Forfar soil scientist recognised for pioneering work

A former Forfarian, now one of the country’s top soil scientists, has become the first to win a new award presented by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).
Professor Lorna Dawson, From Forfar, has won the first James Hutton medal, awarded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.Professor Lorna Dawson, From Forfar, has won the first James Hutton medal, awarded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Professor Lorna Dawson, From Forfar, has won the first James Hutton medal, awarded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Professor Lorna Dawson has been awarded the society’s inaugural medal for earth and environmental sciences.

She is the James Hutton institute’s Head of Forensic Soil Science and the medal, named after the institute’s namesake and RSE founder member James Hutton, recognises Professor Dawson’s exceptional achievements in soil and environmental science, including developing and pioneering the use of soil science to solve crime in the UK and further afield.

Professor Dawson, who is based at the institute’s Aberdeen campus, said: “It’s an honour to be selected for this award, in particular, being recognised as the recipient of the RSE James Hutton medal, which bears the name of the Institute where I work.

"With threats of climate change, biodiversity loss, food security and safety, there has never been a more important time to communicate and engage effectively with society on the areas of soil science, earth and the environment.”

Professor Dawson was brought up on a farm near Forfar and attended Forfar Academy before studying geography at the University of Edinburgh. She then went on to gain a PhD in soil science at the University of Aberdeen. She started her career with The James Hutton Institute in 1985, when she joined its predecessor, The Macaulay Institute.

Since then she has also supported countless police investigations; been an expert witness on more than 20 cases, including the recent Sheku Bayoh Public Inquiry; advised the National Crime Agency; published more than 100 scientific papers and has played a major role in public engagement in soil and forensic science.

Professor Dawson added: “This award is thanks to the many people I have collaborated with at The James Hutton Institute, and across all the Scottish institutes and universities, in particular Robert Gordon University. It also reflects the benefit of cooperation between many agency partners both within the UK and abroad.”

In addition to her pioneering work in forensic soil science, Professor Dawson has been an adviser to many organisations, including the Scottish Government.

These include serving on the Scottish Government Arable Climate Change Advisory Group (ACCG). She is also Knowledge Exchange lead for environment at SEFARI Gateway, the knowledge exchange and impact hub for the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes.

Professor Dawson currently sits on the Environment Protection Scotland (EPS) Land Quality Expert Advisory Group and is on the scientific advisory panel for the Scottish Government’s Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB).

She is also an honorary professor in Forensic Science at Robert Gordon University, a Food Farming and Countryside Commission Commissioner, a Chartered Scientist, a Fellow of the British Society of Soil Science, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Professor Dawson was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in June 2018 and she will receive her medal at a presentation on November 22.