Role of environment in health benefits of connecting with nature

Apply for funding to explore the role of environmental quality in the human health benefits of connecting with nature.

You must be:

  • an existing network of researchers and practitioners working on links between the environment, health and wellbeing, and health equity
  • eligible for UKRI funding.

Your project must:

  • connect environmental scientists with wider ‘nature-connectedness’ disciplines and practitioners
  • explore how environmental science methods, approaches and datasets can be part of mixed-methods approaches
  • increase understanding of how to make use of natural assets to address health inequalities.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £312,500. NERC will usually fund 80% of the full economic cost, up to £250,000.

Who can apply

Standard NERC eligibility rules apply.

UKRI research and fellowship grants for all schemes may be held at:

  • approved UK higher education institutions
  • approved research council institutes
  • independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments.

Check if you are eligible for research and innovation funding.

What we're looking for

NERC wishes to support a single project that explores the role of ecological quality of the environment in:

  • health and wellbeing
  • health equity
  • environmental benefits of interventions and strategies to connect people with nature.

Scope

NERC is seeking a research team with existing networks of researchers and practitioners working on the links between the environment, health and wellbeing, and health equity. This team will lead an activity that aims to:

  • facilitate greater engagement of environmental scientists with wider disciplines and practitioners in the area of ‘environment, health and wellbeing, and health equity’
  • explore how methods, approaches and datasets from the environmental sciences (for example, concepts of non-linearity and multiple scales, longitudinal datasets of environmental change) can be incorporated into mixed-methods approaches to investigate the role of ‘ecological quality of the environment’ in:
    • health and wellbeing
    • health equity
    • environmental benefits of interventions and strategies to connectpeople with nature
  • provide foundations for understanding how best to mobilise natural assets to address health inequalities, whilst also securing environmental benefits of interventions and strategies.

It is anticipated that the activity will take the form of a series of facilitated events. In these events researchers and practitioners from relevant disciplines and backgrounds (for example, environment, health, arts and humanities, and social sciences) will:

  • explore advances in different fields
  • build partnerships
  • develop collaborative ideas for methodological advances.

This will culminate in the network awarding funding to the new collaborations to progress small proof of concept studies.

The network should outline the proposed approach to delivering this in the proposal and may choose to draw on lessons learned from similar UKRI-supported network activities.

There may also be opportunities to interact with the AHRC fellow appointed to coordinate the ‘Mobilising Cultural and Natural Assets to Combat Health Inequalities’ research programme, which will be facilitated by NERC.

The successful research team is expected to use its reach and connections through existing networks to attract a range of participants from different disciplines and diverse backgrounds. This includes those from the environmental sciences who may not have engaged with these issues previously.

The proposal should include information about how this will be achieved and how equality, diversity and inclusion will be considered and monitored when selecting participants for the collaborative activities.

Potential questions to focus on

The research team will specify a range of key questions around which underpinning approaches, methodological development and proof of concept ideas can be focused. These will be for the research team to propose, but might include:

  • what concepts of ecological quality are appropriate and feasible for use in different types of blue and green environments in urban and rural areas relevant to the UK?
  • what is the role of biodiversity and ecological quality in the causal pathways between natural environments and health and wellbeing benefits?
  • how can improved biodiversity and ecological quality be achieved and maintained to benefit health and wellbeing?
  • how does ecological quality link with other aspects of environmental quality such as safety, facilities, and ease of access?
  • what are the environmental outcomes of nature-based strategies and interventions to improve health and wellbeing and health equity and how can they be managed for mutual benefit of people and the environment?
  • what are the links between the environment, spending time in nature, health and wellbeing benefits and health inequalities across the life-course?

Previous work to draw from

The project will be guided by various national and intergovernmental strategies and ambitions to connect people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing. Specifically:

  • emerging priorities relating to supporting mental health in addition to physical health
  • children and young people
  • tackling inequality for a more inclusive society.

Examples of national and intergovernmental strategies include:

Whilst focused largely on the situation relevant to the UK, the project should also draw on ongoing national and international work, including, but not limited to:

  • environment and health
  • natural capital
  • planetary health
  • eco-health approaches.

Examples could include:

It should also draw on ongoing work on health inequalities and various strategies and interventions proposed to build back fairer from the COVID-19 pandemic.

To identify where greater traction of the environmental sciences may be achieved in mental health research, proof of concept ideas generated through the collaborative activities should be guided by the Review on Environmental Science and Mental Health scoping work. This is commissioned by NERC and delivered by the Valuing Nature Network.

The report identified key opportunities as:

  • exploiting large-scale datasets using novel data linkage methodologies
  • taking longitudinal approaches and advantage of natural experiments to capture the impact of environmental change over time and understand exposure and manifestation of disorders over the life-course
  • bringing ecological concepts of multiple scales and non-linearity to offer understanding of how socio-ecological systems iteratively interact on health
  • developing mixed-methods approaches using qualitative methods to add depth and breadth of understanding to quantitative research
  • fostering a community of practice around the intersectionality of environmental, health and social sciences and practitioners to facilitate interdisciplinary research and impact.

All proof of concept ideas supported with funding from the grant should include a concept, approach, method, data or similar from the ecological and/or environmental sciences.

Funding available

Up to £250,000 at 80% of full economic cost (FEC) (£312,500 at 100% FEC) is available to support a single project.

Funds can be used to support:

  • investigator time to plan and deliver the activities
  • costs for professional facilitation, if required
  • venue hire, travel and subsistence costs, if in-person activities are proposed
  • funds to be disbursed to the proof of concept studies
  • consumables
  • indirect and estates costs.

The network should propose an appropriate breakdown of costs between running the collaboration building activities and funds to support the proof of concept ideas. The proposal should include a project plan with information about:

  • key milestones
  • key delivery risks and contingency plans, especially if in-person activities are planned.

Participation of the voluntary sector in planning and delivering the collaboration activities is welcomed. Subcontracts to such organisations that are not recognised independent research organisations and therefore eligible to apply directly, may be supported at 100% full economic cost, recognising their often-limited capacity to engage as project partners.

No studentships will be allowed under this opportunity.

Implementation and delivery

NERC will award this grant directly to a single lead organisation via a purchase order and UKRI standard terms and conditions will apply with some variation due to the method of payment. Invoices for payment must include:

  • the purchase order number
  • site address
  • NERC’s address
  • a unique invoice number.

Invoicing must be completed in line with the timeline in the offer letter.

The project should aim to commence in November 2021, holding the collaboration activities and disbursing funds for the proof of concept studies before March 2022. Proof-of-concept studies may continue up to six months beyond the end of the grant.

Data management

You must adhere to UKRI open research policy and NERC Data Policy and an outline data management plan produced as part of proposal development. For details of data centres, see the NERC Environmental Data Service and NERC data management planning guidance.

NERC will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for any archival and curation services. However, applicants should ensure they request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team.

Reporting requirements

The grant holder is expected to report monthly to NERC on progress and must send NERC a final report and final expenditure statement no later than six months after the end of the grant.

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set out in the NERC responsible business statement (PDF, 462KB).

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities, specifically:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion.

Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project and take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

How to apply

Applications must be emailed in a PDF format to Lisa Hole, Programme Manager (healthyenvironment@nerc.ukri.org) by 16:00 on 8 October 2021.

Any received after this date and time will not be accepted.

NERC has provided a template form for applications to this opportunity, which must be used when submitting applications. Any applications received not using the application form provided will not be accepted.

Grant application form (DOCX, 61KB)

Applications must be submitted as one PDF document. Multiple documents will not be accepted, neither will documents submitted as word documents or in other formats.

The application PDF should comprise:

  • completed application form
  • case for support (up to six pages A4) including:
    • previous track record
    • description of the proposed activity
    • project plan of key milestones, delivery risks and contingency plans
    • outline data management plan
    • justification of resources.

The case for support must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm.

Arial narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not allowable font types and any proposal which has used these font types within their submission will be rejected.

References and footnotes should also be at least 11-point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document. Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case.

Applicants referring to websites should note that referees may choose not to use them.

How we will assess your application

Eligibility check

Applications will be checked to ensure they meet eligibility requirements as outlined in the funding opportunity, including:

  • principal and co-investigators are eligible researchers as set out by UKRI’s funding eligibility
  • the funding amount requested does not exceed the £250,000 (80% of FEC is available)
  • project’s delivery within the required time period, November 2021 to March 2022
  • application has been submitted as one PDF document using the template provided by NERC and the case for support does not exceed the stated page limit.

Ineligible proposals will not be accepted and will not receive feedback.

Assessment process

All applications that meet the eligibility criteria will be assessed by a panel of independent experts.

NERC will use the recommendations of the panel, along with the overall opportunity requirements and the available budget in making the final funding decisions.

A decision is expected to be notified to applicants within two weeks of the panel meeting, which is anticipated to take place in November 2021 (date to be confirmed).

Assessment criteria

Proposals will be assessed on the following criteria:

  • ‘research excellence’, the quality and feasibility of the proposed work
  • ‘fit to scheme’, the degree to which the proposal addresses the objectives of the opportunity.

The panel will also consider the appropriateness of the requested resources and the effectiveness of the proposed project plan.

Feedback

Applicants will be given feedback from the panel summarising the reasons why the proposal was successful or unsuccessful. No further feedback will be available.

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity

Lisa Hole, Programme Manager

Email: healthyenvironment@nerc.ukri.org

Additional info

Background

In the decade since the publication of ‘Fair Society, Healthy Lives: The Marmot Review’ there has been increased recognition of:

  • the links between economic, social and health inequalities
  • the uneven distribution of health outcomes within and between UK communities
  • the resources (such as museums, libraries and quality green space) needed to level them up.

Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On (Institute of Health)

Addressing these challenges is all the more urgent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, where people experiencing multiple deprivations have been most at risk.

Bold and ambitious recommendations are proposed to reduce health inequalities and build back fairer from the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, including:

  • improving the quality of existing green spaces
  • prioritising provision of new green spaces in areas of higher deprivation.

Current research shows that spending time in nature benefits health and health equity. Public Health England’s 2020 review on improving access to greenspace found that greener neighbourhoods benefit everyone, but:

  • disadvantaged groups appear to benefit more
  • socioeconomic-related inequalities in health are lower in areas with greater access to greenspace.

This research underpins the ‘green social prescribing’ approach, where time spent in nature to improve health is prescribed by primary care providers, which is currently being evaluated by the government for its efficacy in improving mental health outcomes and reducing health inequalities.

Improving access to greenspace: 2020 review

NHS England: Green social prescribing

AHRC, MRC and NERC have jointly launched a funding opportunity for pilot studies to demonstrate how to scale up health inequality prevention and intervention strategies, such as green prescribing, as part the ‘Mobilising Cultural and Natural Assets to Combat Health Inequalities’ research programme.

In addition to work on scaling up health inequality prevention and intervention strategies, there is a need for further research to understand:

  • how to provide quality natural spaces in areas with higher deprivation,
  • how to avoid destruction of natural spaces
  • what types or amounts of natural infrastructure are most beneficial for the health of different communities.

Rapid review of evidence for England’s new Green Infrastructure standards (Beyond Greenspace)

Underpinning this is a need to advance appropriate concepts of quality in green and blue spaces accessible in deprived urban and rural areas, and consideration of the environmental outcomes of nature-based prevention and intervention strategies to ensure they can be managed for mutual benefit for people and the environment.

Aims

The aim of this investment is to encourage greater engagement of the environmental sciences in research on the health and wellbeing and health equity benefits of connecting people with nature.

The intention is to build new collaborations and develop proof of concept ideas to explore the role of ecological quality of the environment in health and wellbeing, to enable researchers to contribute to remaining knowledge gaps about the types of environment that are most beneficial.

Supporting documents

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