7 November 2017 15:08

A Lancaster professor has become the first woman to be elected President of the Freshwater Biological Association.

Professor Louise Heathwaite has become President of the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA), an organisation she first visited as a young researcher working for the Nature Conservancy Council as their environmental hydrologist.

The FBA, a membership organisation with centres on the shores of Lake Windermere in Cumbria and on the River Frome in Dorset, was founded in 1929 to undertake and support research into the rivers and lakes which help sustain life on earth. It now focuses on promoting the importance of freshwater science and the sustainable management of freshwater systems, through publications, education and training. It prides itself on being one of the finest sources of freshwater evidence in the world.

Although many eminent women scientists have been involved in the FBA since it started, this is the first time it has had a woman as its President.

“I think it is absolutely critical that you have women in senior roles like this to say to other women, yes you can get to the top of an organisation and you can take on an science advocacy role,” said Louise, Professor of Land and Water Science at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University.

“One of the problems for women is that, in the past, you only got into these positions if you had been doing science for a very long time. Today science moves very fast and we need to reflect that.

"Maintaining the quality of the water in our lakes and rivers is vital to the health of our ecosystems, and to human wellbeing.

“I see my role at the FBA as thinking through what sort of partnerships we need to form to keep the organisation going, how to persuade women and younger people to get involved, and how do we keep the really great science that the FBA have been doing going.

“The FBA has got a great library and data sets, but I think the real opportunities for the FBA today are around engagement, particularly with people who visit and work in the Lake District. There are opportunities to involve people in citizen science, to increase public knowledge of the history of the Lakes and their importance in helping us to understand the past and the challenges we face in the future.”

This is not the first time Professor Heathwaite has landed a senior role. In the past decade she has become increasingly involved in translating science into policy. She has just completed five years as the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Scottish Government on Rural Affairs and the Environment. Until recently she was on Defra’s Science Advisory Council and was a council member for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In 2015 she was elected a fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh.

“Professor Heathwaite is highly regarded in both the academic and the policy arena and provides links between the two,” said Dr Bill Brierley, Chief Executive of the FBA. “She brings not only her academic experience but also her expertise sitting on the NERC board and her Scottish government work on the environment.”

Professor Heathwaite is a hydrochemist with a long-term interest in diffuse pollution from agricultural land and its impact on water quality. She 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.

Her scientific interests include ecotoxicology, catchment science and flood management.