Rowan Ellis

Senior Social Researcher
T: +44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

Rowan Ellis is a Senior Social Researcher working within the Social, Economic, and Geographical Sciences research group. She is also the Director of the #Hydro Nation Scholars Programme . Before joining the Hutton in 2017, Rowan was based at the University of Edinburgh where she held a lectureship in the Institute of Geography. Prior to that, she was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Aberdeen, also in Geography. Her educational background is in Geography, Urban Studies, and Sustainable International Development. Rowan earned her PhD in Geography in 2010 from the University of Washington in Seattle.

Rowan has over 12 years experiencing working with a diversity of stakeholders in the water environment around issues of environmental justice, water governance, and sustainable development. She is passionate about the sustainable and equitable use of water resources and employs a range of qualitative and participatory approaches to deepen understandings of the socio-environmental and economic relationships that surround water. Rowan has a particular interest in critically examining the production of water insecurity among marginalised groups. Her work is informed by political-ecology, socio-hydrology, and political-economy approaches.

Rowan currently supervises two PhD students

  • Elliot Hurst (2018-2022)-Hydro Nation Scholar, "The Multiple Benefits of Constructed Wetlands"
  • Donald Robertson (2021-2025)-Hydro Nation Scholar, "Citizen Derived Digital Data for Water Resources Management in Malawi"

Key research interests include:

  • Water
  • Environmental Justice
  • Sustainable Development
  • Children’s Geographies
  • Participatory Methods

Rowan is the Hutton lead on the #RALENTIR project (Reducing land degradation and carbon loss from Ethiopia’s soils to strengthen livelihoods and resilience), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Global Challenges Research Fund. Her research on this project examines issue of equity and justice in the context of soil and water conservation interventions in Southern Ethiopia.

Rowan also leads research in two Scottish Government Funded projects within the 2022-2027 Strategic Research Programme, one which looks at emerging pressures on Scotland’s Water Resources, and the other which supports mainstreaming of catchment based #Nature Based Solutions.

Rowan also leads the MSRP project (Malawi Scotland Regulatory Partnership). The MSRP is a transdisciplinary project which explores the potential of international regulatory partnerships to support sustainable water resources management in Malawi.

Past research

Rowan’s PhD and postdoctoral work focused on the governing arrangements that emerged to negotiate the challenges of planning for urban environmental resilience in coastal South Asia. Her work explored these questions through a focus on several key urban environmental initiatives and projects that centred on urban wetland restoration and flood management. This research highlighted the tensions that surround urban environmental governance against a backdrop of extreme socio-economic inequality and a changing climate. The research utilised primarily qualitative methods to conduct research with participants from public governing bodies, private industry, local activist networks, and communities.

In her first role as a social researcher at the James Hutton Institute, Rowan was involved in several projects focusing on the agri-environment and sustainable food security (RESAS 2.3.8; H2020 SALSA).

Rowan also led the social science work for a Scottish Government-Hydronation funded project, Decentralised Wastewater Treatment-global innovation for sustainable communities (#DWWT).  In this project, she explored the intersections between age, gender, and sanitation access. This work not only shed new light on the strategies and inequties that plague sanitation provision, but also on the factors that shape how and if people engage with programmatic responses to SDG6 (Water and Sanitation for All). This project concluded in 2020.




  • Roberts, D.; Torrance, L.; Stirton, G.; Britton, A.J.; Craig, C.-A.; Kyle, C; Newman, C.; Macaulay, C.; Fielding, D.; Watson, H.; Pohle, I.; Robertson, J.; Maxwell, J.; Irvine, K.; Sutherland, L-A.; Dawson, L.A.; Shepherd, L.; Miller, P.; Ellis, R.; Richards, S.; Blok, V.; Hackett, C.; Kettle, H. (2018) Women in Science, The James Hutton Institute, 25pp


Conference papers

  • Valero Lopez, D.; Ellis, R.; Juarez Bourke, A.; Joyce, K. (2023) Rural water (in)security at the peripheries of Water Provision, 2023 RSA Annual Conference. Transforming Regions: Policies and Planning for People and Places,
    14-17 June 2023,
    Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Valero, D.; Ellis, R. (2023) How to go from “our water is wonderful” to addressing water security issues in rural supplies Insights from emerging narratives in Scotland, XXIXth European Society for Rural Sociology Congress: Crises and the futures of rural areas, 3-7 July 2023, Rennes, France, WG 25 “Rural narratives of water and hydrosocial dynamics in rural areas”. 7 July 2023