UK invests in monitoring of natural environment

New sensing systems for monitoring of our waterways, habitats, soil and greenhouse gas emissions will receive £12 million funding from NERC, Defra and Innovate UK.

The Innovation in Environmental Monitoring programme has been designed to support UK academic institutions, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and large companies in their development of novel monitoring technologies and systems-based approaches. It aims to drive UK growth and commercial opportunity in this sector through the development of new products, processes and services.

This represents an important step forward in UK efforts to protect the environment, as trusted monitoring data is crucial to assessing the effectiveness of interventions and informing decisions about targeting resources appropriately.

Monitoring our natural resources
High quality environmental monitoring is essential for meeting environmental goals in the UK and worldwide, underpinning government policy, emerging green finance markets and driving sustainability in the private sector.

Monitoring enables UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to track the status of our natural environment, measure the success of interventions that tackle climate change and detect natural disasters.

As part of this programme, £7 million has been awarded to 13 research-led investments, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The collaborations are located across the UK, to improve capability for monitoring the following.

Biodiversity and invasive species – The development of biodiversity monitoring techniques, such as eDNA, will help us to understand more about how we can meet the target to halt the decline in species by 2030. Invasive non-native species (INNS) are one of the top five threats to global biodiversity and cost the economy nearly £4 billion a year.

Water quality – Exploring the use of satellite sensors for monitoring water quality will help to support the government’s effort to clean up waterways.

Soil health – A software tool to improve the integrity of carbon credits based on change in soil organic carbon, to help support the sustainable management and restoration of the UK’s soils.

Greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane – More efficient methods for the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions will offer a boost in the effort to meet the aim of reaching net zero. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and over a 20-year period it is estimated to be 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide.

The investment will enable researchers and innovators to harness the potential of new sensing and monitoring technologies, such as artificial intelligence, digital twinning and high-performance computing to create new information services for research, government and businesses.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said, “This funding will support our world-leading scientists develop new capabilities for understanding and monitoring the natural environment and allow us to develop better quality evidence faster and more efficiently – in turn helping us create a cleaner and greener environment.

“There is also terrific potential for any successful environmental monitoring products and services to be exported internationally, supporting nature recovery globally and boosting the reputation of the UK scientific community.”

Dr Iain Williams, Director of Strategic Partnerships for NERC, said, This investment by NERC and Defra will help to deliver a step-change in environmental monitoring, modelling and analysis. It supports our ambition to help businesses to grow through the development and commercialisation of new products, processes and services, supported by an outstanding research and innovation ecosystem.

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