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Professor Louise Heathwaite FRSA, FRSB, FRSE


Louise Heathwaite

Lancaster University

LEC Building



Tel: +44 1524 510225

Research overview

Louise is Professor of Land and Water Science in the Lancaster Environment Centre. She is currently seconded  (part-time) to the Scottish Government where she holds the position of Chief Scientific Advisor for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment. Louise is a member of NERC Council and Defra's Science Advisory Council.

Expertise and published research

Louise’s expertise is in nutrient biogeochemistry. She is an active scientist with >150 international peer reviewed publications. Her research is especially focused on characterising the impact of nitrogen and phosphorus loss from agricultural land on freshwater quality. Since joining Lancaster in 2004 she has won research grants totalling over £6.3m, mainly from the UK Research Councils (BBSRC, NERC, ESPRC and ESRC). Her applied expertise in catchment science and water quality management has been funded by Defra and the Environment Agency.

Louise was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2015 in recognition of the distinguished contribution she has made to understanding the sources and hydrological pathways of diffuse pollution from agricultural land. This built her earlier established contribution to the discipline of hydrology through election in 2004 as Vice-President of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS), which has over 7,000 members drawn from nearly 200 countries worldwide. Louise is credited with advancing the Critical Source Areas concept that forms the cornerstone of many models of diffuse pollution risk (e.g. scimap) that are used widely in policy (e.g. Water Framework Directive river basin characterisation process; Defra's Catchment Sensitive Farming project), and at a practical level (e.g. through the The Rivers Trust). 

Louise’s research interests are strongly interdisciplinary and constantly evolving. She has continued to grow her early interests in microbial diffuse pollution, and led a major (£800k) project on the strategic control of animal disease risk, working at the natural-social science interface to build the evidence base to inform decision-support systems to ensure the uptake of science into policy. She has published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation on waterborne pathogens (Bridge et al. (2010) WHO 88:873–875), in PLoS ONE on uncertainty in infectious disease modelling (Christley et al., PLoS ONE 8(10): e76277), on nutrient cycling in rivers (Lansdown et al. (2014) ES&T 48(8) 4425-34Heppell et al. (2014) Biogeochem. 117(2-3): 491-509Lansdown et al. (2015) J. Geoph. Res. 120: 1093-1109) and the use of the citizens’ jury to evaluate environmental risk (Fish et al. (2012) Environmental Management & Planning 57(2)). Current research projects include the investigating phosphorus dynamics in groundwater-fed rivers (Bieroza & Heathwaite (2015) J. Hydrol. 524:333-347Bieroza & Heathwaite (2016) Sci. Total Envt. 572: 1520-1533) and examining innovative ways to bridge science and decision-making to reduce microbial pollution at the catchment scale (Oliver et al. (2014) Env. Int. 64:124-128).  

Scottish Government

As the ‘voice of science’ in government, Louise provides strategic and operational advice on science and science policy issues. Her focus is on rural affairs, food and the environment. Her role in the Scottish Government ensures the effective use of scientific evidence in policy areas ranging from climate change to food security, and from land use to animal health. Louise also acts as the main conduit for strategic science engagement with the UK Government and UK Research Councils in these areas. In 2016, Louise was identified as being one of the The Top 25 Women in the Public Sector by Holyrood Magazine.

Examples of Louise’s work on science engagement and impact include public lectures on cultivating innovative agricultural systems at the European Society of Agronomy in 2016, on science for rural affairs and the environment at the Crop Protection in Northern Britain Annual Conference in 2015; on Land use, biodiversity and natural capital at the British Ecological Society in 2015; and on Tactical Science to Build Strategies that Last at the Joint British Ecological Society, Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management and Scottish Biodiversity forum in 2013. She gave the Distinguished women scientist seminar: Towards a Sustainable Use of Natural Resources at the Women in Science Festival 2013 in Aberdeen. 

External Roles

In addition to her University and Scottish Government roles Louise holds the following senior appointments:

Member of Task Team of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM)

Member of Science Advisory Council, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

Member of Council, Natural Environment Research Council

Steering Board Member, UK Collaborative on Development Science (UKCDS)

Member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Life Sciences Sectional Committee

Member, Advisory Committee, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Member (ex officio) Scottish Science Advisory Council

Member of the implementation Group, Government Office for Science, Animal and Plant Health in the UK: Building our Science Capability

Research Interests

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