Funding competition Improving Observation Capabilities of Biodiversity in UK Waters: Phase 2

UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £750,000 for innovation projects that can improve capabilities in monitoring UK marine assets with technologies that are ready to test in real-world conditions. This funding is from DEFRA.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to invest up to £1.5 million in grant funding across 3 years. This funding is for innovation projects that can improve the observation capabilities of the UK’s waters, towards improved assessment and evaluation of the status and risks to natural capital assets. These can include the data acquisition, communication, storage, analysis and modelling systems.

The aim of this competition is to test innovative technologies and approaches as part of end-to-end marine monitoring systems from in-situ data collection through to generating insights from the data. The innovation must focus on measures of marine asset extent, condition, and human pressures. The outputs of the work must demonstrate how the data collected can be used to generate insights into ecosystem services flows from marine assets, or how these flows could be impacted by human pressures.

This is phase 2 of a two phase competition.

The first phase competition was for the development of key technologies and capabilities that can be used for more effective and efficient observation of biodiversity in natural capital assets.

This phase 2 competition is for the development of complete end-to-end marine monitoring systems and their verification and validation. These must include on-site testing in an operational environment, or data curation, validation, analysis or visualisation.

In applying to this competition, you are entering into a competitive process. This competition closes at 11am UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type


Project size

Your project’s total grant funding request must be no more than £250,000.

Who can apply

Text update 24 July 2023: we have changed the following:

Project Impact questions apply to this competition, now referred to in the final paragraph of the Project team section.

Your project

Your project must:

  • have a total grant funding request of no more than £250,000
  • start by 1 February 2024
  • end by 31 October 2024
  • last up to 9 months
  • have an appropriate test site prepared
  • have appropriate operational permits or permissions to carry out the planned testing at sea
  • carry out all of its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

The test site must match the real-world marine conditions that the innovation is being designed for. Arranging a suitable test site is the responsibility of the applicant and should be factored into project costs.

Organisations that are applying technology used in a different sector to marine monitoring must have relevant marine science expertise on the project team, or involved in an advisory capacity, to advise on monitoring the intended marine assets.

You must only include eligible project costs in your application.

Under current restrictions, this competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian and Belarusian entity as lead, partner or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian and Belarusian source.

Lead organisation

To lead a project or work alone your organisation must:

More information on the different types of organisation can be found in our Funding rules.

If the lead organisation is an RTO it must collaborate with 2 businesses. These partners must include one SME and one business of any size.

Academic institutions cannot lead or work alone.

Project team

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must be one of the following UK registered:

  • business of any size
  • academic institution
  • charity
  • not for profit
  • public sector organisation
  • research and technology organisation (RTO)

Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service by the lead to collaborate on a project. Once partners have accepted the invitation, they will be asked to login or to create an account in the Innovation Funding Service. They are responsible for entering their own project costs and completing their Project Impact questions in the application.

If collaborating, the lead and at least one other organisation must apply for funding when entering their costs into the application.

Non-funded partners

Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding, for example non-UK businesses. Their costs will count towards the total project costs.


Subcontractors are allowed in this competition.

Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK and you must select them through your usual procurement process.

You can use subcontractors from overseas but must make the case in your application as to why you could not use suppliers from the UK.

You must provide a detailed rationale, evidence of the potential UK contractors you approached and the reasons why they were unable to work with you. We will not accept a cheaper cost as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

All subcontractor costs must be justified and appropriate to the total project costs.

Number of applications

A business or research and technology organisation (RTO) can only lead on one application but can be included as a collaborator in a further 2 applications.

If an organisation is not leading any application, it can collaborate in any number of applications.

Previous applications

You cannot use a previously submitted application to apply for this competition.

We will not award you funding if you have:

Subsidy control (and State aid where applicable)

This competition provides funding in line with the Subsidy Control Act 2022. Further information about the Subsidy requirements can be found within the Subsidy Control Act 2022 (

Innovate UK is unable to award organisations that are considered to be in financial difficulty. We will conduct financial viability and eligibility tests to confirm this is not the case following the application stage.

EU State aid rules now only apply in limited circumstances. Please see our general guidance to check if these rules apply to your organisation.

Further Information

If you are unsure about your obligations under the Subsidy Control Act 2022 or the State aid rules, you should take independent legal advice. We are unable to advise on individual eligibility or legal obligations.

You must always make sure that the funding awarded to you is compliant with all current Subsidy Control legislation applicable in the United Kingdom.

This aims to regulate any advantage granted by a public sector body which threatens to, or actually distorts competition in the United Kingdom or any other country or countries.

If there are any changes to the above requirements that mean we need to change the terms of this competition, we will tell you as soon as possible.


Up to £750,000 has been allocated to fund the development of innovation projects in this competition. Funding will be in the form of a grant.

If your organisation’s work on the project is commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically but for the purpose of this project will be undertaking commercial or economic activity.

For industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • up to 60% if you are a medium sized organisation
  • up to 50% if you are a large organisation

For more information on company sizes, please refer to the company accounts guidance.

If you are applying for an award funded under State aid Regulations, the definitions are set out in the European Commission Recommendation of 6 May 2003.

Research participation

The research organisations undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them. Of that 30% you could get funding for your eligible project costs of up to:

  • 80% of full economic costs (FEC) if you are a Je-S registered institution such as an academic
  • 100% of your project costs if you are an RTO, charity, not for profit organisation, public sector organisation or research organisation

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to test innovative technologies and approaches as part of end-to-end marine monitoring systems, from in-situ data collection through to generating insights from the data. The innovation must focus on measures of marine asset extent, condition, and human pressures. The outputs of the work must demonstrate how the data collected can be used to generate insights into ecosystem services flows from marine assets, or how these flows could be impacted by human pressures.

Innovations must be within 5 years of being integrated into real-world marine monitoring programmes or used in other sectors with application to marine monitoring. The innovation can target any part of the end-to-end monitoring system, from data collection to data processing, analysis or visualisation, but must be tested as part of a complete system.

DEFRA is looking for ways to significantly improve approaches to measure changes in the extent or condition of marine natural capital assets and provision of ecosystem services by these assets, such as by providing:

  • greater spatial or temporal coverage of data collection
  • ways to reduce the carbon emissions of end-to-end monitoring systems
  • improved efficiency, value for money or quality of data collection, processing, analysis, or visualisation

Your proposal must clearly:

  • explain which part of the end-to-end marine monitoring system you will be focusing on, for example data collection, processing, analysis or visualisation
  • explain the concept of operation and the marine environment that the targeted or final marine monitoring system will be operating in
  • describe the improvements sought, providing the measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used to determine the degree of improvement
  • describe what is innovative about your project and explain the technological maturity at the start and end of the project
  • demonstrate an understanding of what the development and testing of a complete marine monitoring system will entail
  • identify other market needs that could be met by your project’s deliverables and objectives
  • demonstrate the project’s output in the appropriate relevant environment, either the sea or laboratory

Portfolio approach
We want to fund a variety of projects across different technologies, marine monitoring systems and technological maturities. We call this a portfolio approach.

Specific themes

Your project must focus on one or more of the following:

Integration of innovative approaches across an end-to-end system

For example innovations in in-situ observations combined with innovations in data processing, analysis, or visualisation, to achieve efficiency gains across the whole system.

Integrated monitoring of marine assets

For example a monitoring system set up to understand interconnections between two or more assets, such as marine habitats and species. This can also include linkages between assets that span different ecosystems, such as estuaries, coast and offshore environments, or land and sea.

Innovation in approaches to monitor human pressures

Including their impacts on marine assets and the ecosystem services they provide.

Research categories

We will fund industrial research projects, as defined in the guidance on categories of research.

Projects we will not fund

We are not funding projects that:

  • cannot sufficiently demonstrate how an innovative technology would be applied to an end-to-end monitoring system and integrated into real-world marine monitoring programmes within the next 5 years
  • have not described the specific improvements sought using the grant funding and the corresponding measurable KPIs
  • are unable to meet the regulatory requirements necessary to operate in the intended environments
  • do not have an appropriate test site prepared

We cannot fund projects that are:

  • dependent on export performance, for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it exports a certain quantity of bread to another country
  • dependent on domestic inputs usage, for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it uses 50% UK flour in their product

24 July 2023
Competition opens
26 July 2023
Online briefing event: watch the recording
6 September 2023 11:00am
Competition closes
31 October 2023
Applicants notified

Before you start

Text update 24 July 2023: we have changed the following:

Project Impact questions apply to this competition, now referred to in section 4.

You must read the guidance on applying for a competition on the Innovation Funding Service before you start.

Before submitting, it is the lead applicant’s responsibility to make sure:

  • that all the information provided in the application is correct
  • your proposal meets the eligibility and scope criteria
  • all sections of the application are marked as complete
  • if collaborative, that all partners have completed all assigned sections and accepted the terms and conditions (T&Cs)

You can reopen your application once submitted, up until the competition deadline. You must resubmit the application before the competition deadline.

What we ask you

The application is split into 4 sections:

  1. Project details.
  2. Application questions.
  3. Finances.
  4. Project Impact.

Accessibility and inclusion

We welcome and encourage applications from people of all backgrounds and are committed to making our application process accessible to everyone. This includes providing support, in the form of reasonable adjustments, for people who have a disability or a long-term condition and face barriers applying to us. Watch the video on how we are making our application process more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

You must contact us as early as possible in the application process. We recommend contacting us at least 15 working days before the competition closing date to ensure we can provide you with the most suitable support possible.

You can contact us by emailing or calling 0300 321 4357. Our phone lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

1. Project details

This section provides background for your application and is not scored.

Application team

Decide which organisations will work with you on your project and invite people from those organisations to help complete the application.

Application details

Give your project’s title, start date and duration.

Project summary

Describe your project briefly and be clear about what makes it innovative. We use this section to assign the right experts to assess your application.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Public description

Describe your project in detail and in a way that you are happy to see published. Do not include any commercially sensitive information. If we award your project funding, we will publish this description. This could happen before you start your project.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.


Describe how your project fits the scope of the competition.

If your project is not in scope, it will not be sent for assessment. We will tell you the reason why.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

2. Application questions

The assessors will score all your answers apart from questions 1 and 2. You will receive feedback for each scored question. Find out more about how our assessors assess and how we select applications for funding.

You must answer all questions. Your answer to each question can be up to 400 words long, except for question 6. Do not include any website addresses (URLs) in your answers.

Question 1. Applicant location (not scored)

You must state the name and full registered address of your organisation and any partners or subcontractors working on your project.

We are collecting this information to understand the geographical location of all applicants.

Question 2. Permits and licences (not scored)

Will you have the correct permits and licences in place to carry out your project?

This question is not scored but will be used to check your eligibility for funding. We are unable to fund projects who do not have the correct permits or licences in place by your project start date.


  1. A list of any operational requirements such as test sites, permits and permissions.
  2. Evidence that these have been or can be obtained before the start of testing.
  3. Details of how any regulatory requirements (where applicable) will be met.

You can submit up to 2 appendices to support your answer. These must include evidence that any operational requirements such as test sites, permits and permissions have been or can be obtained. They must be PDFs, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size each. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 3. Proposed idea, technology, or system

How does the project meet the challenge described in the competition scope? What are the features or areas of the marine monitoring system that you are seeking to improve, and the corresponding technological challenges?


  • the current UK marine monitoring infrastructure and the areas or parts that you are seeking to improve upon
  • the concept of operation of the end-to-end marine monitoring system your work is focusing on
  • any assumptions or forecasts that you are making for the future marine monitoring systems
  • any challenges you have identified, including technological, operational, market
  • whether you have identified any similar innovation and its current limitations, including those on or close to market, or in development
  • any work you have already done to respond to this need

You can submit one appendix to support your answer. It can include diagrams and charts. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 4. Approach and innovation

What approach will you take and where will the focus of the innovation be?


  • how you will improve on any similar or competing innovation that you have identified
  • the measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) you will use throughout your project to determine the beyond state-of-the-art improvements you are targeting
  • whether the innovation will focus on existing technologies in new areas, the development of new technologies for existing areas or a totally disruptive approach
  • the freedom you have to operate
  • how this project fits with your current technology, product, service lines or offerings
  • how your project’s output will make you more competitive
  • the nature or type of the outputs you expect from the project, such as sensor, sub-system, system, hardware, software or other product or service design, and how these will help you to target the identified need

You can submit one appendix to support your answer. It can include diagrams and charts. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 5. Team and resources

Who is in the project team and what are their roles?


  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the project team that are relevant to the approach you will be taking
  • the resources, equipment and facilities needed for the project and how you will access them
  • the details of any vital external parties, including subcontractors, who you will need to work with to successfully carry out the project
  • if your project is collaborative, the current relationships between project partners and how these will change as a result of the project
  • any roles you will need to recruit for

You can submit one appendix, with a short summary of the main people working on the project to support your answer. It must be a PDF, up to 4 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 6. Commercial potential

How are you going to grow your business as a result of the project?

What are the markets that you can address with your work in this project?


  • the targeted performance objectives for your project’s proposed idea, technology or system
  • your project’s outputs and deliverables’ commercial potential for a marketable product, process, or service
  • other market needs that could be met by your project’s outputs, deliverables or objectives
  • the structure and dynamics of any other addressable market, including customer segmentation, together with predicted growth rates within clear timeframes
  • your current position in the markets and supply or value chains outlined, and whether you will be extending or establishing your market position
  • what will be needed for minimum viable product or service after the completion of the project
  • your route to market
  • how you are going to profit from the innovation
  • your strategy for targeting any other markets you have identified during or after the project

If there is any research organisation activity in the project, describe:

  • your plans to spread the project’s research outputs over a reasonable timescale
  • how you expect to use the results generated from the project in further research activities

Highlight if there are any restrictions on data sharing and the reasoning for these, for example commercial sensitivities.

Your answer to this question can be up to 600 words long.

Question 7. Project management

How will you manage your project effectively?


  • the main work packages of your project, indicating the lead partner assigned to each and the total cost of each one
  • your approach to project management, identifying any major tools and mechanisms you will use to get a successful and innovative project outcome
  • the management reporting lines
  • your project plan in enough detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones
  • the main technical outputs and deliverables of your project
  • how you will be testing your project’s outputs in the appropriate relevant environment (either sea or laboratory)

You must submit a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix to support your answer. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 8. Risks

What are the main risks for this project?


  • the main risks and uncertainties of the project, including the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks
  • how you will mitigate these risks
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise, and data sets
  • any output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical issues and other requirements identified, and how you will manage this

You must submit a risk register as an appendix to support your answer. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long, and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 9. Added value

How will this public funding help you to accelerate or enhance your approach to developing your project towards commercialisation? What impact would this award have on the organisations involved?


  • what advantages public funding would offer your project, for example: appeal to investors, more partners, reduced risk or a faster route to market (this list is not exhaustive)
  • the likely impact of the project outcomes on the organisations involved
  • what other routes of investment or means of support you have already approached
  • how any existing or potential investment or support will be used in conjunction with the grant funding
  • what your project would look like without public funding
  • how this project would change the R&D activities of all the organisations involved

Question 10. Costs and value for money

How much will the project cost and how does it represent value for money for the team and the taxpayer?

In terms of your project goals, explain:

  • your total project costs
  • the grant you are requesting
  • If collaborative, how each partner will finance their contributions to your project
  • how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer
  • how it compares to what you would spend your money on otherwise
  • the balance of costs and grant across the project partners
  • any subcontractor costs and why they are critical to your project

3. Finances

Each organisation in your project must complete their own project costs, organisation details and funding details in the application. Academic institutions must complete and upload a Je-S form.

For full details on what costs you can claim see our project costs guidance. You can also view our Application Finances video.

4. Project Impact

This section is not scored but will provide background to your project.

Each partner must complete the Project Impact questions before being able to submit the application.

More information can be found in our Project Impact guidance and by viewing our Impact Management Framework video.

Background and further information

The UK Government has committed to leave the environment in a better state for future generations and reach net zero by 2050 while boosting the economy. We will achieve this through the Environment Act, the Agriculture and Fisheries Acts, new environmental land management schemes and biodiversity net gain. This transformation in policymaking requires up-to-date evidence that is accessible to a wide range of decision makers.

Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) is a science innovation and transformation programme, which spans across land and water environments. It has been set up to collect data on the extent, condition and change over time of England’s ecosystems and natural capital, and the benefits to society. The current competition is part of the activities of this programme.

If you are successful in this competition, DEFRA will require a summary report from the work, detailing:

  • recommendations on how to apply the innovation most effectively
  • the strengths and limitations of the innovation
  • the learnings and successes from the project and the technology readiness of the system. This should include approximate timelines for finalising the technology and recommendations on how it is best applied to monitoring marine natural capital assets

DEFRA intends to incorporate the outcomes of the funded work into future monitoring plans. Any engagement to support this would be appreciated. Please also be aware that DEFRA intends to publish the summary reports provided and include the findings in its future monitoring transformation plans.

DEFRA also requires a copy of any raw data collected to compare to traditional monitoring approaches as part of future monitoring planning. These data should follow MEDIN metadata and data standards, where appropriate.

Please highlight in your application if there are any restrictions on data sharing and the reasoning, for example commercial sensitivities, and these will be taken into account.

Data sharing

This competition is jointly operated by Innovate UK, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (each an “agency”).

Any relevant information submitted and produced during the application process concerning your application can be shared by one agency with the other, for its individual storage, processing and use.

This means that any information given to or generated by Innovate UK in respect of your application may be passed on to DEFRA and vice versa. This would include, but is not restricted to:

  • the information stated on the application, including the personal details of all applicants
  • scoring and feedback on the application
  • information received during the management and administration of the grant, such as Monitoring Service Provider reports and Independent Accountant Reports

Innovate UK and DEFRA are directly accountable to you for their holding and processing of your information, including any personal data and confidential information. Data is held in accordance with their own policies. Accordingly, Innovate UK, and DEFRA will be data controllers for personal data submitted during the application. Innovate UK’s Privacy Policy is accessible here.

Innovate UK complies with the requirements of GDPR, and is committed to upholding the data protection principles, and protecting your information. The Information Commissioner’s Office also has a useful guide for organisations, which outlines the data protection principles.

Find a project partner

If you want help to find a project partner, contact Innovate UK KTN.

Support for SMEs from Innovate UK EDGE

If you receive an award, you will be contacted about working with an innovation and growth specialist at Innovate UK EDGE. This service forms part of our funded offer to you.

These specialists focus on growing innovative businesses and ensuring that projects contribute to their growth. Working one-to-one, they can help you to identify your best strategy and harness world-class resources to grow and achieve scale.

We encourage you to engage with Innovate UK EDGE, delivered by a knowledgeable and objective specialist near you.

Next steps

If you are successful with this application, you will be asked to set up your project.

You must follow the unique link embedded in your email notification. This takes you to your IFS Set Up portal, the tool that Innovate UK uses to gather necessary information before we can allow your project to begin.

You will need to provide:

  • the name and contact details of your project manager and project finance lead
  • a redacted copy of your bank details
  • a collaboration agreement, if applicable
  • an exploitation plan

In order for us to process your claims, you must make sure you have a valid UK bank account. It is possible that it can take several weeks for a new account to be created. We would recommend starting this process as early as possible to avoid any delays to you project start date.

The bank details you give to us must relate to a UK high street bank that is regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA). The account must have a BACS clearing facility and be in the same company name as your application.

If you have any doubts that your bank account will not meet Innovate UK's funding criteria, you can use the sort code checker. If you input the sort code and find a tick next to the ‘BACS Direct Credit payments can be sent to this sort code’, this will give you an indication that the bank account you hold is acceptable.

Finance checks

We will carry out checks to make sure you are an established company with access to the funds necessary to complete the project.

You must check your IFS portal regularly and respond to any requests we have sent for additional information to avoid any delays.

Failure to complete project setup may result in your grant offer being withdrawn.

Your Grant offer letter (GOL)

Once you have successfully completed project setup, we will issue your GOL.

The GOL will be made available on your IFS portal. You will need to sign and upload this for us to approve before you can start your project. If your GOL is approved on or before the fifteenth of the month, it will be dated from the first of that month. If your GOL is approved after the fifteenth, it will be dated the first of the next month.

You must not start your project before the date stated on your GOL. Any costs incurred before your agreed start date cannot be claimed as part of your grant.

If your application is unsuccessful

If you are unsuccessful with your application this time, you can view feedback from the assessors. This will be available to you on your IFS portal following notification.

Sometimes your application will have scored well, and you will receive positive comments from the assessors. You may be unsuccessful as your average score was not above the funding threshold or your project has not been selected under the portfolio approach if this is applied for this competition.

Contact us

If you need more information about how to apply or you want to submit your application in Welsh, email or call 0300 321 4357.
Our phone lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

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