Updated: August 2023
The strategic goal of the Nature Restoration Fund (NRF) is to catalyse action at a scale to protect and restore Scotland’s biodiversity on land and sea.
The draft Scottish Biodiversity Strategy defines clear priorities for the NRF and the impact we want projects to deliver. The NRF currently focuses on broad priority themes, which will be further refined on publication of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy later in 2023.
We are keen to encourage and support partnership projects that will be required to make the transformational changes needed to restore nature at the required scale and pace i.e. that are necessary to restore and regenerate biodiversity across our land, freshwater and seas by 2045.
IPBES direct drivers of biodiversity loss
The scale of the challenges facing us were highlighted in May 2019 when the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) described the prevalence of five direct drivers that are causing the loss of biodiversity and substantially reducing what nature can provide for people. This makes it clear that action for nature that tackles these drivers and the indirect drivers which cause them are a priority that cannot wait.
The IPBES direct drivers of biodiversity loss are:
- Land and sea-use change
- Direct exploitation of organisms
- Climate change and its impacts
- Invasive non-native species (INNS)
The priority themes remain similar to those expressed in 2022, in addition we are encouraging applications in urban areas. The ambition to encourage partnership projects that work at scale and facilitate nature networks to improve habitat connectivity has also increased.
The priority themes tackle these drivers:
- Habitat and species restoration: Management for enhancement and connectivity.
- Freshwater restoration, including restoration of natural flows in rural catchments
- Coastal and marine initiatives which promote restoration, recovery, enhancement or resilience
- Control of invasive non-native species (INNS) impacting on nature
- Urban: Enhancing and connecting nature across, and between, towns and cities.
The Nature Restoration Fund is a commitment in the current Programme for Government for multi-year funding as part of overall investment in the natural economy. The £65 million fund was a key part of the Bute House Agreement and multi-year funding across this parliament was announced on Nature Day at COP26.
This guidance is for Helping Nature and Transforming Nature applications to the Competitive Fund.
The Fund has two streams, Helping Nature, for grants of £25,000 to £250,000 and Transforming Nature grants of £250,000 upwards, including development phase funding. For Transforming Nature – Development phase grants please read the Transforming Nature Development phase guidance.
The Transforming Nature stream of the Nature Restoration Fund (which offers grants of over £250,000 and development phase funding) is for larger scale, ambitious, transformative projects of single or multi-year duration.
Details for The Edinburgh Process Fund, for Local Authorities, National Park Authorities, and their partners engaged in delivering local nature networks and other biodiversity projects locally will be announced later in 2023.
Projects with the value of £25,000 - £250,000 can be of strategic importance and we are particularly interested in projects where that investment can have a multiplier effect and deliver real impact.
Key Selection Criteria
In addition, in order to ensure maximum impact from investment, priority will be given to projects which:
- Bring together strong partnerships
- Leverage funding in excess of the NRF minimum requirement from other financial partners
- Demonstrate clear additionality to existing and already committed actions
- Have a sustainable vision and a clear exit strategy which does not require further NRF funding.
All project proposals should reference how the project will contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The decision making panel will seek to achieve a spread of projects across the five priority themes, and across Scotland
Projects within the boundaries of National Parks must comply with the relevant National Park plan:
Please read all of the following carefully before you start.
Applications are invited from:
- Constituted organisations
- Registered charities and trusts
- Constituted community groups
- Private individuals and companies - where public benefit will be demonstrated
- Partnerships and organisations working collaboratively with others.
Where applications are received from partnerships or organisations working collaboratively, a lead applicant must be identified. If successful, the lead applicant will be required to accept the Terms and Conditions of the Funding Offer, provide overall project updates and claim funds on behalf of all project partners. We will ask you to tell us how the project will be managed in your project proposals.
Public Bodies cannot be the principal beneficiary of a grant from NRF but can be a coordinator of, or funding contributor to, a wider partnership bid (where the match funding eligibility criteria are met). Any bids with public body partners will be scrutinised to ensure funding is delivering activities that would not be expected to be undertaken by public bodies as part of their core functions, or as would be expected in delivering their biodiversity duties.
NRF and other Grant Schemes
NRF will not fund projects, or parts of projects, that are eligible for the following grant programmes. This includes projects that are eligible for any of the following, but have been unsuccessful in securing funds:
Scotland’s Rural Development Programme (SRDP):
- Projects which involve partnership, collaborative or innovative new approaches may be too complex for AECS and so NRF may fund these. However NRF is not supportive of projects which are limited to simply grouping together individual land holdings, as these can be supported by AECS.
- Hedgerows may, on occasion, be funded by NRF where they exceed the AECS specification in terms of density, width or length and where they result in transformative nature-rich outcomes. We will use AECS rates as a baseline for assessing value for money. Costs exceeding AECS rates must be supported with strong justification and a breakdown of costs.
- NRF may fund INNS projects where AECS is not suitable, given the holistic, catchment coordinated approach required for effective INNS removal.
- For further advice on AECS, including eligibility, you can contact the duty officer for your area or use the Farm Advisory Service for 30 minutes of free advice 0300 323 0161, email: [email protected]
- This is anticipated to be available in its current, or similar, format for the foreseeable future and NRF will therefore not fund tree planting schemes, or any other woodland improvement or management activities for which FGS funding is available. This includes riparian planting, where Scottish Forestry’s new riparian planting scheme applies.
- NRF may consider tree planting or other woodland improvement elements of wider projects, such as for completion of INNS eradication, where your project does not meet the eligibility criteria of FGS and where this is confirmed by Scottish Forestry.
- NRF projects which seek to enable natural regeneration, for example via site manipulation or enclosures, should consider any longer term plans for securing FGS funds and ensure that FGS eligibility following successful NRF funding is considered from the outset.
- Before expressing your interest in applying to NRF, you are encouraged to discuss your project with your local Woodland Officer. Contact details can be found via Scottish Forestry - contact.
- NRF will not fund projects that are eligible for the WEF, and that SEPA is able to resource as part of the current River Basin Management Plan programme of work. If relevant, you should seek confirmation from SEPA that your project is ineligible for WEF.
- NRF will fund projects which would be otherwise eligible for SMEEF where the grant requested is in excess of the upper funding limit for SMEEF.
Invasive Non-Native Species
INNS projects must deliver all three of the following:
- Bring entire populations of INNS under control
- Demonstrate coordination and a collaborative approach across larger geographic/multiple ownership units
- Be sustainable beyond the funding period (for example, by eradicating populations or establishing costed sustainable control plans covering a 10-year maintenance period).
Projects which include INNS control as one element of a wider project in single land ownership will only be eligible if the INNS control is a minor part of the project outcomes.
Fencing, Browsing Control and Deer Culling
Fencing for browsing control will not be funded where deer management measures, such as an active Deer Management Plan, are not already in place.
- NRF will normally pay for fencing costs (livestock or deer) up to and equal to AECS fencing rates only. Applications with fencing costs at higher rates, for example where a site is extremely remote or challenging to work on, will be considered with a robust justification and following discussion with the funding officer.
- Strategic deer fences that bring the achievement of multiple biodiversity benefits at scale will be a higher priority.
- Deer fencing where new woodland establishment needs protection to allow it to establish may be supported at the discretion of the decision making panel. Support will usually only be for larger enclosures and be considered a medium priority.
- Deer fencing of small (single or multiple) or narrow enclosures, such as riparian ribbon planting, will be a lower priority in the absence of justifiable deer management and/or wider catchment measures.
- Deer culling will only be supported where it is the most effective means of achieving the desired habitat outcomes, and only if in combination with accompanying measures which support the ongoing maintenance of the habitat outcomes.
- Fencing in capercaillie core areas (Cairngorms) will need to be carefully justified and supported at the discretion of the decision making panel.
- Fencing to protect enclosures of more mature trees will not normally be funded, unless biodiversity benefits beyond those achieved through deer management can be demonstrated.
- Predator fencing will not be funded.
Livestock and Grazing
- The purchase of livestock will not be funded.
- NRF can support costs for the use of GPS collars on livestock to manage grazing in some circumstances. Any projects including GPS collars will be reviewed to ensure that there is a clear justification for the need for this equipment and that the purpose of the GPS collars link directly to the conservation purpose of the project. We will include a Special Condition in any Offer involving GPS collars with reporting expectations and to monitor their effectiveness. We would ask that you provide details in your application of the appropriate stock you have for these collars, consider any training needed to use the collars and confirmation that animal welfare has been considered.
What costs can be funded?
The Nature Restoration Fund is largely a capital fund designed to deliver change on the ground.
Please provide as much budgetary detail as possible in your application, including how budget lines have been calculated eg hourly rates, costs per item, split out irrecoverable VAT and detail full cost recovery methodology.
Costs that can be funded:
- Contractor costs, for example to undertake detailed design or groundworks, or to undertake project evaluation eg costs for measuring success and evaluating the project.
- Capital equipment, resources and materials (e.g. culverts, bridges, sluice, fencing, plants) that will deliver on the ground nature restoration as part of the overall project.
- Costs associated with training and skills development such as training providers, and PPE.
- Staff costs inclusive of salary, National Insurance and Employer Pension Contributions.
- Full cost recovery where there are staff costs, organisational and overhead costs; to cover office accommodation, equipment and running costs and wider staff support (e.g. finance, IT). The National Lottery Community Fund provides an excellent guide to calculating full cost recovery, which we recommend you consult if you intend to apply for full cost recovery. You will need to clearly explain how you have calculated full cost recovery in your application.
- Travel and subsistence to cover staff and any volunteers supporting project activity for organisations. A copy of your Travel and Subsistence policy will be required in support.
- Irrecoverable VAT relating to project costs and activities.
- Lead applicant costs: Staff time and on-costs where applications are received from a partnership or organisations working collaboratively (but not costs associated with establishing any additional partnership governance). Any additional levy/management fee will be ineligible.
- Feasibility studies – fundable only at development phase.
Applications for hedging must demonstrate how habitats are connected and/or improved and should be transformative for the benefit of nature restoration. Applications for creating hedges should be well considered and must demonstrate the biodiversity gains that will result as well as highlighting any potential negative impacts e.g. land used by waders, adjacent to hedges may have a negative impact due to hedge use by predators. Applications must consider and explain the species mix proposed which should be typical for the local area. As a minimum, hedges must meet AECS hedgerow specifications.
NRF can support equipment costs where required. The proposed costs will be reviewed on a case by case basis. Applicants should investigate the costs for hire in the first instance particularly for higher purchase items. Should applicants want to purchase equipment this should be clearly justified. We will include a Special Condition in any Offer with high purchase costs to ask for evidence of usage and the condition of purchased equipment. Purchased equipment must be available for sole use to deliver project aims, detailed within the application, during the contract period. At the end of the project purchased equipment must continue to be used to support nature benefits.
Inflation and contingency costs: We recognise that inflation may make it challenging to accurately budget for projects running for up to 2 years. Costs presented should be, in order of preference:
- Based on quotes from any contractors you will use (if you already have these)
- Based on previous experience in similar projects
- Your best guesstimate, with explanation of how you reached the figure.
NRF cannot fund contingency costs, but if agreed project costs rise due to inflation during the delivery of your project, NRF may consider increasing the value of grant awarded upon receipt of evidence.
Cash or in-kind contributions to cover the reporting of NRF activity (as distinct from undertaking and completing evaluation reports) and the claiming of NRF must be confirmed within each application. These are not eligible NRF project management costs but can be included as a proportionate element within the minimum 10% match funding that is required.
What types of work will not be funded?
The primary focus of this fund is to increase the biodiversity value of land and sea with a focus on nature-based solutions to address the impacts of biodiversity loss and climate change.
NRF will not fund the following types of projects:
- Ongoing maintenance of any site or the implementation of previously agreed (land/site) management plan actions.
- Activities which are a condition of planning or statutory obligations.
- Replacement of existing infrastructure where there is no biodiversity enhancement.
- Projects that do not seek to transform land/sites to an improved, sustainable, nature-rich state.
- Organisational and staff capacity building (although project-specific training costs are eligible).
- Development of management or strategic plans.
- Costs for delivering people and community engagement activities.
- Interpretation materials apart from warning signs for the public where activity is taking place.
- Surveys, monitoring, data analysis or research where collation of data is the primary purpose (surveys as part of project monitoring and evaluation are eligible).
- Delivery of partner organisation and stakeholder statutory obligations for biodiversity, habitats and species. (Projects on land/sites owned by statutory agencies such as NatureScot and Forestry and Land Scotland can be funded, provided the above is adhered to, the statutory agency is not the lead applicant and that public benefit is delivered.)
- Annual management payments to farmers.
- Single use plastics, for example for tree protection. Biodegradable or re-usable materials should be sourced. In exceptional circumstances, where there is no suitable alternative (such as in flood prone locations) plastic protection may be given approval, provided it is removed and reused or recycled afterwards.
- Contingency costs.
- Staff time to report on progress and claim NRF funds.
- Feasibility studies that do not lead directly to practical nature restoration delivery during the proposed project.
Funding award level and match funding
The Nature Restoration Fund is largely a capital fund designed to deliver change on the ground. As the funding profile anticipates an equal distribution of funds across years, multi-year projects that deliver spend evenly over both financial years may be prioritised.
- All applications will be required to confirm cash and/or in-kind contributions to the project. There is a maximum NRF intervention rate of 90% of project costs.
- Projects which are able to bring significantly more than 10% match funding to their application will be preferred.
- However, the NRF will, at its discretion, cover up to 100% of cash costs for projects that will make a significant contribution to the Priorities for Action and can demonstrate a minimum of 10% in-kind support.
Cash and in-kind contributions to projects cannot be matched from the following funding programmes:
- Peatland Action
- Green Infrastructure Funds
- Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund
- Nature Restoration Fund:
- Helping Nature rounds
- Transforming Nature rounds (development phase)
- Edinburgh Process Fund
- Biodiversity Challenge Fund
- Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund (SMEEF)
- Any other funds and grants administered by NatureScot.
While funds cannot be matched from these sources, we recognise that making connections to projects funded by them, and working in catchments/sites alongside them, may facilitate enhanced outcomes, and encourage this.
- Activity completed prior to the grant offer being issued and accepted (such as preparatory work, surveys, consultations) cannot be used for match or in-kind funding.
Activity which is ineligible for NRF funding cannot be used as in-kind or match funds. This includes:
- Value of land on which projects are taking place
- Discounted staff and/or consultancy fees
- Any capital or resource activity previously funded by any NatureScot grant programme.
The key principles of public sector procurement of being able to demonstrate openness, fairness, transparency and equal treatment when purchasing goods, services or works using public funds apply. These principles must be applied to procurement exercises in successful projects. It is also essential to demonstrate that value for money has or will be achieved. To help achieve this you must get competitive quotes and tenders for all goods, works and services in accordance with the contract thresholds outlined in our Grant Application Form and any Grant Offer we issue. Undertaking procurement exercises are the responsibility of the grant recipient however we may ask you to seek our approval before letting a contract. This will be based on the value of the contract and/or may relate to some of the project risks you have identified. Any approvals required will be clearly set out in any Grant Offer that we issue.
Procurement expectations are included in fund specific information including in our Grant Application Form, in any Grant Offer that we issue and in our Standard Terms and Conditions, available on our website. The ‘Nature Restoration Fund (NRF) Procurement Guidance’ extends that information and clarifies in further detail what they mean in practice.
Landowner permission and maintenance compliance period
All successful NRF projects are required to confirm landowner permission for the works to take place and permission for any subsequent maintenance over a period of 10 years - the NRF maintenance compliance period. These permissions are confirmed via a signed Landowner Declaration form available on our website.
- Where an application is received directly from a landowner, the separate Landowner Declaration form is not required.
- Where applications are received from organisations not in ownership of the land where action will take place, signed Landowner Declarations must be received by NatureScot before a Funding Offer will be issued. If a signed Landowner Declaration form is not received within the timeframe specified when we inform you of our intent to support your project, NatureScot will withdraw our in-principle support and no offer of funding will be made.
- Where an applicant leases the land where action will take place:
- If the lease agreement extends beyond the 10 year compliance period, the applicant can sign the Landowner Declaration provided there are no break clauses that can be implemented during the 10 year maintenance compliance period.
- If there are break clauses in the lease agreement that could be implemented within the 10 year maintenance compliance period, irrespective of how long the lease lasts, the landowner will be required to sign the Landowner Declaration as the applicant is unable to give the 10 year maintenance compliance commitment that is required.
- At assessment it will be assumed that the landowner(s) is aware of the proposed actions within your application and that appropriate consultation about your proposal has already taken place.
- We will inform you of any additional Special Conditions that may require you to liaise with the landowner(s) prior to issuing our formal Funding Offer.
Maintenance compliance period
- NatureScot will not fund the 10-year maintenance period and associated activity and it cannot be used as an in-kind contribution to project costs either.
- All sites must be maintained in the condition created with NRF funds to enable the longer term benefits to be realised (for example repairs to fencing, replacement of failed plantings).
- In the event that a site is sold, the NRF maintenance obligations must be included within the sale contract.
- The maintenance compliance obligations will be included within the Terms and Conditions of the Funding Offer issued and are binding on acceptance of the offer.
Standard Terms and Conditions of Funding are available to view on our website.
Fair Work First
Fair Work First - requirements of the Fair Work First Policy relating to the real Living Wage and channels for Effective Voice
Fair Work First is the Scottish Government's flagship policy for driving high quality and fair work across the labour market in Scotland. This is increasingly being implemented by applying fair work criteria to grants, other funding and contracts being awarded across the public sector, where relevant to do so.
We are introducing two elements of the Fair Work First policy for all new funding offers issued from 1 July 2023. These are: for employees to receive at least the Real Living Wage; and for workers to be provided with appropriate channels for effective voice.
Further information can be found in Fair Work First – Guidance for funding applicants.
In exceptional circumstances, if an applicant cannot afford the real Living Wage (rLW) there is potential to increase the grant to meet the rLW. Should you have any concerns regarding this, you should contact us [email protected] or contact your Funding Officer at the earliest opportunity. We may consider measures to ensure the Fair Work First requirements remain proportionate and this will be considered by NatureScot on a case by case basis.
Funding recipients must provide evidence that they comply with the Fair Work First Policy by completing a Fair Work First – employer declaration form.
Other Permissions and Consents
We will ask you in the application form what permissions and consents are required to enable you to implement your project, including a likely timescale for both applying and securing them. If your application is successful, all relevant permissions must be confirmed before work commences. This includes Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) decisions, felling permissions, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) licences, marine licences, deer management agreements, Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) consents, Historic Environment Scotland, and any other permissions relating to designated sites or land ownership, where appropriate.
Permissions must be sought as soon as possible after a Funding Offer has been issued, with the expectation these will be secured within a specified timeframe according to the Funding Offer date. We understand that some permissions may take longer, for example a SEPA Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR) licence. You should explain in the application form what discussions have occurred regarding permissions and with who.
If your project requires planning permission, we recognise this can take some time. You should detail what discussions you have had with the planning authority in your application form, including any feedback and indications of timescale, and ensure that the implications of a delayed decision and your ability to deliver the project by the intended end date stated in your application are fully addressed within the risk section of the application form.
NatureScot will offer funding that is conditional on permissions being secured by a set date. If that timeframe is not achieved, you should expect that we will withdraw our offer of funding.
How to apply
Please then download an Expression of Interest (EOI) form.
You may submit more than one EOI where potential projects are entirely unrelated.
You can submit an EOI when you are ready to do so. Please consider in advance which application deadline, as noted below, you are planning to apply for. We would strongly recommend that you submit an EOI significantly in advance of an application deadline so you have time to consider our feedback before you progress to an application.
We aim to respond to your EOI within 20 working days. If you submit an EOI within 20 working days of an application deadline we cannot guarantee that we will be able to respond in time and you should wait for the next application deadline to apply.
EOIs are a mandatory requirement for applicants. However, if you have received NRF Transforming Nature – Development phase funding you do not need to submit an EOI to apply for Transforming Nature - Delivery phase funding and can proceed straight to application stage, please contact [email protected] to request an application form. Please note securing NRF development phase funding does not guarantee a successful NRF delivery phase application.
If you are not invited to submit an application following feedback from us, you should wait at least 3 months before submitting another EOI for the same project. This does not exclude you from submitting another EOI for a different project within that timeframe.
Helping Nature funding is available for grants of £25,000 to £250,000 for activity lasting up to 24 months from the start date of the project however all activity must be completed by the end of March 2026.
Transforming Nature funding is available for grants of £250,000 upwards for activity up to the end of March 2026.
Transforming Nature – Development grants are also available, please note if you wish to apply for Transforming Nature – Delivery funding following a development project, that all Nature Restoration Fund projects can only be delivered up to the end of March 2026.
Read all of the guidance in our Resources section before submitting your Expression of Interest form to [email protected].
It is likely that a Funding Officer or Topic Specialist within NatureScot will be in touch with you about your Expression of Interest during the review period. If we assess that your proposed project could meet the NRF priorities, we will send you an application form, with a unique project reference number, to complete. This will only be made available to those who are offered the opportunity to submit an application. We will not accept any applications without a project reference number. The opportunity to complete a full application does not guarantee that it will be successful.
For all projects invited to submit applications:
We expect all applications to be accompanied by two distinct project plans which detail:
- Project implementation and management, including evaluation and monitoring during project delivery; and
- Monitoring and maintenance for the period immediately post project delivery. (Prior to issuing a grant offer, we also expect a separate monitoring and maintenance plan to be produced, covering the 10 year post grant maintenance period, see below.)
Following assessment of your application, we will inform you of the outcome. For successful projects, you will need to confirm the following details before we will make any funding offer:
- cash and in-kind contributions
- landowner agreements
- maintenance plans which cover the 10 year post grant compliance period.
EOIs are a mandatory requirement for applicants. We would strongly recommend that you submit an EOI significantly in advance of an application deadline so you have time to consider our feedback before you progress to an application.
We aim to respond to your EOI within 20 working days. If you submit an EOI within 20 working days of an application deadline we cannot guarantee that we will be able to respond in time and you should wait for the next application deadline to apply.
If we assess your proposed project could meet NRF priorities, we’ll send you an application form, with a unique project reference number. This will only be made available to those projects who have been offered the opportunity to submit a full application. We will not accept any applications without a project reference number. The opportunity to complete a full application does not guarantee that it will be successful.
- Monday 9 October 2023 at 12 noon for a decision in late December/early January
- Monday 29 January 2024 at 12 noon for a decision in late April/early May
- Thursday 25 April 2024 at 12 noon for a decision in July
- Monday 12 August 2024 at 12 noon for a decision in November.
You will be required to acknowledge Nature Restoration Fund support as set out in the guidance How to acknowledge our support for your project on our website. NatureScot will issue press statements on projects awarded funding.
If, having read the Priorities for Action and Information for Applicants documents, you have any queries on the fund, please send an email to [email protected] in the first instance, thank you.