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Lorna Dawson

Staff picture: Lorna Dawson
Environmental and Biochemical Sciences
Environmental and Biochemical Sciences
Head of Forensic Science
+44 (0)7815 178093

The James Hutton Institute
Aberdeen AB15 8QH
Scotland UK


Professor Lorna Dawson is Head of the Soil Forensics Group within the Environmental and Biochemical Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute, and has over 30 years’ experience in managing and conducting research in soil and plant interactions, in particular its application in the criminal justice system. She was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in June 2018.

Lorna is also honorary professor in Forensic Science at Robert Gordon University, and is SEFARI Advisor on the Scottish Government‘s (RESAS) strategic research programme 2016-2021, where she reports to the Directors' Executive Committee to ensure effective delivery of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme. She is the SEFARI Gateway Knowledge Exchange Lead for Environment. She is affiliated to Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, contributing to Forensic Science lecture courses and also lectures at the universities of Aberdeen, Strathclyde and Edinburgh. She has supervised over 20 PhD projects and has published over 100 refereed journal papers, books and book chapters, and regularly presents at national and international conferences. Professor Dawson was awarded a Special Recognition award at the Pride of Britain 2017 awards ceremony.

Lorna developed the application of soil organo-mineral markers in forensic investigations and was Principal Investigator on a research project funded by the EPSRC (SoilFit), developing tools for soil characterisation in forensics and an aligned KE project (GIMI). This work involved collaboration with various forensic experts in the National Policing Improvement Agency, the Forensic Science Service, and various police laboratories and forces. She was Lead PI on a FW7 European grant (MiSAFE) developing and testing microbial tools for use in case work. She is treasurer of an international Geoforensics network (IUGS Initiative on Forensic Geology-IFG) and a member of the ENFSI (European Network of Forensic Science Institutes) Animals, Plants, Soils Traces (APST) working group and a member of the Technical Committee of the University of Messina, Rome, teaching on the Masters in Forensic Geology course. She coordinated sessions at the International Crime Science Meetings, London, 2007-2009 and organised major conferences on environmental and criminal soil forensics in 2007 and 2010 and the International Network of Environmental Forensics, and has co-organised major international conferences in 2007 (Edinburgh), 2010 (California) 2012 (The Hague) and 2016 (London).

Current research interests

Lorna has co-edited seminal books on Geoforensics (Springer, 2009 and The Geological Society, London, 2013), is a trained Expert Witness and is Head of the Hutton Soil Forensic team (see leaflet on our soil forensic services, PDF file) and has worked on over 100 forensic cases in the UK and abroad, as a forensic soil expert working for police forces, lawyers and forensic service providers. She is a member of the National Crime Agency and has diplomas in Criminal and Civil law (Cardiff University, 2011 and 2012, revalidated in 2017). She regularly presents evidence in courts in Scotland, England, Wales and Australia. She is a Fellow of the British Society of Soil Science, a Chartered Soil Scientist, was a council member of the Institute of Professional Soil Scientists (2009-2013) and was a member of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Science in Society panel (2007-2011). She has considerable experience in knowledge exchange, has worked on sabbatical for the BBC, advising on 'Countryfile', ‘Vera’ and 'Silent Witness'. She has also worked with a range of crime authors (Murder, Mystery & Microscopes pages), e.g. crime author Ann Cleeves to produce a Murder, Mystery Pack to be distributed to libraries to run public events. She is responsible for developing many of the Institute's soil education resources, for example, the set of soils posters, composting activity, and Soils of the Crofts which has been translated into Gaelic with Crofting Connections. She regularly organises and performs in public debating events, examining the interface between science and fiction, and was awarded best live science communication event, 2009. She was appointed to the General Committee of the British Science Association in 2013, is a STEM Ambassador; and a member of the Chief Scientist’s Science and Engineering Community Forum (2015). She is a Fellow of the RSA, and a member of the RSA, Food, Farming and Countryside Commission’s Research Advisory Group (December, 2017 to present), on the Editorial Board of Geoscience and a member of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) Academic Committee, 2018 to 2021.


  • Donnelly, L.J. ; Pirrie, D; Harrison, M.; Ruffell, A.; Dawson, L.A. (2021) A Guide to Forensic Geology., In: Donnelly, L.J (ed.). Geological Society of London.
  • Ruffell, A.; Pirrie, D.; Dawson, L.A. (2021) Geological evidence analysis., In: Donnelly, L., Pirrie, D., Harrison, M., Ruffell, A. & Dawson, L. (eds.). A Guide to Forensic Geology. Geological Society, London, pp123-149.
  • Pirrie, D.; Ruffell, A.; Dawson, L.A.; McKinley, J. (2021) Crime scenes: Geoforensic assessment sampling and examination., In: Donnelly, L., Pirrie, D., Harrison, M., Ruffell, A. & Dawson, L. (eds.). A Guide to Forensic Geology. Geological Society, London, Chapter 4, pp81-104.
  • Pirrie, D.; Ruffell, A.; Dawson, L.A. (2021) Geological evidence recovery from exhibits., In: Donnelly, L., Pirrie, D., Harrison, M., Ruffell, A. & Dawson, L. (eds.). A Guide to Forensic Geology. Geological Society, London, 105-122.
  • Donnelly, L.J.; Pirrie, D.; Harrison; Ruffell, A.; Dawson, L.A. (eds.) (2021) A guide to forensic geology., Geological Society, London, Special Publication 2020.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Parratt, D.; Auchie, D. (2019) The application of forensic soil science in case work and legal considerations., In: Francese, S. (ed.) Emerging Technologies for the Analysis of Forensic Traces. Springer International Publishing, Switzerland, Chapter 17, 245-261
  • Roberts, D.; Torrance, L.; Stirton, G.; Britton, A.J.; Craig, C.; Kyle, C-A.; Abel, 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.
  • Cal, J.; Dawson, L.A.; Javan, G.T.; Ozsoy, S.; Quaak, C.A.; Ralebitso-Senior, T.K. (2018) From experimental work to real crime scenes and the courts., In: Ralebitso-Senior, T.K. (ed.) Forensic EcoGenomics: the Application of Microbial Ecology Analyses in Forensic Contexts. Academic Press, Chapter 8, pp177-210.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Rodway, P. (2016) Soils of the crofts., The James Hutton Institute Publication with Crofting Connections, Aberdeen, 2nd ed., 57pp.
  • Harrison, K.; Dawson, L.A.; Mackinnon G. (2016) Interdisciplinary approaches to the search and location of buried bodies: a United Kingdom context., In: Kars, H. & van den Eijkel, L. (ed.) Soil in Criminal and Environmental Forensics. Soil Forensics, Springer, Chapter 13, pp201-211.
  • Khan, M.A.; Qureshi, M.Z.; Dawson, L.A.; Rehman, M.; Hayat, A.; Maqbool, F.; Andleeb, F.; Haleem, K. (2014) Efficient desizing of fabrio using partially purified thermophillic amylase produced by T. sacchari by the utilization of agro-industrial wastes., In: Cong, H., Yu, B. & Lu, X. (eds.). Frontiers in Micro-Nano Science and Technology. Advanced Materials Research, Trans Tech Publications, Switzerland, 924, 3, pp 349-353.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Mayes, R.W. (2014) Criminal and environmental soil forensics: soil as physical evidence in forensic investigations., In: Murphy, B.L. & Morrison, R.D. (eds.). Introduction to Environmental Forensics. 3rd edition, Academic Press, Oxford, Chapter 12, pp457-486.
  • Pirrie, D.; Ruffell, A.; Dawson, L.A. (eds.). (2013) Environmental and criminal geoforensics., Geological Society of London Special Publications, London.
  • Pirrie, D.; Ruffell, A.; Dawson, L.A. (2013) Environmental and criminal geoforensics - an introduction., In: Pirrie, A., Ruffell, A. & Dawson, L.A. (eds.). Environmental and Criminal Geoforensics. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 384.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Rhind, S.M.; Zhang, Z.L.; Poggio, L.; Kyle, C.E.; Mayes, R.W.; Aalders, I.H.; Osprey, M.; Ross, J.; Cuthbert, A. (2012) Linking distribution of soil PaHs to location as a forensic tool., In: Morrison, R.D. & O'Sullivan, G. (eds.). Environmental Forensics: Proceedings of the 2011 INEF Conference. Royal Society of Chemistry Publishing, Cambridge, pp199-205.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Morrice, J.; Rodway, P. (2011) Soils of the crofts., The James Hutton Institute Publication with Crofting Connections, Aberdeen, 130pp.
  • Eley, Y.L.; Pedentchouk, N.P.; Dawson, L.A. (2011) Tracing higher plant inputs to coastal sediments: an integrated isotopic and molecular for forensic investigation., In: Morrison, R.D. & O’Sullivan, G. (eds.). Environmental Forensics. Royal Society of Chemistry Publishing, London, 218-231.
  • Mayes, R.W.; Brewer, M.J.; Dawson, L.A.; Ross, J.M. (2011) An objective method for comparing unresolved complex mixture (UCM) "humps" in gas chromatograms., In: Morrison, R.D. & O’Sullivan, G. (eds.). Environmental Forensics. Royal Society of Chemistry Publishing, London, 275-284.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Towers, W.; Owen, J.; White, D.; Coull, M.C.; Ross, J.M.; Donnelly, D.; Cooper, P. (2010) Soils of the crofts., In: Dawson, L.A., Morrice, J. & Rodway, P. Soils of the Crofts. The James Hutton Institute Publication with Crofting Connections, Aberdeen, 130pp.
  • Ritz, K.; Dawson, L.A.; Miller, D.R. (eds.) (2009) Criminal and environmental soil forensics., Springer, 519pp. ISBN: 978-1-4020-9203-9
  • Barclay, A.D.; Dawson, L.A.; Donnelly, L.J.; Miller, D.R.; Ritz, K. (2009) Soils in forensic science: underground meets underworld., In: Ritz, K., Dawson, L.A. & Miller, D.R. (eds.). Criminal and Environmental Forensics. Springer, Dordrecht, Chapter 32, 501-514.ISBN: 978-1-4020-9203-9
  • Morrisson, A.; McColl, S.; Dawson, L.; Brewer, M. (2009) Characterisation and discrimination of urban soils: Preliminary results from The Soil Forensics University Network., In: Ritz, K., Dawson, L.A. & Miller, D.R. (eds.). Criminal and Environmental Forensics. Springer, Chapter 6, 75-86. ISBN: 978-1-4020-9203-9
  • Mayes, R.W.; Macdonald, L.M.; Ross, J.; Dawson, L.A. (2009) Discrimination of domestic garden soils using plant wax compounds as markers., In: Ritz, K., Dawson, L.A. & Miller, D.R. (eds.). Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics. Springer, Chapter 29, 463-476.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Byers, R.A. (2008) Methods for studying root herbivory., In: Johnson, S., Murray, P. & Masters, G. (eds.). Root Herbivory. CABI, Wallingford, Chapter 1, 3-19.. ISBN: 978 1 84593 461
  • Dawson, L.A.; Campbell, C.D.; Hillier, S.; Brewer, M.J. (2008) Methods of characterising and fingerprinting soils for forensic application., In: Tibbett, M. & Carter, D.O. (eds.). Soil Analysis in Forensic Taphonomy. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, 271-315.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Grayston, S.J.; Murray, P.J.; Cook, R.; Gange, A.C.; Ross, J.M.; Pratt, S.M.; Duff, E.I.; Treonis, A. (2003) Influence of pasture management on soil organisms and pasture root system dynamics., In: Roots: The Dynamic Interface Between Plants and the Earth (ed. J.J. Abe). Developments in Plant and Soil Science 101, Kluwer, The Netherlands, pp121-130.
  • Atkinson, D.; Mackie-Dawson, L.A. (2001) Root growth. Methods of measurement., In: Soil Analysis - physical methods (eds. K. Smith and C. Mullins). 2nd ed. Marcel Dekker, New York, pp435-497.
  • Mackie-Dawson, L.A. and Atkinson, D. (1991) Methodology for the study of roots in field experiments and the interpretation of results., In: Plant Root Growth - an Ecological Perspective (ed. D. Atkinson). Blackwell, Oxford, pp25-48.
  • Atkinson, D.; Mackie-Dawson, L.A. (1990) Root growth - methods of measurement., In: Soil Analysis - physical methods (eds. K. A. Smith and C.E. Mullins). Marcel Decker Publications, New York, pp447-509.

  • Moir, A.; Henderson, B.; Macdonald, A.; Thomson, W.; Geddes, A.; Porter, J.; Burnett, F.; Whyte, P.; Dawson, L.A.; Mitchell, R.; Gilchrist, A.; Clark, M.; Brander, M.; McGregor, C.; Milne, A. (2021) A new blueprint for Scotland's arable sector., The Arable Climate Change Group, Report to Fergus Ewing, Scottish Government, March 2021, 25pp.
  • 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.
  • Miller, D.R.; Thomson, J.; Barron, S.; Bate, B.; Brooks, S.; Campbell, G.; Crofts, R.; Dawson, L.A.; Hawkins, M.; Hearns, D.; Hughes. R.; McFarlane, A.; Pretence, P.; Rankine, D.; Thomson, L.; Wade, R.; Younie, S.; Saunders, G. (2020) Position statement on landscape, land use and economy, September 2020., Scotland's Alliance - Working Group 3 Report, September 2020, 17pp.
  • Dawson, L.A. (2020) Land use strategy and change review., Summary Report to the Cabinet Office.
  • Fitzpatrick, J.; Brewer, M.; Campbell, C.D.; Morgan, P.; Hollingsworth, P.; Newbold, J.; Bestwick, C.; Dawson, L.A. (2020) The Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes’ (SEFARI) responses to COVID-19., Summary Report, 13pp.
  • Dawson, L.A. (2020) Regional Land Use Partnerships Discussion Paper. Comments and links to resource material from SEFARI Gateway., Report to Scottish Land Commission Consultation.
  • Dawson, L.A. (2020) Engagement with schools: (Summary of engagement for the period of the Strategic Research Programme 2016 to 2021)., Internal report to RESAS.
  • Robinson, M.; Pepper, J.; Caldwell, A.; Gibb, L.; Toteva, G.; Mitchell, C.; Marrs, S.; Loades, K.; Payne, C.; Young, T.; Firth, A.; Valluri, C.; Smith, C.; Claridge, H.; Taylor, R.; Midgley, A.; Wade, R.; Bestwick, C.; Buckingham, S.; Williams, M.; Bader, E.; Dawson, L.A.; Somervell, D.; Muschamp, H.; Jeorrett, C.; Naylor, L.; Hardie, A.; Reay, D.; Leatham, S.; Campbell, D.; Seal, L.; Dutton, K.; Revell, P.; Cook, G.; Brand, A.; Morrison, A.; Reid, A.; Avis, K.; Everett, N.; Lilley, R.; Tilbrook, C.; Gillibrand, H.; McBride, A.; Haszeldine, S.; Robertson, H. (2020) Climate Emergency Summit III: nature based solutions report., Royal Scottish Geographcial Society, Report from Conference Meeting, 31 pages.
  • Bestwick, C.; Dawson, L.A. (2019) Spotlight Annual SEFARI Report 2018-19.,
  • Dawson, L.A. (2019) Consultation responses on forensic science provision in England & Wales on behalf of the James Hutton Institute, FGG, IUGS IFG., House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, Report May 2019.
  • Bourguignon, L.; Dawson, L.A.; Hellmann, A.; Marlof, A.; Fernadez Rodriquez, A.; Repele, M.; Utehaag, S. (2019) Best practice manual for the forensic comparison of soil traces., ENFSI Website, ENFI-BPM-APS-02, Version 1, December 2019.
  • Dawson, L.A. (2019) Scotland Inquiry: gathering information and ideas. Food, Farming and Countryside Commission Scotland., Field Guide for the Future, RSA, Food, Farming and Countryside Commission Scotland, p53.
  • Bestwick, C.; Dawson, L.A.; Rees, B.; Skuce, P. (2018) Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture - measurement, modelling and mitigation., SEFARI NFUS Briefing, 8pp.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Cook, G. (2017) Consultation on new proposed BBC channel in Scotland and discussions with the BBC., Report to Scottish Government.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Bestwick C. (2017) SEFARI SAB OG report 2016 /17 annual report., Report to Scottish Government.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Stutter, M.I.; Cooksley, S.; Sample, J. (2017) Hydropower research., SEFARI Gateway Report, SRP2-11-16.
  • Cook, G.; Miller, D.R.; Dawson, L.A. (2017) Report on the Consultation on Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill., Response from SEFARI, August 2017.
  • Dawson, L.A. (2017) Soil and land use., Note to UK Parliament.
  • Dawson, L.A. (2016) Strategic Research Programme Centre for Knowledge Exchange and Impact - Research Awareness and Joint KE Strategy Development Meeting, Boat of Garten, 1 November 2016.,
  • Dawson, L.A. (2016) Report on the CKEI and CNPA exchange meeting., Report for Cairngorms website.
  • Miller, D.R.; Dawson, L.A.; Morrice, J.; McKeen, M.; Donnelly, D. (2016) Report on prototype spatial geoforensic database., EU Project MiSAFE, Deliverable 5.8, Report to the European Commission, EU FP7 MISAFE Project, 313149.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Bestwick, C. (2016) National discussion on the future of Scottish agriculture., Response to the Consultation request from Scottish Government Consultation Team for the Programme Advisors’ submission on the conversation on the ‘Future of Scottish Agriculture’.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Pakeman, R.J.; Stutter, M.I.; Miller, D.R.; Matthews, K.B.; Stott, A. (2016) Strategic Research Programme, Programme 1 Environmental Change, Final Report 2011 to 2016, Report to RESAS.
  • Kelloe, A.; Dawson, L.A.; Bestwick, C. (2016) Life in soil: does it matter?, Report on Royal Society of Edinburgh event, 24 February 2016.
  • Persch, S.; Clendenning, J.; Dawson, L.A.; Jourdan, C. (2015) Fine root dynamics within land-use change from tropical forests to agriculture: A systematic review protocol., CIFOR Working Paper No.200, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, Indonesia.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Morgan, R. (2015) Geoprovenancing., In: Annual Report of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser 2015. Forensic Science and Beyond: Authenticity, Provenance and Assurance. The Government Office for Science, London.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Miller, D.R.; Freitag, T.; Brewer, M.; Robinson, L.; Ross, J. (2014) MiSAFE project mid term review report., Mid-Term Report to the EU Review Panel for the MiSAFE Project. Uploaded to the EU website.
  • Miller, D.R.; Towers, W.; Ruffell, A.; Morrice, J.; Dawson, L.A.; Brooker, R. (2014) A land strategy for Northern Ireland., Report to Land Matters Task Force, Northern Ireland.
  • Dawson, L.A (2014) International linkages within research institutes., Internal Report to RESAS.
  • Miller, D.R., Dawson, L.A., Morrice, J., Donnelly, D. (2014) Structure and specifications for geoforensics database: D5.2., EU MiSAFE Project "Structure and Specifications for Geoforensics Database", Deliverable D5.2.

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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.