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Professor Louise Heathwaite

Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research & Enterprise), 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 was appointed Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) of the University in 2019. In 2018, she was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours list for services to scientific research and scientific advice to government. In 2015, she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in recognition of the distinguished contribution she has made to catchment 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 7,000 members drawn from nearly 200 countries worldwide and, in 2017, she was elected 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.

Louise is an active scientist with over 160 ISI-listed publications 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 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.

Internal Roles

Louise was appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) in 2019 and provides strategic leadership for the University in research and enterprise including developing the high-level strategy for research and ensuring the growth trajectory of research income in recent years is continued. She is the institutional lead for REF2021.

External Roles

Louise has significant experience of both research council and government environments. In July 2021 she accepted 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 by the UK  Cabinet Office's Geospatial Commission as an independent commissioner. Between 2012-17, she was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Scottish Government on Rural Affairs, Food and Environment. Here, 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. Prior to this, she undertook part-time secondment to NERC from 2008-2012, where she was successful in securing over £40m new strategic research investments aligned to the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources theme. She has also served on Defra’s Science Advisory Council (2011-17) and held an ex officio position on NERC Council from 2012-17.

From 2018-2021 Louise was a member of the UKRI-NERC Council. As a Council member, she was responsible for advising and making decisions, as delegated to NERC by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Board, on scientific, research and innovation matters. Louise is also a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Life Sciences Sectional Committee; a member of the advisory group for the UKRI Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund programme on Transforming Food Production, Chair of the Research Council Valuing Nature Programme Advisory Group, a member of the Science Advisory Group UK Environment Agency, and a member of the Task Team of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM).

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







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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