NERC funds two projects worth £9 million that will use research to boost UK local economies

15 November 2016

NERC has funded two highly ambitious projects worth nearly £9 million that will help two UK regions benefit from its world-class environmental science research.

Family being rescued from flood

Young family being rescued by the fire service after the River Derwent burst its banks in the village of Old Malton, North Yorkshire in November 2012

The two projects will see two of the UK's top universities working with businesses and policymakers in their area to generate a range of economic and societal benefits. The aim is to translate excellent NERC-funded research into actions or policies that improve performance, resilience and sustainability, and support local growth.

The projects are funded under a new NERC scheme, the Environmental Science Impact Programme, which aims to bring research organisations, businesses, policymakers and the third sector together to use their extensive knowledge, experience and contacts to boost regional economic growth.

  1. South West Partnership for Environment & Economic Prosperity (SWEEP), worth £4 million over five years, aims to significantly improve the economic prosperity of the South West. The project will be led from the University of Exeter.
  2. Yorkshire Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (Yorkshire iCASP), worth £4·7 million over five years and led from the University of Leeds, aims to generate economic impacts worth £50 million to Yorkshire.

NERC Chief Executive Professor Duncan Wingham said:

I'm particularly pleased to be announcing these two awards. They entirely encompass the aims of our new Environmental Science Impact Programme, being ambitious, forward-thinking, and potentially transformative. NERC's world-leading science can and should be used to create both economic and societal benefits in the UK's regions, in this case, the South West and Yorkshire. I look forward to seeing how SWEEP and iCASP will help to solve some of the biggest environmental challenges facing the country.

South West Partnership for Environment & Economic Prosperity (SWEEP)

With 800 kilometres of spectacular coastline, and over a quarter of its land in rural protected areas, the South West is rich in so-called natural capital, which includes natural assets such as rocks, soil, air, water, and all living things. The region is particularly reliant on these assets for its economic growth: more than half of all jobs in the South West are directly dependent on this natural capital, and the region is more dependent on farming and tourism for employment than any other region in the country. But it is also vulnerable to natural hazards like extreme weather, flooding, and pollution.

Focusing on the heart of the South West and Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) regions, SWEEP will bring experts and businesses together to meet some of the challenges caused by these natural hazards, using the latest technological advances, scientific research and understanding of the natural environment.

SWEEP will be led by Professor Ian Bateman of the University of Exeter, who will work in collaboration with academics across the South West, and 40 large and small businesses and organisations in the region, which will invest £11 million of their own funding into the project. These include policymakers and the third sector, including South West Water, Network Rail, the National Trust and the Environment Agency, as well as small businesses such as Offshore Shellfish, a company developing the UK's first large-scale, offshore, rope-cultured mussel farm.

Professor Bateman said:

SWEEP will allow a new link between researchers, the latest technology and large and small businesses and organisations in the South West. We have a wealth of research expertise and innovative businesses and policy organisations in our region, and it will be a privilege to work in partnership with them. Together we can both tackle some of the challenges facing our natural environment, and use the latest research and technologies, to boost our economy, create and defend jobs, and enhance wellbeing in the region.

Yorkshire Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (Yorkshire iCASP)

Yorkshire is vulnerable to flooding, having most recently been hit by heavy rain and flooding in December 2015, with homes evacuated and rivers overflowing in Leeds. And with a growing population and the resulting housing developments, such vulnerabilities need to be urgently addressed.

iCASP aims to improve climate resilience in Yorkshire's cities, manage drought and flood risk, help with flood forecasting, develop new approaches to improving water quality and reducing water treatment costs, and improve carbon storage in the region's soils and woodlands. This is expected to lead to job creation, product innovation, and the development of new policy and governance processes.

Led by Professor Joseph Holden of the University of Leeds, Yorkshire iCASP's partners include small and medium enterprises (SMEs), large global companies such as Arup and Yorkshire Water, public bodies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency, decision-making bodies, the Met Office, as well as several charities. These organisations have already committed £1·3 million towards the project.

Professor Holden said:

Our aim is to work in partnership to become world-leading in developing catchment solutions and we want to start by showcasing how we can do that in the Yorkshire region, which has suffered from both severe droughts and floods in recent memory. By building solutions that also tackle water quality and which lock more carbon into soils, we can further save costs to consumers by reducing demands on water treatment and enabling farms to be more productive.

Further information

Tamera Jones
NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


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 £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).