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.
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.
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 (email@example.com) 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.
You must adhere to UKRI open research policy and NERC data policy and an outline data management plan produced as part of proposal development.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.