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Professor Louise Heathwaite


Louise Heathwaite

LEC Building

Lancaster University


Lancaster LA1 4YQ

United Kingdom

Tel: +44 1524 510225


Research overview

Louise is Professor of Land and Water Science in Lancaster Environment Centre. She is currently on secondment (part-time) to the Scottish Government as their Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) for Rural Affairs and the Environment. Before taking up the CSA position, Louise was seconded to the Natural Environment Research Council working as a ‘science champion’ which involved leading one of their core research themes: The Sustainable Use of Natural Resources.  

Expertise and published research

Louise’s expertise is in nutrient biogeochemistry. She is an active scientist with >150 international peer reviewed papers. Her research is focused on diffuse pollution and in particular understanding the pathways of nitrogen and phosphorus loss from agricultural land to water, and the implications for freshwater quality. She has received over £2.1m funding for her research, mainly from the UK Research Councils (BBSRC, NERC, EPSRC and ESRC). She has also been funded for her applied science expertise in catchment science and water quality management by Defra and the Environment Agency.

Louise is internationally recognised for 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. Recent areas include leading a major (£800k) natural-social science project on the strategic control of animal disease risk. 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), in ES&T on nutrient cycling in rivers (Lansdown et al. ES&T 48(8) 4425-34), and the use of the citizens’ jury to evaluate environmental risk (Fish et al. Environmental Management & Planning 57(2)).

Louise’s current research projects include the investigation of Phosphorus dynamics in groundwater-fed rivers and examining innovative ways to bridge science and decision-making in catchment microbial dynamics.

Scottish Government

In her work for the Scottish Government Louise provides leadership on science in the Scottish Government on rural affairs and environment, which involves the integration and effective use of 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. Examples of Louise’s work on public/policy delivery include: (1) Public lecture (2013) Tactical Science to Build Strategies that Last. Joint British Ecological Society, Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management and Scottish Biodiversity forum, Edinburgh, (2) Keynote speech (2013) Towards Sustainable Use of Natural Resources. Distinguished female science seminar series/Annual Women in Science Festival, Dundee, (3) Keynote speech (2012) UK Soils Research: past, present, future. All Parliamentary Group on Agro-ecology, (4) Keynote speech (2012) Supporting the Journey to Adaptation: the challenges we face. Living with Environmental Change Assembly, (5) Keynote speech (2012) Science-based policy to meet environmental change. Scottish Government Science and Engineering Profession Annual Conference.



External Roles

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

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

Member of Council, Natural Environment Research Council.

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

Member, Advisory Committee, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Member (ex officio) Scottish Science Advisory Council.

Executive Committee, RCUK Living with Environmental Change programme.

Steering Group member, Government Office for Science, UK capability needs for animal and plant disease management.

Research Interests

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