Academics from 11 institutions have set up a network to co-ordinate their Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (Seti). The English Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, will act as patron. The group is asking funding agencies for a small - about £1m a year - sum of money to support listening time on radio telescopes and for data analysis. It would also help pay for research that considered new ways to try to find aliens.
Currently, most Seti work is done in the US and is funded largely through private donation. UK Seti Research Network (UKSRN) co-ordinator Alan Penny said there was important expertise in Britain keen to play its part.
"If we had one part in 200 - half a percent of the money that goes into astronomy at the moment - we could make an amazing difference. We would become comparable with the American effort," the University of St Andrews researcher told BBC News.
"I don't know whether [aliens] are out there, but I'm desperate to find out. It's quite possible that we're alone in the Universe. And think about the implications of that: if we're alone in the Universe then the whole purpose in the Universe is in us. If we're not alone, that's interesting in a very different way."
The UKSRN held its first get-together at this week's National Astronomy Meeting. British researchers and facilities have had occasional involvement in Seti projects down the years.
The most significant was the use in 1998-2003 of Jodrell bank, and its 76m Lovell radio telescope, in Project Phoenix. This was a search for signals from about 1,000 nearby stars. Organised - and paid for - by the Seti Institute in California, it ultimately found nothing.