19 March 2018

Lancaster Environment Centre professor is appointed to the new board of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Louise Heathwaite, Professor of Land and Water Science at the Lancaster Environment Centre,   is one of nine NERC Council members announced by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), which launches officially on 1 April.

UKRI brings together the seven existing research councils with Innovate UK and Research England.

“UKRI is designed to be an enabler for cross-cutting initiatives to solve complex challenges that are important to society and the economy,” says Louse, a hydrochemist. “This cross-cutting focus is extremely appealing and is what stimulated my interest to apply to be on the new NERC Council.

“My own research in environmental science has always functioned both within and across science disciplines. This is evidenced by the funding for my research, which is drawn from a wide number of research councils (NERC, BBSRC, EPSRC and ESRC), and from Government departments (notably the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and its agencies such as the Environment Agency).

“It also aligns really well with the role I currently hold as Cross-Faculty Associate Dean for Research at Lancaster University, and it supports the Lancaster Environment Centre as an internationally-leading department in interdisciplinary environmental science.”

Louise has a long history of involvement with NERC: she had a part-time secondment to the research council 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 held an ex officio position on the previous NERC Council from 2012-17 and is excited by the prospect of contributing to the new one.

“The new NERC Council is formed at a time when we have seen a doubling of the science budget in the UK to over £6 billion particularly focussing around the ‘I’ in UKRI, ie bringing ideas to market.

“For NERC this will mean continuing to support the curiosity-driven research that is the lifeblood of environmental science whilst ensuring that there are ways of using this science to help solve complex societal challenges. It could be described as focussing more on the cure and less on the disease. For example, not on why we have an air pollution problem but on what research we need to do in order to help solve it.

“As a Council member, I will be involved in designing the new NERC strategy. I will be working to ensure that NERC has the skilled specialists, researchers, scientists and others essential to the sustainability of the UK’s environmental science capacity.

“This cannot be a top-down activity so I want to help ensure things are in place to ensure good ideas are heard and we are effective at disseminating strategic outputs so they inform decisions. This will also mean being involved in collaborative work across the nine UKRI Councils to foster strategic relationships, which is very exciting.”