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Professor Jessica Davies

Professor of Sustainability

Jessica Davies

LEC Building



Tel: +44 1524 5 95986

Research overview

My research focuses on sustainable soils, land and food systems across natural, agricultural and urban landscapes. Drawing on my background in control system engineering and environmental modelling, I work at the interface between environmental sciences, engineering and business to develop science-based strategy and practices that drive sustainable transitions.

I am an Early Career EPSRC Living With Environmental Change Fellow. In this major strand of my research, I develop models that help us understand and predict change in plant, soil and water systems. I am keen to explore how we can borrow concepts and techniques from engineering and data sciences to advance these capabilities. Beyond the science, I am engaged in exploring how these models can be help us make sustainable decisions: can they help us make land management choices, manage risk, inform natural capital accounting or motivate investment in nature?

Current Research

Currently, my research focuses around four active research projects which I lead spanning land and soils, food systems and business sustainability and resilience:

1. Soil-Value: Valuing and enhancing soil infrastructure to improve societal sustainability and resilience

Funded by EPSRC Early Career Living With Environmental Change Fellowship, 2016-2021

This 5-year fellowship focuses on advancing our understanding of soils as a critical infrastructure that supports our societies: providing us with food, filtering and buffering flows of water, and regulating the carbon cycle. We need to better understand the value of this infrastructure to society and its resilience to changing management and climate.

As part of this project, I have been seconded to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to help build business engagement with soils, creating the business case for soil and finding new ways for companies to invest in this natural infrastructure that supports their business. As a result, I am lead editor of this collaborative report that brought together over 20 global businesses, NGOs and IOs on the business case for investing in soils.

More info:




2. Rurban Revolution: Can ruralising urban areas through greening and growing create a healthy, sustainable and resilient food system?

Funded by the Global Food Security Programme, BBSRC, ESRC, NERC and Scottish Government, 2019-2021

I am Principal Investigator of this 2-year research project working in collaboration with colleagues in the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business at Lancaster, the University of Liverpool and Cranfield University. In this research we are building an integrated evidence base on the potential of ruralisation in urban areas through greening and horticultural growing – or “rurbanisation” - as a transformative solution for a healthy, resilient and sustainable food system. We are exploring how rurbanisation influences:

  • Health and wellbeing by changing access and consumption of fruit and vegetables and reducing stress,  
  • Food production in terms of quantity, quality and safety and the resilience of the UK food system, and
  • Ecosystem service delivery inside and outside cities?

More info:



3. CROPBOOSTER-P: Preparatory action to Boost Global Crop Yield for Food & Nutrition Security and fueling a Bioeconomy

Funded by Horizon 2020 (H2020-EU., H2020-EU., 2018-2021

I am a Work Package leader on this project coordinated by Wageningen Research, which aims to identify priorities and opportunities for adapting and boosting crop productivity, nutritional quality and sustainability. In our WP we will assess the economic, social and environmental implications of the crop and farming technologies on the horizon to help steer future research and action.

More info:



4. Soil Natural Capital valuation needs for agri-food businesses

Funded by NERC as part of the Valuing Nature Programme, 2018

Soils are a key natural asset in agri-food supply chains. Yet their valuation is often overlooked as few ecosystems services flow directly from soils to goods, or human benefits. This synthesis report considered what a natural capital approach to soil could offer businesses, existing approaches, and key gaps to implementing this in practice.

More info:





Business and Enterprise

I am engaging with corporations to co-design more sustainable solutions for businesses, societies and our planet. Businesses are key actors in soil management: agricultural industries directly influence soil, but many major corporations indirectly influence soils through acquisition of raw materials in their supply chains. How supply chains influence soil sustainability and its links to food, water, climate and ecosystems is a complex and critical knowledge gap for science, business and governance.

To find out more, read my Nature comment on the business case for soils. Following this I acted as lead editor for this World Business Council for Sustainable Development report written in collaboration with global businesses and NGOs on investing in soils. We have also developed an introduction to natural capital approaches for business from a recent NERC Valuing Nature project in partnership with Olam International.


Professional Role

I lead the Lancaster Environment Centre Sustainability Group: a diverse team of researchers and non-academic staff who are working together to enhance the environmental sustainability of the department and its community of staff, students and partners. If you’re interested in getting involved, please get in touch.

Current Teaching

I teach on a variety of undergraduate modules across LEC and Organisation Work & Technology in LUMS and supervise undergraduate and masters dissertation students.

External Roles

Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Nutrient Management Expert Group member. 

The Nutrient Management Expert Group will independently review and analyse existing policy, alongside up-to-date technical and scientific evidence on fertilisers and nutrient management. It will consider the multiple challenges surrounding nutrient management and develop recommendations on the optimal policy approaches to minimise nitrogen-based and other pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from fertiliser use. The Group will engage with industry representatives and other key stakeholders to ensure its recommendations have practical merit. 

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