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Helaina Black

Staff picture: Helaina Black
Ecological Sciences
Ecological Sciences
Honorary Associate
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Aberdeen AB15 8QH
Scotland UK


Helaina’s research in soil ecology and soil science spans over 28 years with extensive practical experience in agricultural and semi-natural ecosystems of UK and Africa. Her research projects typically involve multi- to trans-disciplinary approaches and engage stakeholders from farmers, regulators, policy-makers to Governments at local to international levels. Since 2011, Helaina has won >£2.5M in research funding from RCUK, Natural England, SEPA, SNH, EU and Scottish Government. Through a career based in a number of large research organisations and more recently as a Company Director and Trustee of a charity, she has a wealth of experience in coordinating and leading scientific and organisational teams.  Examples include: the soils component of Countryside Survey 2000 (MASQ: 1997-2002); Scottish Government RERAD Programme WP3.3. the Function and Value of Soils (2006-2011) and currently the NERC/Dfid funded ESPA ALTER consortium (2014-2016) which is investigating links between soils and ecosystem services in Ethiopia and Uganda. Helaina currently holds a position on the UN FAO supported Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils; she is a past President of the British Society of Soil Science and a member of the British Ecological Society. Helaina is a visiting lecturer at Lancaster University and takes an active role in teaching soil science to post-graduates through the NERC Summer Schools (2015 is “Dirt Science:An introduction to soil systems”) and the NERC Joint NERC-BBSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Soil Science (STARS).

Current research interests

My current research centres on improving our ability to measure, monitor, manage and predict the contribution of soils to social, economic and environmental benefits. This embraces the significance of soil biodiversity in ecosystems; the multi-functionality of soils; opportunities to improve soil functions and implications of drivers of change on soils e.g. climate, pollution, people and policy. Under the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme, she is working with colleagues on developing “good ecological status of soils”. This includes a comprehensive PLFA analyses for soil microbial community structure in the National Soil Inventory for Scotland and investigating the relative sensitivity of soil quality indicators to pollution in partnership with SEPA. Other projects include:

  • NERC / Dfid ALTER (Alternative Carbon Investments in Ecosystems for Poverty Alleviation) is a 3 year international research initiative with partners from UK, Ethiopia and Uganda. ALTER aims to demonstrate how improved knowledge about soil degradation can be used to address poverty issues.
  • Establishing the soils baseline for the Natural England Long Term Monitoring Network(including chemical, physical and biological characteristics).
  • With colleagues from SNH and SEPA, Helaina is involved in the implementation of the Soil Monitoring Action Plan as part of Scottish Government’s Environmental Monitoring Strategy.
  • Assessing soil change in the SCIAF coordinated Kulima Programme in Zambia, Malawi and Burundi which is funded by Scottish Government Aid and SCIAF. This includes a novel multi-aspect assessment of soils in over 1000 households using sustainable agricultural management practices
  • SCOPE Rapid Assessment Project on the Multiple Benefits of Soil Carbon with publication of a new SCOPE CABI book in late 2014
  • UK Soil Observatory portal funded by NERC and BIS
  • Scotland’s soils website for The Scottish Government


  • Nziguheba, G.; Vargas, R.; Bationo, A.; Black, H.I.J.; Buschiazzo, D.; de Brogniez, D.; Joosten, H.; Melillo, J.; Richter, D.; Termansen, M. (2014) Soil carbon: a critical natural resource - wide-scale goals, urgent actions., In: Banwart, S.A., Noellemeyer, E. & Milne, E. (eds.). Soil Carbon: Science, Management and Policy for Multiple Benefits. SCOPE Series, CABI Publishing, 71, 10-25.
  • Banwart, S.A.; Black, H.I.J.; Cai, Z.C.; Gicheru, P.T.; Joosten, H.; Victoria, R.L.; Milne, E.; Noellemeyer, E.; Pascual, U. (2014) The global challenge for soil carbon., In: Banwart, S.A., Noellemeyer, E. & Milne, E. (eds.). Soil Carbon: Science, Management and Policy for Multiple Benefits. SCOPE Series, CABI Publishing, 71, 1-9.
  • Lilly, A.; Aitkenhead, M.J.; Black, H.I.J. (2014) Assessing carbon in Scottish soils using traditional and novel analytical approaches., In: Arrouays, D., McKenzie, N., Hempel, J., Richer de Forges, A.C. & McBratney, A. (eds.). GlobalSoilMap: Basis of the global spatial soil information system. Proceedings of the 1st GlobalSoilMap Conference, Orleans, France, 7-9 October 2013. CRC Press/Balkema, Leiden, pp287-290.
  • Smith, P.; Ashmore, M.; Black, H.I.J.; Burgess, P.; Evans, C.; Hails, R.; Potts, S.; Quine, T.; Thomson, A.; Biesmeijer, K.; Breeze, T.; Broadmeadow, M.; Ferrier, R.C.; Freer, J.; Hansom, J.; Haygarth, P.; Hesketh, H.; Hicks, K.; Johnson, A.; Kay, D.; Kunin, W.; Lilly, A.; May, L.; Memmott, J.; Orr, H.; Pickup, R.; Purse, B.; Squire, G. (2011) Regulating services., In: UK National Ecosystem Assessment. Understanding Nature's Value to Society. Technical Report. Cambridge, UNEP-WCMC, Chapter 14, pp535-596.

Scientific Posters / Conferences

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.