Executive Chair of NERC appointed

The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan, has appointed Professor Louise Heathwaite as the new Executive Chair of NERC.

Professor Heathwaite CBE FRS is a highly regarded hydrochemist specialising in freshwater systems and their response to terrestrial environmental pollutants.

She combines field and modelling research to understand the environmental impact of land use on freshwater quality that has transformed understanding of effective interventions to recover freshwater quality across the UK and globally.

A leading environmental scientist

Currently, she is Distinguished Professor in the Lancaster Environment Centre and Pro-Vice Chancellor Research and Enterprise at Lancaster University.

Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said:

Professor Heathwaite’s appointment is welcome news for the sector, bringing a distinguished record in hydrochemistry and invaluable experience as a valued adviser to Government.

The Natural Environment Research Council is at the heart of delivering investment in environmental science in the UK. I look forward to working with Professor Heathwaite to support the groundbreaking new research, infrastructure and training that drives scientific progress.

Today’s appointment marks Professor Heathwaite’s return to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). She was a member of NERC Council from 2018 to 2021 and NERC Council from 2012 to 2018.

Driving NERC’s future direction

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

I am delighted to welcome Professor Louise Heathwaite back to UKRI as NERC’s Executive Chair. Professor Heathwaite has an outstanding record in environmental sciences, university leadership and as a scientific advisor to government. Her leadership, expertise and experience will be a crucial asset to NERC and to wider UKRI as we work empower the people, places and ideas needed to address the current and future challenges we face.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Peter Liss for his willingness to serve the research and innovation community as NERC’s interim Executive Chair. His work over the past months has been greatly appreciated.

Advancing environmental science

Professor Heathwaite was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2023 in recognition of her:

  • sustained scholarship in environmental science
  • outstanding contribution to science leadership
  • highly-valued expertise in translating science to policy and impacts

She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) 2018 for services to scientific research and scientific advice to government.

Professor Heathwaite said:

I am excited to be chosen as Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Opportunities to advance environmental science through research have never been greater, or more critical. Six of the top ten risks for the decade ahead identified by the World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2023 relate to climate, the environment, and nature, and the refreshed Integrated Review, published March 2023 sets out as its first thematic priority, tackling climate change, environmental damage and biodiversity loss.

These national and global priorities align strongly with NERC strengths and strategic investments and place UK environmental science in a strong position on the global stage.

It will be a real privilege to lead the Natural Environment Research Council at such an important time, working with colleagues in UKRI and across the sector to deliver scientific and environmental impact.

Scientific advice

Professor Heathwaite is chair of the Science Advisory Council of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and independent commissioner for the Geospatial Commission in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. She previously acted as Chief Scientific Adviser to the Scottish Government for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment.

She is expected to take up the role of Executive Chair at NERC in March 2024.

The post of Executive Chair of NERC is subject to pre-appointment scrutiny by the House of Commons Science, Innovation and Technology Select Committee. The committee have reviewed details provided by Professor Heathwaite and decided they do not require a pre-appointment hearing for this appointment.

Top image:  Credit: Louise Heathwaite

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