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Professor Louise Heathwaite

Executive Chair, Natural Environment Research Council (External Secondment), Distinguished Professor

Louise Heathwaite

University House



Tel: +44 1524 510225

Research overview

Expertise and published research

Louise is a hydrochemist and Distinguished Professor in the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University. She has published > 250 peer-reviewed articles with over 13,500 citations and an H-index of 64 (data from Google Scholar). She was appointed Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council, UKRI in March 2024 on secondment from Lancaster University. Prior to this she was Pro-Vice Chancellor Research and Enterprise from 2019 to 2024. In 2023, Louise was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of her sustained scholarship in environmental science and outstanding contribution to science leadership. In 2018, she was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours list for services to scientific research and scientific advice to government. Earlier honours include her election in 2015, as Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in recognition of the distinguished contribution she has made to hydrological science and to science-policy engagement. Louise’s long-term contribution to the discipline of hydrology led to her election in 2004 as Vice-President of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS), which has over 8,000 members across 130 countries worldwide; between 2017-2022 she was President of the Freshwater Biological Association. Prior to this, in 2004, Louise founded and was first Director of the Centre for Sustainable Water Management in Lancaster University; one of the precursor interdisciplinary research centres that contributed to the formation of the Lancaster Environment Centre, which is her departmental home in Lancaster University. Louise is an active scientist supported by continuous funding from the research councils, government and government agencies. She is recognised internationally as an authority on diffuse environmental pollution and in particular understanding the pathways of nitrogen and phosphorus loss from agricultural land to water, and the implications for nutrient pollution and degradation of freshwater quality. Louise is credited with advancing the Critical Source Areas concept that forms the cornerstone of many models of diffuse pollution risk that are used widely in policy, for example, the EU Water Framework Directive river basin characterisation process, and Defra's Catchment Sensitive Farming project. At a practical level, her work has been used by The Rivers Trust, and in particular, the Eden Rivers Trust where she was a Director of the Board of Trustees from 2008-12. 

External Roles

UK Science Capability: Louise’s long experience in ‘solutions science’ and demonstrable expertise in building science capacity means she is a sought-after leader in the critical analysis of UK science capability across a wide range of scientific domains. Following her term as a Chief Scientific Advisor Rural Affairs, Food and Environment in the Scottish Government, where she was responsible for ensuring the integration and effective use of evidence in policy ranging from climate change to food security, and from land use and biodiversity to animal health, Louise was invited to chair an independent review of the decision by the Scottish Funding Council to invest £500 million over 15-years in multi-university research pools of STEM disciplines across Scotland. Her 2019 Report: ‘Independent Review of the Scottish Funding Council’s Research Pooling Initiative’ offered real insight into what can (and cannot) be achieved and sustained through large, multi-university, discipline-based research pools, and directly informed the Scottish Funding Council strategy for the future of Scotland’s college and university system published in 2021. From July 2021 to June 2024, Louise held a ministerial appointment as Chair of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Science Advisory Council, which provides independent expert advice to the Defra Chief Scientific Adviser and helps guide Defra’s scientific priorities and planning. In April 2022, Louise was appointed an independent commissioner of the Geospatial Commission.

Some examples of media coverage of Louise’s work include:

Executive chair of NERC appointed

New independent commissioner appointed by geospatial commission 

Science advisory council

finding common ground: the urgent need for better land use data

Professor Louise Heathwaite

Lancaster professor leads Scottish funding council research pooling review

Queen's honour for Lancaster science professor


Selected publications (recent) 

Heathwaite, A. L., Heppell, C. M., Binley, A., Byrne, P., Lansdown, K., Trimmer, M., Ullah, S. and Zhang, H. (2021) Spatial and temporal dynamics of nitrogen exchange in an upwelling reach of a groundwaterfed river and potential response to perturbations changing rainfall patterns under UK climate change scenarios. Hydrological Processes. 10.1002/hyp.14135 

Heathwaite, A. L. and Bieroza, M. (2021) Fingerprinting hydrological and biogeochemical drivers of freshwater quality. Hydrological Processes, 35: 1-17.

Bieroza, M., Heathwaite, A. L., Bechmann, M., Kyllmar, K. and Jordan, P. (2018) The concentration-discharge slope as a tool for water quality management. Science of the Total Environment, 630: 738-749. 

Oliver, D. M., Bartie, P. J., Heathwaite, A. L., Reaney, S. M., Parnell, J. A., Quilliam, R. S. (2018) A catchment-scale model to predict spatial and temporal burden of E. coli on pasture from grazing livestock. Science of the Total Environment. 616-617: 678-687.

Heathwaite, A. L., Wood, J., Rowlands, D., Thornton, S., Ward, R., Wastling, J. (2017) Report to Defra Ministers by the Defra Science Advisory Council (SAC) sub-group on Foot and Mouth Carcass Burial.

Dadson, S. J., Heathwaite, A. L. and 14 others (2017) A restatement of the natural science evidence concerning catchment-based ‘natural’ flood management in the United Kingdom. Proc. R. Soc. A 473: 20160706.

Bieroza, M. Z. and Heathwaite, A. L. (2016) Unravelling organic matter and nutrient biogeochemistry in ground-fed rivers under baseflow conditions: Uncertainty in in situ high-frequency analysis. Science of the Total Environment 572: 1520-1533.


Selected publications (> 200 citations)

Gburek, W. J., Sharpley, A.N., Heathwaite, A. L. and Folmar, G. (2000) Phosphorus management at the watershed scale. Journal of Environmental Quality 29: 130-44.

Heathwaite, A. L. and Dils, R. M. (2000) Characterising phosphorus loss in surface and subsurface hydrological pathways. Science of the Total Environment 251: 523-38.

Watson, R., Heathwaite, A. L. and 46 others (2011) The UK National Ecosystem Assessment: Technical Report. United Nations Environment Programme, 1464 pp.

Heathwaite, A. L., Sharpley, A. N. and Gburek, W. J. (2000) A conceptual approach for integrating phosphorus and nitrogen management at watershed scales. Journal of Environmental Quality 29: 158-66.

Heathwaite, A. L. Quinn, P. F. and Hewett, C. J. M. (2005) Modelling and managing critical source areas of diffuse pollution from agricultural land using flow connectivity simulation. Journal of Hydrology 304: 446-61. 

Johnes, P. J. and Heathwaite, A. L. (1997) Modelling the impact on water quality of land use change in agricultural catchments. Hydrological Processes 11: 269-86.

Price, J. S., Heathwaite, A. L. and Baird, A. J. (2003) Hydrological processes in abandoned and restored peatlands: an overview of management approaches. Wetlands Ecology and Management 11: 65-83. 

Burt, T. P., Heathwaite, A. L. and Trudgill, S. T. (Eds) (1993) Nitrate: Processes, Patterns and Management, John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, UK, 444pp.


Research Interests

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