Announcement of Opportunity: Scoping group for securing UK forest form, function and ecosystem services against 21st-century pressures

Closing date: 16:00 on 24 April 2019

NERC invites applications to join a scoping group that will develop the science case for a potential large strategic research programme on 'Securing UK forest form, function and ecosystem services against 21st-century pressures'.

This potential strategic programme area (SPA) has emerged from the ideas process for strategic research. Any potential SPA must meet NERC's criteria for a strategic programme, so it is possible that the scoping will not result in a funded programme.

Forests provide a variety of ecosystem services, notably maintenance of biodiversity, modification of water flows, flood management, landscape amenities, human well-being, and improved water and air quality. Furthermore, forests have a significant carbon sink function, both now and in the future. Taking into account land-use change, the net land carbon sink is located primarily in the Northern Hemisphere extratropics, and offsets more than a quarter of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions - temperate forests, like those in the UK, are important. Looking forward, radical afforestation and forest management are essential CO2 removal technologies in global climate change mitigation scenarios that keep the world within 1·5°C of warming.

Recent UK public policy documents (25 Year Environment Plan, Clean Growth Strategy) include plans to plant 11 million trees across 180,000 hectares (ha) and increase woodland to 12% of land cover by 2060, and the Climate Change Committee's land use report indicates that forest cover in the UK would need to go from 13% to 19% to meet climate change mitigation objectives in 2050. Afforestation plans include a new Northern Forest, community forests and a woodland creation grant scheme for land owners. It is not just the government focusing on forestry: third-sector actors (for example, the 12,000ha Heart of England Forest), and private enterprise (for example, Stobart Forestry) are effecting substantial changes in UK forest extent and content.

All these initiatives recognise and aim to promote ecosystem services that provide economic growth, mitigate environmental risk and enhance people's well-being. It seems certain that 21st-century UK forests will radically alter the UK environment but, just as certainly, will also themselves be altered by national and global drivers of change, particularly atmospheric composition, climate, nutrient flows and UK demography.

Research is required firstly to inform choices in location, extent and use, and secondly to maximise the ecological resilience of both mature forests and new planting, from which the most strategic research questions include:

  1. Environmental pressures: To what extent will changing nutrient inputs, atmospheric CO2 and climate affect stocks and flows (of carbon, nitrogen, water) in mature woodlands and new afforestation of different types?

  2. Ecosystem responses: What adaptive responses to pressures (for example, organism plasticity, population change) occur in UK forest ecosystems, and which management choices promote successful adaptation? How will forest form and function reflect these responses?

  3. Land-use choices: Which geographies - forests interleaved with homes, workplaces, transport corridors and food production - maximise the ecosystem services delivered by temperate woodlands under 21st-century pressures? Are such heavily utilised forests resilient under 21st-century pressures?

Applications are invited from individuals wishing to join the scoping group that will develop the science case for consideration by NERC.

Scoping group meeting

Professor Yadvinder Malhi of the University of Oxford has agreed to chair the scoping group. Members will be selected by NERC via an open call for self-nomination. It is anticipated that the scoping group will be made up of around 14 individuals and will have an appropriate scientific balance. Members of the scoping group are expected to act as representatives of their scientific disciplines, and to act in the interests of the scientific community as a whole, rather than representing personal or institutional interests.

The composition of the group will be decided by NERC, with input from the chair of the scoping group and representatives of NERC's Strategic Programme Advisory Group (SPAG). NERC reserves the right to appoint members to the scoping group who haven't applied, to achieve the balance of representation required.

The scoping group will convene for a 2-day meeting which all members must attend. This meeting will take place on 15-16 May at a venue in the London area. By applying to join this scoping group you are confirming your availability to attend this meeting. A smaller core writing group will then be tasked with producing a science case by the middle of June 2019.

If the proposed research programme is approved, members of the scoping group will be able to apply for funding, subject to normal NERC eligibility rules.


Applicants should complete the online registration form by 16:00 on 24 April 2019. Successful applicants will be informed of the outcome by 3 May 2019.

NERC will cover all reasonable travel and subsistence costs associated with attending the meeting, in line with NERC policy.


For further information, please contact:

Amy Vitale