NERC funds National Capability National Public Good awards

12 September 2018

NERC has funded six National Capability National Public Good (NC NPG) awards worth a total of £8 million.

Seal sat on rock

NC NPG funding supports activities that will strengthen national security, resilience, economic growth and societal benefit by providing independent scientific and expert advice, or other services, required by government and the wider public. NERC has funded six awards for the provision of this varied activity which will provide impartial, expert information to government, policymakers and international forums, in addition to rapid response to unexpected extreme events. The total value of the awards is just over £8 million over five years.

NERC Executive Chair Professor Duncan Wingham said:

From understanding how changes in the polar regions influence global sea levels to cutting-edge Earth observation and emergency response to natural hazards, NERC's National Public Good awards demonstrate how a relatively small level of investment can enable an impressive range of valued activities to underpin strategic decision-making on the environment in the UK.


The NERC research centres below have received NC NPG awards:

British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

BAS science and operational activities contribute to the UK's national capability through the the provision and management of large research infrastructure, services and facilities, data, national-good services and long-term science. As the focal point for UK polar science, BAS sustains a UK national capability that delivers scientific understanding of environmental processes over large time and space scales, supporting world-leading environmental science and meeting national needs.

BAS provides evidence and advice to the UK government, its agencies, industry and others on the changing polar regions and their impact on society and the economy. A prime example is the influence of the Antarctic ice sheet on global sea level rise, which has consequences for the protection of communities and infrastructure close to the UK coast or major rivers.

BAS's science expertise is called upon by government departments, including the Cabinet Office natural hazards risk register (COBRA), the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for evidence around climate change, and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) for specific advice on ozone and Southern Ocean fisheries. BAS works closely with government agencies such as the UK Met Office and has increasingly strong links to UK industry in areas such as forecasting of space weather (such as satellites) and sea ice (such as shipping).

Beyond this portfolio of established commitments, BAS provides a rapid response to requests from government departments and agencies as they arise. For example, information to support answers to parliamentary questions, and written and oral evidence to select committees and all-party groups.

Working in the polar regions, BAS has developed a wide range of expertise, instrumentation and modelling techniques that can be applied for the benefit of people and communities around the world. This strand of BAS research capability contributes to the UK government's target on Official Development Assistance (ODA). Specifically, they deliver research development benefits in diverse geographical areas, including two of the most isolated island communities in the world, and high in the Himalayas.

Breakdown of this BAS funding
Period 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 5-year total
BAS funding £92,000 £94,000 £94,000 £94,000 £94,000 £468,000

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH)

CEH delivers scientific advice to government departments to support the design and delivery of a range of policies such as food and farming, flooding, water quality and supply, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change adaptation and clean growth. CEH scientists help government prevent and respond to emergencies such as floods and droughts by contributing to the Natural Hazards Partnership, developing risk assessments and mitigation strategies, providing briefings to COBRA and other national bodies, and delivering a rapid response to requests from government departments and agencies.

CEH help to meet the UK's strategic needs, for example by supporting the UK Environmental Observation Framework, which seeks to optimise environmental monitoring. It also contributes to national and global initiatives to improve health and wellbeing through its work chairing and coordinating the UK Committee for National & International Hydrology, which provides expertise to UNESCO and the UN World Meteorological Office.

Finally, CEH also supplies scientific information to the government by answering parliamentary questions and by providing written and oral evidence to select committees and all-party groups.

Breakdown of this CEH funding
Period 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 5-year total
CEH funding £58,000 £37,000 £37,000 £37,000 £37,000 £206,000

National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS)

NCAS undertakes a programme of activities strengthening national security, resilience, economic growth and societal benefit through providing independent scientific and expert advice, or other services required by government and the wider public. In this context, NCAS undertakes the following activities:

  • providing advice to government
  • responding to national emergencies
  • providing advice to non-governmental organisations
  • research and development enabling the above activities, where neither the NCAS science research programme nor another organisation can provide the input.
Breakdown of this NCAS funding
Period 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 5-year total
NCAS funding £189,000 £173,000 £173,000 £173,000 £173,000 £881,000

National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO)

NCEO's national public good activity delivers expert scientific, technical and operational advice on Earth observation-related policies and services to government departments and agencies. NCEO works particularly with the UK Space Agency and Defra, with a growing liaison with the BEIS climate team. Advice covers scientific and technical insight, appraisal and review, reports, organisation of technical working groups and science surveys, and inputs to statements.

NCEO's expected activities are to provide:

  • Advice by the NCEO Director and senior staff to the UK Space Agency regarding UK space policy, including the subscriptions to European Space Agency programmes, industrial strategy and spectrum usage.
  • Advice to the Defra group, including the Chief Scientific Adviser's innovation programme regarding the application of space-based Earth observation to environmental policy and services, including advice on the EU Copernicus programme and the Defra Earth Observation Centre of Excellence.
  • Support to the emerging UK government Earth Observation Service.
  • Advice to the BEIS Science & Innovation for Climate & Energy Directorate regarding the application of Earth observations for enhancing UK climate science capability.
  • Ad hoc advice to other government departments and agencies regarding the suitability of Earth observation for particular applications and new ways of overcoming challenges, such as supply of analysis-ready data and utility of data cubes.
  • Coordination of advice to UK government (Defra, UK Space Agency, BEIS) and technical expert activities related to the international Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), including high level briefings. The aim is that UK organisations can contribute to, and benefit strongly from, developments in the international community, a current government priority. Societal and public benefit are important drivers for these global engagements.
Breakdown of this NCEO funding
Period 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 5-year total
NCEO funding £43,000 £44,000 £44,000 £44,000 £44,000 £219,000

National Oceanography Centre (NOC)

Humans are increasingly turning to the oceans for vital resources and services, including energy, food, minerals, recreation and transport, while also being increasingly impacted by ocean hazards such as sea-level rise and tsunamis.

However, ocean resources are finite and many are being rapidly depleted through human exploitation, while both resources and hazards are being altered by global climate change. Consequently, there is increased interest from society and policymakers in developing sustainable and responsive approaches to ocean management, underpinned by trusted and robust scientific advice.

National Oceanography Centre's NC-NPG activity is targeted at UK national interests in the ocean, including:

  • setting the public policy framework to develop the marine-based economy whilst protecting the ocean's future health
  • protecting people and economic infrastructure from marine-related disasters
  • making sense of, and addressing, the implications of global environmental changes involving the ocean.

To achieve this, NOC will focus activity on the most relevant international and national forums, such as representation and support of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO and the UK Marine Science Coordination Committee (MSCC), to ensure cutting-edge science and technology outputs are available to UK government and international policymakers. There will be dedicated personnel in the NOC International & Strategic Partnerships Office (ISPO) and additional input from science and technology experts drawn from across the organisation as required.

NOC's national public good activity will ensure UK government is able to increase its influence in international affairs relating to the oceans, is well informed about current and emerging ocean issues (such as marine robotics and establishment of marine protected areas), and is able to respond promptly and appropriately to natural hazards and disasters.

Breakdown of this NOC funding
Period 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 5-year total
NOC funding £658,000 £627,000 £624,000 £624,000 £624,000 £3,157,000

Seal Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)

SMRU was established in 1978 by NERC, but functions as an independent research group and a NERC national capability. NERC has statutory obligations under the Conservation of Seals Act (1970) and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 to provide the UK government and devolved administrations with scientific advice on the management and conservation of its seal populations. This legislation is the means by which the UK strives to ensure its seal populations, both the grey and harbour (also known as common) seal, are not adversely affected by human activities in the marine environment.

Seals have often come into conflict with humans, particularly in relation to fisheries, but also, increasingly, with respect to other marine activities such as the development of marine renewable energy and major infrastructure projects. In conjunction with other statutory obligations, particularly the EU Habitats Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the UK government and devolved administrations must ensure these listed species enjoy a "favourable conservation status". Understanding their population trends and the drivers of change helps determine whether the UK seas are in "good environmental status".

In order to meet these requirements, SMRU is tasked with addressing the questions it receives each year from the UK government about the status of the populations and the drivers of population change. To achieve this, SMRU carries out a programme of monitoring to determine the population status and trends of both species of UK seal. In addition, it conducts underpinning scientific research to understand the effect of different marine activities and developments on population growth rates and the survival and reproductive capacity of the two seal species.

It also assists in finding ways to mitigate any negative impacts. UK government also needs to understand the natural factors that cause population trends to change and to determine when species may have reached the limits to their growth. In close consultation with government agencies and statutory nature conservation bodies, SMRU responds to the emerging issues relating to seal conservation and provides innovative ways to understand the movements, at-sea behaviour, population structure and impact of natural and man-made factors on their populations at a regional management level.

Breakdown of this SMRU funding
Period 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 5-year total
SMRU funding £650,000 £650,000 £650,000 £650,000 £650,000 £3,250,000

Further information

For communications or media enquiries please contact:

Mary Goodchild
External Communications Manager
01793 411939
07710 147485

For research or funding enquiries please contact:

Irena Witts
Senior Programme Manager, National Capability & Commissioning
01793 442581