Announcement of Opportunity: Scoping group for designing future landscapes for biodiversity and ecosystem services

Closing date: 16:00 on 27 March 2017

NERC invites applications to join a scoping group that will develop the science case for a potential strategic research programme on designing future landscapes for biodiversity and ecosystem services.

This is one of two potential strategic programme areas (SPAs) which have 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 neither will result in a funded programme.

Land-use changes are a major influence on biodiversity and ecosystem processes at multiple scales. With environmental, social and economic pressures likely to engender further land use changes, managing the natural environment will necessitate radical improvements in the quality and quantity of information on the biodiversity / ecosystem services supply chain. Improved integration of knowledge, driven in part by new technologies, provide an opportunity for a more targeted and adaptive approach to be developed to underpin bespoke evidence-based policy and decision making across the UK.

Such integration is required to answer key questions such as how to spatially arrange landscapes to maintain biodiversity and agricultural productivity in a changing world. Promising new technologies include the new European Copernicus satellites; information communication and technology (ICT) methods for linking local and remote sensors; networks and systems; and advances in metagenomics and transcriptomic analysis. Together they may enable a more objective and spatially relevant integrated assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem processes.

Furthermore, if these technologies are embedded within a structured hypothesis-based combination of large-scale experiments and modelling to answer specific questions, there is an opportunity for a step change in our understanding of the role of landscape properties for the delivery and resilience of biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES). Policy relevant outcomes will include open-source methodologies and modelling frameworks to support the development and implementation of new adaptive land use policies that can be continually improved in response to evidence of change at multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Key scientific questions

  1. How can new technologies embedded within a landscape experimental approach help us better understand and quantify spatial and temporal patterns and inter-dependencies within and between BES?

    • For example, can we challenge and scale between satellite-derived assessments of spatial and temporal change in supply of services (eg primary production, soil water regulation, habitat provision and quality) with outputs from fixed sensor networks and gathering technologies (eg drones)?
    • By integrating high spatial and temporal resolution biophysical data (eg plant stress data) with meteorological data, can we explore response and recovery time to extreme weather events (eg storms, droughts)?
    • Can we use these technologies to identify landscape hotspots to better understand the inter-dependence of vegetation dynamics (eg plant stress, phenology) and soil processes through the targeted application of, for example, metagenomics and transcriptomics?
  2. Can we make space for nature, as the Lawton Report recommended, recognising other land-use demands?

    • How can biodiversity outcomes be delivered whilst maintaining other essential services such as food production, flood regulation and greenhouse gas mitigation?
    • What landscape configurations create functional linkages, increasing resilience to environmental change? How are these relationships influenced by their biophysical (climate, topography, soils, etc), social and economic context (distance to urban centres, farm structures, etc) and what are the economic constraints and opportunities of a landscape approach?
  3. How can this improved understanding help inform current or new modelling frameworks to design more effective spatial configurations in our landscapes, delivering BES targets from local and national scales? Can new data streams be efficiently used to provide a more adaptive approach to land management policy as new understanding and evidence of change emerges?

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 Alison Hester of the James Hutton Institute 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 10-12 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 a representative 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 two-day meeting which all members must attend. The group will be tasked with producing a science case by the end of June 2017.

This meeting will take place on 10-11 May 2017 at a venue in the London area. By applying to join this scoping group you are confirming your availability to attend the two-day meeting.

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 application form below and submit it via email to by 16:00 on 27 March 2017. Successful applicants will be informed of the outcome by 6 April 2017.

Application form (Word, 26KB)

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


Dominique Butt