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Sustaining ecology research


Early career applications are welcome at the British Ecological Society

The British Ecological Society uses its research grants to support both the advancement of ecological science and the next generation of research ecologists.

The society holds two rounds of funding each year, offering three types of research grant: Small Research Grants of up to £5,000, open to members; Large Research Grants of up to £20,000, open to those who have been members for at least two years prior to application; and Ecologists in Africa grants of up to £8,000, open to citizens of low- or lower-middle-income African countries, with no membership restrictions.

This year’s first round for all three grants is open now and closes on 15 March. Outreach Grants—open to members and worth up to £2,000—are also available. The second annual round will open in early July. 

Chief executive Hazel Norman and grants and community engagement officer Dylan Byrne describe how the grants work and the key elements that reviewers like to see.

How many grants does the society award annually?

We usually award about 50 grants. We try to help early career ecologists in particular because they struggle to get funding, but the grants will support any ecologist who wants to advance ecological science and the understanding of ecology via a project. The society sees funding as a crucial way to support a thriving ecological community and thriving ecological science.

How many are given out for each type of grant?

We usually award about six to seven Large Research Grants each year. For the Small Research Grants, it is around 14. Similar for the Outreach Grants. For the Ecologists in Africa funding, it is around seven to eight awards per year. Our success rate is around 15 per cent across those schemes. Overall, we have got £400,000 of funding that we award every year.

Can grants be used as bolt-ons to larger projects?

If you apply for one of our grants, we must fund the majority of the project. If you have already got a project in the works and you require some additional funding, we would not fund that. We fund projects where people have an idea but they need funding to be able to do it. We do not want to act as a top-up fund.

When someone applies, we have a budget table that breaks down all the costs. If someone applies for a Large Research Grant and their costs come to £26,000—so above the maximum we award—they would have to justify where the other £6,000 would come from, and there is space to do that. But, again, we would still need to remain the majority funder.

Who are the grants primarily intended for?

Our grants are open to most people in our membership, although there are some eligibility criteria that must be met. One of the main ones is that we would not fund to complete a PhD project but we would fund a project that complements a PhD. It generally tends to be early career researchers applying for the Small Research Grants, but those are still open to anyone.

To what extent is an applicant’s track record considered?

It is scored; we do look at evidence of what a researcher has done in the past. But we also look at impact as part of the scoring criteria, including how much of an impact this funding would have on a person’s career.

What makes bids stand out?

For all our grants, evidence-based impact with a strong understanding of methodology will always impress. Make sure that whatever you are doing has an impact that you can evidence, that you understand the methodology you are using and that your evidence can be achieved in a realistic timeframe.

Beyond that, we always look for a good, clear breakdown of your costs in the budget table. Being realistic about how much a project will cost is also important. The Small Research Grant has a maximum of £5,000—what can you do with that £5,000?

Are there any geographical restrictions?

Apart from the Ecologists in Africa scheme, there are no geographical restrictions either on location for the research or the researcher’s home base.

And topic-wise?

Our grants cover over 30 topics, all relating to different branches of ecology, from agroecology to urban ecology. On the application form, selecting three topics relevant to your grant application helps us ensure that the most relevant members of the review college assess and score your application.

All applicants get feedback, whether their grant is successful or not. We accept modified reapplications; the original proposal should be 80 per cent different and the applicant must take the reviewers’ feedback on board.

Can applicants contact the society directly with queries?

Yes. Anyone with a query will not end up dealing with multiple people; they will just deal with one person through the whole process. We would recommend raising any queries. One early question can often save a lot of time and effort. 

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com