Dr Sophus zu Ermgassen, winner of the NERC Impact Awards 2023

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) celebrated the finalists of the 2023 NERC Impact Awards with an event at the Natural History Museum, London on Wednesday 29th November, held under the iconic skeleton of the blue whale.  

The NERC Impact Awards highlight the UK science that is ‘at the heart of the responsible management of our planet’ and recognises individuals or teams whose work has had a big impact on the economy or society in either the UK or Internationally.

The Oxford Department of Biology is proud to have had two researchers attend the awards including the winner of the Early Career category Dr Sophus Zu Ermgassen. As well as the recognition this award brings, Sophus was awarded £12,000 to help further the impacts of his research.

Shaping the design and implementation of England’s new Biodiversity Net Gain policy (winner of the Early Career Impact category)

Dr Sophus zu Ermgassen was announced as the 2023 winner of the Early Career Impact category. His research has been instrumental in raising the public awareness of England’s new biodiversity net gain policy. Since November 2023 a new requirement has been put in pace for all new developments implemented under the Town and Country Planning Act to achieve a net gain in biodiversity, a relative increase in biodiversity compared to what was there before. The gain is measured using a biodiversity metric designed by Natural England and Defra.

However, a fundamental limitation to the policy was that there was no publicly available information on how to deliver the net gain or what methods were most effective. Sophus used his PhD and postdoctoral research to evaluate the outcomes of similar policies around the world, he also worked in collaboration with the early adopters of the policy in UK councils. The collated data could then be used to influence the final policy design and implementation including the addition of £8 million in increased funding by the government to local authorities. This work has helped ensure that the policy will improve environmental outcomes. Sophus has said of the award

''It’s one of the greatest honours of my life that I’ve received this award, and it would never have happened if it wasn’t for the astonishingly kind and insightful mentorship of Professor Joe Bull, and Dame Professor EJ Milner-Gulland, who led the two NERC-funded projects this prize was awarded for. It’s an academic’s dream to work alongside and learn from my amazing colleagues in the Department of Biology’s Nature-positive hub and the Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery, and my colleagues at my brilliant PhD institution, DICE Kent. And I really feel like we’re only just getting started with our work on the challenge of rewiring the economy to thrive within the constraints of the Earth system – so decades more work to come from us all!''

A video showcasing the work of Sophus was produced by NERC and can be watched here 

Shaping England’s new biodiversity net gain policy | NERC Impact Awards 2023



Enabling ambitious and effective species conservation action through delivery of a novel impact assessment framework (highly commended in the Early Career Impact category)

Dr Molly Grace was highly commended in the Early Career Impact category for her work on coordinating a standardised approach to impact assessment which improves the effectiveness of species conservation (the GSS).

The IUCN Green Status of Species (GSS) is helping to shift the public mood from pessimism to optimism by publicising conservation successes whilst enabling funders to identify the actions most likely to be successful. This framework is underpinned by the work that Molly did during a Knowledge Exchange fellowship. In collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Molly acted as a bridge between the academic partners (University of Oxford, Stony Brook University, and Institute of Zoology London) and non-academic partners (IUCN members Re:Wild, Zoological Society of London, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society and IUCN Specialist Groups) to turn theory and results into usable methods for practitioners. Molly's research is helping scientists to plan future efforts with the highest return on investment for wildlife and has transformed how species recovery is measured.

To read more about the 2023 award winners, finalists and commendations visit: NERC Impact Awards.