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Professor Jessica Davies

Professor of Sustainability

Jessica Davies

LEC Building

LA1 4YQ

Lancaster

Tel: +44 1524 5 95986

Research overview

I am an engineer and environmental scientist interested in the role of land and soils in creating a sustainable future. I work across a wide range of settings: from forests and peatlands, arable lands and grazed grasslands, to urban landscapes. As an engineer, I am focused on solutions, and in my role as Director of the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation I help bring together people across disciplines and sectors to work on solutions that can help ecosystems, communities and economies to thrive together.

I currently hold an Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council Fellowship. In this major strand of my research, I develop computer models that help us understand and predict how soils provide carbon, food and water services. 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-based solutions?

I am passionate about raising awareness of the value of soils and the importance of food and agriculture for a sustainable future. If you would like to learn more, myself and my team have a number of accessible news stories:

You can read more about my soils work and that of our team on our Sustainable Soils Group website. You can also follow me and my relevant projects on twitter @ProfJessDavies @Soilinf @RurbanRev @CGEInnovation for up to date news.

Current Research

I currently lead a range of research projects spanning land and soils, food systems and business sustainability and resilience:

Soil-Value: Valuing and enhancing soil infrastructure to improve societal sustainability and resilience @Soilinf

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.

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?

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

Funded by Horizon 2020 (H2020-EU.3.2.1.1., H2020-EU.3.2.2.2.), 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.

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.

External Roles

Strategic Advisory Team member and Chair of the Early Career Forum for the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council’s Engineering Theme EPSRC’s strategic advisory teams advise the council on research and training strategy in different areas of their remit, paying attention to multidisciplinary opportunities. The Early Career Forum acts as a complementary informal stream of advice that reflects the early career engineering community. 

Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Nutrient Management Expert Group member. The Nutrient Management Expert Group independently reviews and analyses existing policy, alongside up-to-date technical and scientific evidence on fertilisers and nutrient management. It considers the multiple challenges surrounding nutrient management and develops recommendations on the optimal policy approaches to minimise nitrogen-based and other pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from fertiliser use. The Group engages with industry representatives and other key stakeholders to ensure its recommendations have practical merit.

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