Funding Opportunity /  18 October 2023

Tools for automating image analysis for biodiversity monitoring

Apply for funding (£500,000-£750,000) to develop software systems, which will help to improve biodiversity monitoring by automating the analysis of images and videos

Deadline: 18 October 2023 - the deadline has passed.
United Kingdom

  • Funding Call: Available here
  • Opportunity status: Open
  • Funders: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Funding type: Grant
  • Total fund: £3,600,000
  • Award range: £500,000 - £750,000
  • Publication date: 12 July 2023
  • Opening date: 12 July 2023 9:00am UK time
  • Closing date: 18 October 2023 4:00pm UK time

Start application

Apply for funding to develop software systems, which will help to improve biodiversity monitoring by automating the analysis of images and videos.

Your application should:

  • outline how the tools proposed for development will improve the monitoring of biodiversity through automated analysis
  • develop robust and verified software tools which can be broadly used across environmental science
  • include research technical professionals such as research software engineers and data scientists

The full economic cost (FEC) of your project can be between £500,000 and £750,000. We will fund 100% of the FEC.

What we're looking for

Biodiversity affects every aspect of life, from the air we breathe to regulating our climate and providing food and freshwater. We rely on it for our health and stability of natural resources like forests, aquatic environments, and grasslands. The health of the environment depends on the diversity of species that interact with it and vice-versa. Biodiversity monitoring is used to determine the stability of ecosystems.

The demand to improve biodiversity assessment is driving a need for more accurate, efficient, and timely data across a wide spectrum of spatial and temporal scales. Tools and technologies for imaging and the management of resulting data flows have huge potential to advance our biodiversity monitoring capabilities. These imaging technologies are enabling the collection of increasing amounts of complex biodiversity data across a broad range of parameters.

Imaging platforms can rapidly collect hundreds of thousands or millions of high-resolution images. However, the resulting large and complex datasets quickly exceed the capabilities of human analysts. There is a clear opportunity to improve use of automated image analysis to interpret a diversity of biodiversity data of increasing scale and complexity.

The aim of this funding opportunity is to support the development of software systems for image analysis in the laboratory, and in the field, to maximise the value of physical imaging technologies.

This investment will support the development of software toolkits, pipelines, and workflows for the automated analysis of images and videos. This could include, for example, automated image annotation and segmentation, high-throughput image analysis, the development and use of training data sets, and of automated pipelines.

Successful projects will develop robust and verified environmental image processing and software tools which can be broadly used across environmental science and can be maintained beyond this initial investment.

What we expect to see in applications

You will need to make the case for the capital investment required to develop tools, software, and learning datasets to address biodiversity challenges. It is not intended that significant investment will be made in new physical imaging technology, for example cameras.

It is not expected that this will primarily be a scientific research activity. The focus of this investment is on the development of software, pipelines, and systems, which can be used and maintained as tools for research. It will require dedicated effort from research technical professionals such as research software engineers and data scientists.

It is anticipated that approaches may learn from developments in other domains such as healthcare and image and vision computing, and that they will incorporate validation and verification methodologies building on environmental expertise.

We note that the work may include citizen science, or other approaches, to develop labelled training datasets, and will need to interface with the NERC Environmental Data Service or other appropriate data infrastructure.


The duration of this award is 36 months.

Projects must start by 29 February 2024.

Funding available

This is a capital funding opportunity, as such NERC will fund 100% of the full economic cost for equipment only. The full cost of your project can be between £500,000 and £750,000.

A total of £3.6 million funding is available

What we will fund

Costs can include staff time, but such costs must be directly associated to the creation, production, development, and preparation of an asset, so that it is capable of operating as a tool or system for the advancing our understanding of biodiversity and biodiversity loss. For a definition of an asset in the context of this opportunity please refer to the additional information section of this funding opportunity.

Development costs that are directly attributable to bringing the asset into working condition are allowable.

What we will not fund
  • requests for resource, including staffing costs related to operation and maintenance of the tool (after the creation of the asset) and to user training
  • single-user or single-project equipment
  • development of novel technologies which are unlikely to generate a productive tool or asset
  • applications have also been submitted to other award schemes during the same time frame (including all UKRI grant schemes)
  • associated studentships

As this is a capital funding opportunity the following costs are also not permitted:

  • pure research – original and planned investigation undertaken with the prospect of gaining new scientific or technical knowledge and understanding
  • management overheads – unless that is performing technical development or solely purposed on the project
  • incidental costs such as project office support, travel and subsistence, and training
  • costs that only restore or maintain future economic benefit that was expected from the original asset
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.

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.

Who can apply

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

Before applying for funding, check the following:

Who is eligible to apply

This funding opportunity is open to eligible researchers at:

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

We encourage applications from interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary teams and collaborations between UK organisations.

We encourage the inclusion of digital research technical professionals such as research software engineers and data scientists in applications.

Who is not eligible to apply
  • you may be involved in no more than two applications submitted to this funding opportunity. Only one of these can be as project lead
  • project leads and project co-leads based outside the UK are not permitted

You should include any 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.

We encourage successful applicants to foster knowledge exchange and collaborative working between the research technical professionals involved in the delivery of projects.

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.


A webinar will be held on 17 July 2023. A recording of the event will be provided to everyone who registers. The event will include a talk on the intersection of computer vision communities, showcasing the tools and technologies for automated image analysis that have been developed in other domains for example medical imaging and image and vision computing, as well as in the private sector. This will be followed by a question and answer session.

If interested, following registration, you will be asked to provide a short biography to detail relevant experience. You will also have the option to submit examples of images you wish to analyse, with a description of the information you are seeking to extract from them. These will be shared with all attendees to support networking and collaboration building.

Register for the webinar