Environmental women make their mark


8 March 2019 09:00
The many women of Lancaster Environment Centre standing together in the gardens outside the building

Among the many promotions for women at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Dr Christina Hicks became the Centre's seventh woman professor, Dr Jess Davies and Dr Rosa Menendez became senior lecturers and Professor Jane Taylor, deputy director of the Lancaster Environment Centre, became director of the Graduate School for the Environment and the University’s dean for academic quality.  Dr Emily Heath became a senior teaching associate and Dr Alexandra Gormally and Dr Nadia Von Benzon were both promoted.

Professor Louise Heathwaite was awarded a CBE for services to scientific research and scientific advice to government, the year after being appointed the first woman President of the Freshwater Biological Association.

Dr Alona Armstrong won a National Environment Research Council (NERC) Industrial Innovation Fellowship to help policy makers and businesses enhance the socio-economic and environmental benefits from wind and solar installations. She also won the Faculty of Science award for External Engagement and Impact in recognition of her approach of embedding external engagement throughout her research, teaching and service.

Dr Ruth Alcock continues to lead the very successful Enterprise & Business Partnerships team which is running the £6.8M Recirculate programme to improve sustainable water use in Africa and hosts the award winning Centre for Global Ecoinnovation.

Plant scientists and agricultural systems experts were particularly successful in gaining research funding including: a £1.15m grant for research on agri-systems in Kenya, jointly led by Professor Mariana Rufino; a £1 million grant to continue work on enhancing the yield of global staple food crops globally, co-led by Dr Elizabete Carmo-Silva; and an £800,000 urban Revolution project to explore the potential of urban agriculture to produce the UK’s fruit and veg, led by Dr Jess Davies.

Other notable research grants include: Dr Amber Leeson winning a NERC standard grant for research on the impact of climate change on the ice sheets of Antarctica: Dr Sally Keith gaining a £446,00 NERC award to investigate behavioural changes in reef fish communities after mass coral bleaching; and Dr Jennie Gilbert winning a £1.8 million NERC Highlight Topic grant to help predict the dispersal of volcanic ash plumes, as joint principal investigator. 

Environment Centre women also did a lot of outreach work with the public and policy makers. Dr Emma Sayer won a British Ecological Society award for her exceptional voluntary service to the society and its community.

Dr Yani Najman did a public lecture on how the Himalayas formed at the Storey Institute in Lancaster, and attended the BBC’s prestigious Expert Women training day in November, to help train women to communicate their subject affectively to a broad audience.

Professor Gail Whiteman presented a commentary about how decision makers and businesses can take vital action on climate change at the COP24 Global Climate Conference.

The Science Hunters team (Dr Carly StevensDr Laura Hobbs and Dr Jackie Hartley) were highly commended in the We are Lancaster awards for the work they do with children using the computer game Minecraft to develop their interest in science.

The department’s professional staff also gained accolades. Skye King and Cathy Dolan from the Recruitment, Conversion and Marketing Team won the team of the year prize in the Faculty of Science and Technology awards. Ann Brookes galvanised staff and students to dance in support of the female victims of violence as part of the worldwide One Billion Rising event.

Women in the department gained extensive media coverage. For example Dr Rebecca Burns’ PhD research on how volcanoes and glaciers combine to become powerful methane producers, published in Scientific Reports, was picked up in many media outlets.

Lancaster Environment Centre women students also shone this year with a series of women winning postgraduate prizes including: Jordan Finlay and Sophie Lee were awarded a Women into Science (2018) accolade; Tina Todorova gaining the prize for the best performance in a postgraduate diploma while juggling a full time job in the fruit supply chain and caring for her young son with studying online; and Jennifer Davies being awarded the best Industry Project prize for her dissertation, which developed scenarios for sustainable farming and forestry at the Forrest Hills Conference Centre. 

Second year student Millie Prosser made an impact when she helped collect 1500 signatures on a petition calling on Lancaster City Council to declare a climate emergency, and then speaking at the council meeting which passed the motion.

Women graduates are also doing well. Amy Barry, senior marine scientific advisor at Atkins consultancy, who graduated from Lancaster in Geography and Earth Science in 2009, is speaking at a Lancaster University careers event celebrating successful women graduates on International Women’s Day.