Susan is a catchment scientist and practitioner. She specialises in understanding anthropogenic impacts on water and habitat quality in order to support the sustainable management of river systems.

Susan coordinates a programme of water-energy research in support of the sustainable planning, development and management of Scotland’s hydropower resources. The work is investigating the implications of continued reliance on hydropower, with a focus on future water scenarios, competing water demands, and tradeoffs with other ecosystem services. Within this programme Susan is leading research that is investigating the envoionmental impacts of large and small scale hydropower schemes with the aim of supporting their sustainable management and operation.

Susan’s research is fully integrated with implementation on the ground. She has been the Partnership Manager for the Dee Catchment Partnership, one of Scotland’s foremost catchment management partnerships, since 2005. This initiative is coordinating local stakeholders in the common aim of restoring habitat and water quality throughout the Dee catchment. Following the launch of the Dee Catchment Management Plan in 2007, current projects include: remeandering of the Logie burn, flooplain restoration in the upper catchment, large scale restoration of riparian woodland, a rolling programme of buffer strip installation in the middle catchment, the promotion of new guidance for the use of buffer strips during development works, and the production of UK guidance for septic tanks. The Partnership delivers a wide range of outreach activities, working with schools, communities and local groups and organisations.

Susan is a member of the National Advisory Group for River Basin Planning, as well as the North East Area Advisory Group for River Basin Planning and Local Advisory Group for Flood Risk Management.


Past research

Susan trained as an ecologist at Aberdeen University. Her PhD focussed on foraging theory, using Scottish red wood ants as a model species. This led to a long-term study of the impacts of pinewood regeneration on population structure commissioned by SNH. A growing interest in species with a role in structuring habitat led to work on freshwater pearl mussel ecology and a range of projects relating to catchment-scale impacts on instream habitats. A visit to Otago University further developed her skills in freshwater ecology and returning to the UK Susan undertook a NERC postdoc investigating the role of the freshwater ecologist as an ecosystem engineer and the consequences of population extinctions for freshwater communities.

Susan has been undertaking and leading pearl mussel research, monitoring and surveys throughout Scotland for over 15 years.  She has collaborated in the development of standard monitoring protocols for this critically endangered species, management prescriptions for SACs in Scotland and applications of extensive survey techniques to describe pearl mussel distribution and macrohabitat.


Prior to appointment

Books / chapters

Technical / contract reports

  • Artz, R.R.E; Coyle, M.; Donaldson-Selby, G.; Cooksley, S.; Gimona, A.; Pakeman, R.; Hare, M. (2023) A Working Paper Scoping a National Peatland Monitoring Framework, ClimateXChange Scotland website.
  • Miller, D.R.; Irvine, K.N.; Cooksley, S.; Baird, E.; Barr, J.; Bestwick, C.; Brierton, J.; Cameron, E.; Dawson, L.A.; Ford, A.; Forrest, E.; Hearns, D.; Hume, J.; MacDonald, D.; Nisbet, W.; Owen, R. (2020) Long-term vision for rural areas: contribution from 20 science-society-policy platforms: Map discussion paper – Rural Scotland and River Dee catchment., SHERPA UK Multi-Actor Platform Discussion Paper, H2020 Sustainable Hub to Engage into Rural Policies with Actors Project (SHERPA), 37pp.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Stutter, M.I.; Cooksley, S.; Sample, J. (2017) Hydropower research., SEFARI Gateway Report, SRP2-11-16.
  • Addy, S.; Cooksley, S.; Dodd, N.; Waylen, K.A.; Stockan, J.; Byg, A.; Holstead, K. (2016) River restoration and biodiversity. Nature-based solutions for restoring the rivers of the UK and Republic of Ireland., Report, The James Hutton Institute, 2016, 75pp.
  • Addy, S.; Cooksley, S.; Dodd, N.; Waylen, K.A.; Byg, A.; Holstead, K. (2016) River restoration and biodiversity: nature-based solutions for restoring the rivers of the UK and Republic of Ireland., Published Jointly by IUCN, NCUK and CREW, 64pp. CRW2014/10. ISBN: 978-0-902701-16-8
  • Akoumianaki, I.; Cooksley, S.; Dodd, N. (2016) A review of techniques for the monitoring of fine sediments: Discussion document to inform workshop., CREW Report, CRW2016-07, 9pp.
  • Addy, S.; Cooksley, S.; Dodd, N. (2015) IUCN NCUK River restoration and biodiversity expert workshop report, 5-6 November 2014., Report for CREW Project Number CRW2014_10.
  • Cooksley, S.L.; Jordan, P.; Dick, J. (2014) The Drain Care Guide., Leaflet produced by Dee Catchment Partnership.
  • Baggaley, N.; Prager, K.; Donnelly, D.; McKee, A.; Lilly, A.; Cooksley, S. (2014) How can we employ citizen science to determine the extent of soil erosion in Scotland?, SNIFFER Project Report: Knowledge Hubs: Environmental Regulation: Tools and Guidance.
  • Balana, B.; Martin-Ortega, J.; Perni, A.; Slee, B.; Helliwell, R.C.; Jackson-Blake, L.; Cooksley, S.L.; Dunn, S.M. (2013) Cost-effectiveness analysis report for the Dee sub-catchment (Scotland) including analysis of disproportionality., REFRESH PROJECT: Adaptive Strategies to Mitigate the Impacts of Climate Change on European Freshwater Ecosystems.
  • Eastwood, A.; Nijnik, M.; Brooker, R.; Pakeman, R.J.; Artz, R.R.E.; Norton, L.; Ross, L.; Bullock, J.; Albon, S.; Vellinga, N.; Fielding, D.; Irvine, R.J.; Ramsay, S.; Cooksley, S. (2013) Nature conservation and ecosystem service delivery., Joint Nature Conservancy Council, Contract C12-0170-0635.
  • Martin-Ortega, J.; Perni, A.; McKee, A.; Helliwell, R.C.; Cooksley, S. (2012) Social and Economic effects of improving water quality in the Loch of Skene and the Leuchar Burn. Sharing local knowledge and views (II)., REFRESH Project: Adaptive strategies to Mitigate the Impacts of Climate Change on European Freshwater Ecosystems. 2nd Dunecht REFRESH Workshop Feedback Leaflet.
  • Cooksley, S.L.; Gill, E. (2012) Logie Burn meander reconnection project: final report., Technical report to SEPA
  • Martin-Ortega, J.; McKee, A.; Cooksley, S.; Jackson-Blake, L.; Slee, B. (2012) Workshop proceedings on collaborative scoping of solutions in the Dee catchment, UK., REFRESH Project Report- Adaptive strategies to Mitigate the Impacts of Climate Change on European Freshwater Ecosystems
    Deliverable 6.5.
  • Cooksley, S.L.; Gill, E. (2012) Logie final report., Report to SEPA.
  • Cooksley, S.L.; Brewer, M.; Donnelly, D.; Spezia, L. (2011) An investigation into the possible causes of deterioration of the freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera population of the River Dee, Aberdeenshire: linking macrohabitat and pressure data with freshwater pearl mussel distribution., Commissioned Report to Scottish Natural Heritage.
  • Waylen, K.A.; Blackstock, K.L.; Cooksley, S.L. (2011) Land manager contributions to protecting the Dee water environment., Report for the FP7 REFRESH Research Project, Deliverable No. 1.14
  • Cooksley, S.L.; Blackstock, K.L. (2009) Spey catchment management plan – appraisal and development., Commissioned Contract Report to Cairngorms National Park Authority.
  • Cooksley, S.L.; Friberg, N. (2009) A survey of the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) on the River Kerry SAC and an assessment of its distribution in relation to river geomorphology, 2007 – 2008., Commissioned Contract Report to Scottish Natural Heritage.
  • Booth, P.; Cooksley, S.L.; Cook, Y.; Langan, S.J. (2009) Determining the level of awareness amongst developers about freshwater pearl mussels., Scottish Natural Heritage.
  • Booth, P.D.; Baggaley, N.J.; Moir, H.; Langan, S.J.; Blackstock, K.L.; Futter, M.N.; Cooksley, S.L. (2008) WFD and catchment restoration – Scoping Project WFD94., SNIFFER, Final Project Report.
  • Booth, P. D.; Baggley, N.; Potts, J.; Langan, S. J.; Cooksley, S. L.; Brewer, M.; Moir, H. (2008) Investigation on the impacts of changing flows in the River Dee in relation to potential impacts on aquatic ecology., Scottish Natural Heritage.
  • Cooksley, S. (2007) Dee catchment management plan : summary., Dee Catchment Partnership, Aberdeen, 76pp.
  • Langan, S.J.; Cooksley, S.L.; Young, M.; Stutter, M.I.; Scougall, F.; Dalziel, A.; Feeney, I. (2007) The management and conservation of the freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifer L. in Scottish catchments designated as special areas of conservation or sites of special scientific interest., Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No 249 (ROAME No. F05AC607).

Conference papers

  • Addy, S.; Wilkinson, M.E.; Cooksley, S. (2016) Geomorphic changes and hydrological responses to the 2015 ‘Storm Frank’ flood event at a river restoration site on the upper River Dee., British Hydrological Society Annual Conference, Cranfield University, 30 August – 1 September 2016.
  • MacDougall, K.; Robson, H.; Addy, S.; Cooksley, S. (2015) ‘Pearls in Peril’ Life + nature – improving freshwater pearl mussel habitat through retoration of natural processes., River Restoration Centre, 16th Annual Network Conference, Whittlebury Hall, England, 19-20 May 2015.
  • Addy, S.; Ghimire, S.; Cooksley, S. (2012) Assessing of the multiple benefits of river restoration: the Logie Burn meander reconnection project., Proceedings of the 11th British Hydrological Society National Symposium, University of Dundee, Dundee, 9-10 July 2012.
  • Stutter, M.I.; Dunn, S,M.; Dawson, J.J.C.; Vinten, A.J.A.; Helliwell, R.C.; Cooksley, S.; Hough, R.L.; Kenyon, W. (2012) Can our waters meet the challenge of supporting multiple ecosystem services at national to local scales?, Joint SAC/SEPA Biennial Conference in association with Forest Research, The James Hutton Institute and Scottish Natural Heritage “Agriculture and the Environment IX: Valuing Ecosystems: Policy, Economic and Management Interactions”, Edinburgh, 3-4 April 2012.

Conference posters / abstracts