NERC works with partners to shield infrastructure from natural risks

1 September 2014

NERC is investing £1·9 million in protecting Britain's vital infrastructure from environmental risks like extreme weather and natural disasters.

Flooded railway line

It has funded projects that will create long-lasting partnerships between scientists and infrastructure owners and operators. They will help decision-makers use existing science to manage environmental risks more effectively.

This is NERC's first dedicated investment in protecting the built environment and its connecting systems from environmental hazards - a key challenge for the twenty-first century. It attracted strong interest, with 57 bids for funding and such a high standard that NERC increased the total available from a planned £1m.

NERC Chief Executive Professor Duncan Wingham said:

Supporting research that builds society's resilience to environmental hazards is central to NERC's strategic vision of placing environmental science at the heart of responsible management of our planet. We are delighted to be working alongside partners from the public, private and third sectors to provide the knowledge that will help safeguard vital infrastructure in a changing environment.

The 26 new projects cover risks ranging from coastal floods disrupting ports to volcanic ash clouds shutting down nuclear power plants. They last between six and 18 months, and pave the way for the launch of NERC's Environmental Risks to Infrastructure Innovation programme in November 2014. This will direct a further £5m over five years into strategic projects aimed at translating existing science into practice.

The scientists are collaborating with organisations including utilities, consultancies, insurers, regulators and non-governmental organisations. They will translate data and expertise that already exists within the NERC scientific community into a form that is useful to partner organisations, helping them address vital questions about environmental risks to infrastructure and how these risks should be managed.

For example, one researcher will work with Scottish Power Energy Networks to quantify the risk of trees being blown over and disrupting power lines in stormy weather. The results should help manage trees growing near electricity infrastructure more effectively, ultimately creating a more resilient power network.

Another researcher is working with Network Rail to understand how hot weather can disrupt the rail network, for example by heating track and causing it to buckle. A third is collaborating with Arup and London Underground to shed light on potential ways to increase our physical rail infrastructure's ability to cope with flooding, while yet another is partnering with Atkins Global to understand how space weather could threaten water treatment facilities.

A complete list of all the projects funded (PDF, 83KB) is available.

Further information

NERC media office
01793 411568
07785 520929


1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £370 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS).

Press release: 21/14