Funding Opportunity /  7 November 2023

Innovation in Environmental Monitoring

Applications are now open for an open capital funding opportunity for projects demonstrating innovative approaches toward environmental monitoring at a sensor or systems-based level.

Deadline: 7 November 2023 - the deadline has passed.

This is an open capital funding opportunity for projects demonstrating innovative approaches toward environmental monitoring at a sensor or systems-based level, with collaborative applications encouraged from across the environmental science, environment-focused informatics and wider data science communities.

The full economic cost (FEC) of your project can be between £450,000 and £750,000. We will fund 100% for equipment only, and 80% FEC for other resources.

Projects must start in March 2024 for up to 36 months.

Applications are invited by NERC on behalf of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and in partnership with Defra.

For full details on this funding opportunity, visit the UKRI posting here.


Co-funders: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

Funding type: Grant

Total fund: £7,000,000

Award range: £450,000 - £750,000


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.

Before applying for funding, check the following:

This funding opportunity is open to all organisations eligible for UKRI funding, including some public sector research establishments (PSREs). This funding opportunity is in partnership with Defra, and where Defra Group organisations are eligible PSREs, they can apply for funding through this opportunity.

What We're Looking For

Applications are invited by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) on behalf of UKRI and in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), as part of the Innovation in Environmental Monitoring (IEM) programme. Consortia are invited to apply for capital funding for projects accelerating the development of innovative approaches toward environmental monitoring at a sensor or systems-based level.

Innovation in Environmental Monitoring Programme

Defra and UKRI are investing up to £12 million across three years for research and innovation projects to develop enhanced monitoring capabilities in areas of joint strategic interest across all areas of the data lifecycle, from data collection, processing, analysis, and visualisation.

This integrated programme spans multiple technology readiness levels (TRLs), through sensor development and testing, to allow robust and effective deployment of sensing systems in the real world to address environmental challenges. It includes explicit connectivity to industry and the growing UK environmental monitoring sector, ensuring that new sensing capabilities are developed in partnership between the public and private sectors and commercialisation is accelerated.

The objectives of this programme are to:

  • support the development of new sensing systems and monitoring capabilities that will either improve existing approaches or introduce new ones, including improving the sustainability and connectivity of data collection, analysis and reporting
  • support the testing of these products (including ‘ground-truthing’ with existing monitoring regimes) and verifying their accuracy and reliability, thus improving their chances of being successfully deployed at scale in the public and private sectors
  • deliver new and strengthened partnerships and collaborations between the public sector, academia and private sector, helping to connect across disciplines, and stimulate innovative approaches
  • develop an understanding of the capabilities and principles required for the effective development and real-world deployment of environmental monitoring systems for broader impact and use
Desired outcomes for this funding opportunity

It is expected that applications to this funding opportunity will focus on the development of new sensing and monitoring systems which can be applied widely in the real world by those with responsibility for environmental management such as governments, industry or non-governmental organisations. They could also include activities that explore and measure the benefits of new innovative approaches. Applications should have UK relevance, though wider applicability in other geographical regions is welcome.

‘Sensing systems and capabilities’ can include:

  • Observation systems, in-situ sensors or samplers, sensor or sampler carrying platforms
  • Data processing, analysis, modelling or visualisation systems
  • Post-acquisition sample or data processing or analysis and reporting

Desired outcomes of new sensing systems and capabilities could include:

  • Improving the temporal and spatial resolution of monitoring regimes or data or both, or increasing the range of environmental variables monitored. This could include the multi-scale coordination of data collection from sensor networks
  • Ensuring that existing long-term datasets can be combined and enriched with new or better data
  • Improving the quality of data sets:
    • Intelligent consideration of metadata to enable aggregation and disaggregation at ease
    • Suitable to use and train artificial intelligence (AI), for example to classify outputs of remote sensing images
  • Optimising how sensors and systems are used together for improved resolution of environmental variables. It is anticipated that effective sensing systems produce analysis ready data (ARD) and interoperable data, which can be combined with a myriad of other sources in order to provide a robust and multi-faceted systems base for end-users. Examples could include the use of edge computing for local data processing, or AI techniques to denoise data streams and support more effective wireless data transfer
  • Developing lower cost sensors and sensor networks which maintain accuracy and precision. Desirable features would include: ease of use and maintenance, low energy-demand or self-powered, ruggedisation and miniaturisation. They could be more precise, accurate, sustainable, or offer wider coverage than existing approaches
  • Making better use of citizen science and non-statutory datasets:
    • Increasing the confidence in citizen science data
    • Improving data interoperability between citizen science and monitoring networks
  • Enhancing data accessibility for both private and public end users by reducing fragmentation and duplication and integrating it with existing data streams and accessible platforms

Bidding consortia will be expected to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of UK monitoring capability needs in one or more of the four challenge areas, and set a clear plan to address these needs through the development of sensing systems and capabilities
  • Provide an explanation of which part(s) of the end-to-end monitoring system they will be focusing on and why (for example, data collection, processing, analysis or visualisation)
  • Be collaborative and multi-disciplinary across the environmental science, environment-focused informatics and wider data science communities
  • Work in partnership with real world users of sensing systems and capabilities, within Defra Group or the UK private sector or both. You should clearly set out how the proposed approach will address the needs of these real-world users responsible for environmental monitoring
  • Work and meaningfully interact with the Innovate-UK (IUK)-led element of the programme in order to deliver overarching programme objectives and share lessons learned
  • Articulate what is innovative about the project and the anticipated sensing and monitoring capability advances which will be delivered, clearly setting out how technological maturity will change between the start and end of the project
  • Set out measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used to determine the delivery of outputs and outcomes
  • Articulate how appropriate data will be shared with Defra and UKRI in a usable format. Any sensitivities in sharing data can be highlighted
  • Provide a list of any operational requirements such as permits and permissions, and evidence that these have been obtained
Challenge areas

We welcome applications on one or more of the four terrestrial monitoring challenge areas:

  • biodiversity and natural capital
  • soil health (including measuring soil carbon sequestration)
  • freshwater or estuarine water quality (not marine)
  • monitoring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

For full details on this funding opportunity, visit the UKRI posting here.