to section E of the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

No associated studentships can be requested under this funding opportunity.

Applicants should budget appropriate UK travel and subsistence costs for at least:

  • two programme conferences
  • two other programme events.

This will enable effective participation at events organised by the programme ambassadors.

Stakeholders or non-academic partners involvement and costs

Applicants may engage with stakeholders or non-academic partners to co-develop their research proposal. Any partnerships with such groups or organisations must be:

  • equitable, ethical and mutually nurturing
  • governed in an inclusive way that manages risks in-line with best practice, such as that highlighted in the creating living knowledge report.

For partnerships involving public sector organisations and businesses, they should be included in the proposal in the usual way as either project partners or sub-contractors, as detailed in sections C and section E of the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

For partnerships involving community partners such as community groups, charities and non-profit organisations, it is expected they will be remunerated fairly and in a timescale that will not force any undue hardship. Any partnerships should be premised on leaving that organisation in a stronger position than before the collaboration.

Community partners should be included in the application as formal project partners and provide project partner letters of support as attachments.

Costs associated with community partner involvement in the project can be included under ‘other directly incurred’ costs as ‘exceptions’ and charged at 100% of direct costs (excluding estates and any indirect costs) if they are not eligible to receive UKRI funding as a research organisation or independent research organisation.

Costs associated with supporting community partner involvement cannot exceed 10% of the total funds requested at 100% full economic cost. Applicants should contact NERC (uktreescapes@nerc.ukri.org) if they have queries regarding community partner costs.

Funding is available for any activity involving community partner that is directly related to the research project being proposed. This can include activity undertaken or delivered by community partners, but only where this is clearly related to the delivery of the research project.

Funding is not available for community partners to continue to deliver their core business, and funds cannot be used outside the dates of the award itself.

Requested costs must be detailed in the ‘justification of resources’. To enable UKRI to meet reporting requirements, all community partner costs incurred must be entered into the ‘other directly incurred’ costs using the following format in the description box:
‘organisation; cost category; cost description’.

Implementation and delivery

Projects should be no longer than 24 months in duration and start no later than 1 August 2022.

Use of NERC facilities and services

Applicants wishing to use NERC services and facilities will need to contact the relevant facility at least two months prior to submission of the grant to discuss the proposed work and receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the grant.

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

The technical assessment must be submitted as part of the Je-S form, as detailed in the ‘Additional Information’ section and within the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook (paragraph 237).

See the full list of NERC facilities that require a technical assessment, excluding High Performance Computing (HPC), Ship-Time or Marine Equipment (SME) and the large research facilities at Harwell. These services have their own policies for access and costing.

You may not request the use of NERC marine research facilities or British Antarctic Survey Antarctic Logistics Support under this opportunity.

Knowledge exchange and impact

Knowledge exchange (KE) is vital to ensure that research has wide benefits for society and should be an integral part of any research. Public engagement is a key part of knowledge exchange, and a route to increasing the impact of research.

A separate ‘pathways to impact’ statement is not required, but applicants should still consider how they will or might achieve impact outside the scientific community and include this as part of their ‘case for support’. Impact activities do not have to be cost-incurring, but relevant costs can be included and must be fully justified within the ‘justification of resources’ statement.

Successful projects will be expected to work with the Future of UK Treescapes Programme Ambassadors, Professor Clive Potter and Dr Julie Urquhart, and the UK Treescapes Ambassador team, to:

  • participate in wider programme knowledge exchange and stakeholder engagement events
  • engage with other relevant UKRI investments identified by the funders to enhance impact to the Future of UK Treescapes programme outcomes.

Data management

You must adhere to UKRI open research policy and NERC data policy and an outline data management plan produced as part of proposal development (see NERC data management planning guidance).

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

NERC will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for archival and curation services, but applicants should ensure they request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team.

Programme management

The programme executive board (PEB) will provide the strategic direction for the
programme and will be the ultimate decision-making authority. The PEB will be chaired by a representative of NERC, and will include representatives from AHRC, ESRC and relevant users or stakeholders as required.

The programme has two programme ambassadors who will work with research project teams to:

  • promote a shared sense of interdisciplinary endeavour
  • facilitate extensive engagement with stakeholders and policymakers.

Specifically, the ambassadors have the following responsibilities:

  • external communication of the programme and engagement with key stakeholders
  • coordination and integration of funded projects
  • monitoring and reporting of programme delivery progress
  • organisation of programme events, including annual programme conferences.

Reporting requirements

As for all NERC grant holders, there will be a requirement to report through the UKRI reporting system, Researchfish. This is required annually and continues for up to five years after funding ends. For details, see reporting your project’s outcomes.

Grant holders may also be asked to provide regular and ad hoc project progress reports to the PEB and programme coordination function as needed.

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, 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 (PDF, 462KB).

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 (EDI).

Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project, not the host institution as a whole, and take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

How to apply

There are two stages to apply for this funding opportunity:

  1. Notification of intent.
  2. Full proposal.

Notification of intent

A notification of intent to submit must be submitted by 14 January 16:00.

Full Je-S proposals submitted without a prior notification of intent will be rejected.

Submit your notification of intent.

Please tell us the title and provide a brief abstract of your proposed research project, which should also include the institutions, investigators and project partners that are expected to be involved.

Tell us:

  • the title and brief abstract of your proposed research project
  • the institutions, investigators and project partners that are expected to be involved.

The notification will not be assessed, but NERC will use the information to plan the proposal assessment.

Changes in the investigators and partners involved in the project between the notification of intent stage and submission of a full bid through Je-S will be permitted.

Full proposals

Full proposals must be submitted using the research councils’ Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S)

When applying, select:

  • council: NERC
  • proposal type: ‘standard proposal’
  • scheme: ‘directed’
  • call/type/mode: Treescapes NOV21.

This funding opportunity will close on Je-S at 16:00 on 22 March 2022 and it will not be possible to submit after this time.

Applicants should leave enough time for their proposal to pass through their organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date. Any proposal that is incomplete, or does not meet NERC’s eligibility criteria or follow NERC’s submission rules (see NERC research grants and fellowships handbook), will be office rejected and will not be considered.

All attachments, with the exception of letters of support and services, facilities, equipment quotes, submitted through the Je-S system must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm.

Please note that Arial narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not allowable font types and any proposal which has used either of these font types within their submission will be rejected.

References and footnotes should also be at least 11 point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document. Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case. Applicants referring to websites should note that referees may choose not to use them.

Applicants should ensure that their proposal conforms to all eligibility and submission rules, otherwise their proposal may be rejected without peer review. More details on NERC’s submission rules can be found in the:

Proposals for this funding opportunity should be submitted in ’standard grant’ format following the requirements outlined in paragraph 207, section F of the handbook. Specifically, applicants should note that the case for support may not exceed 10 sides of A4:

  • up to 2 sides for the track record
  • up to 8 sides for the description of the research.

Please note that on submission to council all non PDF documents are converted to PDF, the use of non-standard fonts may result in errors or font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

Additionally where non-standard fonts are present, and even if the converted PDF document may look unaffected in the Je-S System, when it is imported into the research councils’ grants system some information may be removed.

We therefore recommend that where a document contains any non-standard fonts (for example, scientific notation, diagrams), the document should be converted to PDF prior to attaching it to the proposal.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

All applications that meet the eligibility criteria will be reviewed by an assessment panel consisting of independent experts representing the disciplinary remits of NERC, AHRC and ESRC.

Sift process

NERC, AHRC and ESRC reserve the right to implement a sift stage before the panel to reduce the number of applications to a manageable level for a two-day panel meeting.

If the sift is conducted, all applications that meet the eligibility criteria will be assigned to two panel members who will then pre-score the proposals. Based on the pre-scores the lowest scoring proposals will be sifted out with agreement from the panel chair.

Assessment criteria

Applications submitted under this funding opportunity will be assessed on the basis of the following primary criteria: The assessment criteria to be used will be as follows:

  • research excellence
  • fit to scheme, including the extent of alignment to both:
    • one or more of programme themes
    • one or more of the funding opportunity’s priority areas.

Panel feedback will be provided to both successful and unsuccessful applicants that are considered at the panel. Brief feedback will be provided to proposals sifted out in the sift process.

NERC, AHRC and ESRC will use the recommendations of the assessment panel along with the overall funding opportunity requirements and the available budget in making the final funding decisions. The funders reserve the right to use the recommendations to create a balanced portfolio across research themes and remits.

Funding decisions are expected to be communicated in June 2022.

COVID-19 impacts

NERC and ESRC recognises 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 careers such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of on-going work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic.

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts of the impact that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal. 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 applicants can highlight this within their application, if they wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Contact details

Ask a question about this opportunity

For all enquiries, please contact the Future of UK Treescapes programme team.

Email: uktreescapes@nerc.ukri.org

Contact the Future of UK Treescapes programme ambassadors

Email: treescapes@glos.ac.uk

Additional info

Webinar

The programme ambassadors will hold an information and networking webinar on 2 December to provide potential applicants with further information on the programme and the funding opportunity.

Register for the webinar

The webinar will be recorded. For further details and to register, see the Treescapes website.

Attendance at the webinar is not a requirement for applying to the funding opportunity.

Future of UK Treescapes programme objectives

The overarching objective of the Future of UK Treescapes programme is to improve significantly the environmental, socio-economic and cultural understanding of the functions and services provided by UK treescapes. This is in order to inform decision-making on the expansion of future treescapes for the benefit of the environment and society.

Three research themes have been identified to address the overarching objective:

  • theme one: forms, functions and values of UK Treescapes
  • theme two: opportunities, barriers and pathways for expansion of UK Treescapes
  • theme three: resilience of UK Treescapes to global change.

Theme one: forms, functions and values of UK Treescapes

This theme seeks to better understand how we characterise a fully functioning treescape and the functions and services provided by UK treescapes. It will explore the ways they have been shaped by different management practices, environmental conditions, cultural and socio-economic drivers and values through time, and how this is expected to change with the new social, economic, cultural and environmental demands placed on treescapes.

Characterisation will require bringing together data and measurements at scale and from diverse sources, from the molecular, organismal, landscape and earth observation through to socio-economic datasets, cultural and historical evidence, and aesthetic and ethical values.

Theme two: opportunities, barriers and pathways for expansion of UK Treescapes

This theme seeks to better understand the potential contributions and limitations of expanding UK treescapes to delivering local requirements and national goals (in the wider international policy context).

There is a need to understand the opportunities, barriers, and pathways to treescape expansion and configurations, and to consider biogeochemical, biophysical, policy, social, financial, and decision-making processes, as well as trade-offs and synergies with other land uses.

Different pathways, such as commercial planting, assisted or natural regeneration, will also provide different environmental, social, and economic benefits. Realistic pathways to achieve sustainable expansion of the treescapes must take into account the diverse benefits and disbenefits of treescapes and balance competing land use demands and priorities of stakeholders.

More research is needed to understand how such pathways influence and are influenced by policy making and their contributions to economy, climate mitigation and adaptation, and changing societal and cultural values in the face of pressures arising from the expansion.

Theme three: resilience of UK Treescapes to global change

UK treescapes need to be placed and understood in the wider global context, both policy and environmental.

This theme seeks to identify drivers of change that pose significant risks to the resilience of current and future UK treescapes over decades and centuries, and to identify strategies and measures (such as low risk pathways) that could mitigate their impact and enhance treescape resilience.

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