Professor Dame Judith Petts DBE

Professor Dame Judith Petts DBE


Office of Vice Chancellor



National Honours 
  • Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), 2024 – for services to higher education and sustainability
  • Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), 2012 – for services to scientific research


After graduating with a BA (Hons) Geography from Exeter University in 1975, Professor Dame Judith Petts, DBE, went out into the commercial world, including international banking (Barclays International) and a retail planning consultancy company, returning to research posts at Nottingham University and then Loughborough University from 1980. She completed her PhD by publications (Loughborough University) in 1996: "Risk Management at the Local Authority Level: Managing the Technical Institutional-Public Interface". She was a lecturer/senior lecturer in Centre for Hazard and Risk Management, Loughborough from 1987, becoming Centre Director in 1997. In 1999, Dame Judith was appointed to the Chair in Environmental Risk Management at University of Birmingham and became Head of the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences in 2001/2. In 2007 she was appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor, taking the Research and Knowledge Transfer portfolio. In 2010 Judith moved to the University of Southampton to become the inaugural Dean of the new Faculty of Social and Human Sciences and then in January 2014 was appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise. 
Dame Judith moved to take up her appointment as Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth University in February 2016. 

Professional membership

 EXTERNAL APPOINTMENTS (selected only) Current
  • Board Member, Great South West Partnership, 2022-
  • Board Member, National Centre for Universities and Business 2022-
  • Universities UK - Member of Audit and Risk Committee, 2021-
  • Member, Heart of the South West LEP Board, 2016-
  • Trustee, Marine Biological Association, 2018-
  • Member, Council of BBSRC, 2014-2018
  • Trustee, Sir Alistair Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, 2016-2018
  • Member, NERC Innovation Advisory Board, 2014-2018
  • Member, Global Food Security Programme Advisory Panel, 2015-2018
  • Member of RCUK Publiv Engagement Advisory Panel, 2014-2017
  • Chair, Defra/DECC Social Science Expert Panel, 2012-2016
  • Member DEFRA Science Advisory Council, 2011-January 2016
  • Chair BIS Steering Board of the Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre for Dialogue in Science and Innovation, 2014-2016 (member since 2008)
  • Member of Environmental Advisory Board of Veolia Environmental Plc (previously Onyx),1999-14
  • Member, Government Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce, 2012-13
  • Member EPSRC Science Advisory Network, 2011- 2013 (May)
  • Member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, April 2005-11
  • Member, EPSRC Council Societal Issues Panel, 2006-11
  • Trustee, ThinkTank Science Museum, Birmingham, 2008-10
  • Member of HEFCE Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) Panel Geography & Environmental Studies, 2005-8
  • Member of Advisory Board Humana UK Ltd, 2007-9
  • Member of Royal Society, Science in Society Consultative Group, 2005-2008
  • Member ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship Review Panel, 2006-2008
  • Member, Council of NERC 2000-6
  • Member BBSRC DTI/LINK Bioremediation research programme management committee 2001-8
  • Advisor to Research Assessment Exercise Environmental Sciences Panel, 2001
  • Specialist Adviser, House of Lords, Sub Committee C - Inquiry on Draft Incineration Directive 1999
  • Specialist Adviser, House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee Inquiry on Sustainable Waste Management 1998
  • Council Director, Institute of Environmental Assessment (Now Institute of Environmental Assessment and Management) 1990-2000
  • Board member of the Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory Board 1990-1992
  • National Education and Training Advisor, Institute of Wastes Management 1991-1995

Roles on external bodies

Elected Fellow of: 
AcSS Academy of Social Sciences - 2006
FRSA Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce - 2003
FRGS Royal Geographical Society -1999


Research interests

A human geographer, Dame Judith’s research career has been intensely interdisciplinary both in mode of operation and focus of study. Her research has bridged the gap between the formal approaches to environmental management and the social dimensions, enhancing effective institutional decision-making including the optimisation of consensus in decision-making. The research over some 3 5 years has sat at the interface between science and expert knowledge and decision processes and societal attitudes and responses. Dame Judith’s research has made a significant international contribution to theoretical and empirical development of public engagement and risk communication with direct policy impact. The research has engaged with several contexts including emerging technologies; urban governance; health and wellbeing; climate change; waste management; land contamination; business and environment.


Books & Monographs

Petts, J. (Ed.) Handbook of Environmental Impact Assessment. Blackwell Science, Oxford, 1999, 2 Volumes, 940pp.  

Petts, J., Cairney, T. & Smith, M. Risk-Based Contaminated Land Investigation and Assessment. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1997, 334pp.

Petts, J., (Ed.) Environmental Assessment Good Practice Guide. Construction Industry Research and Information Association, London, 1996, 45pp.

Petts, J., & Eduljee, G. Environmental Impact Assessment for Waste Treatment and Disposal Facilities. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1994, 485pp

Academic Journals (post 2000)

Davoudi, S, Harper, G, Petts, J. & Whatmore, S. (2015) Judging research quality to support evidence-informed environmental policy. Environmental Evidence, 4:9

Parker M, Acland A, Armstrong HJ, Bellingham JR, Bland J, et al. (2014) Identifying the Science and Technology Dimensions of Emerging Public Policy Issues through Horizon Scanning. PLoS ONE 9(5): e96480. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096480

Jaroszweski, D., Chapman, L. & Petts, J (2013) Climate change and freight road safety: a multidisciplinary exploration, Climatic Change DOI 10.1007/s10584-013-0836-y

Sutherland, W.J., et al (2012) A collaboratively-derived science-policy research agenda. PLoSONE 7(3): e31824. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031824

Jaroszweski, D., Chapman, L. & Petts, J (2010) Assessing the potential impact of climate change on transportation: the need for an interdisciplinary approach. Journal of Transport Geography, 18(2), 331-335

Harvatt, J., Petts, J & Chilvers, J. “Understanding householder responses to natural hazards: flooding and sea-level rise comparisons” Journal of Risk Research, 2010, 1-21

Bull, R., Petts, J. & Evans, J. “The importance of context for effective public engagement: learning from the governance of waste” Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 53(8), 2010, 991-1009

Damery, S., Draper,H.,Wilson,S., Greenfield,S.,Ives,J., Parry,J., Petts, J., & Sorell. T.“Clinical ethics: Healthcare workers’ perceptions of the duty to work during an influenza pandemic”, J Med Ethics 2010;36:12-18 doi:10.1136/jme.2009.032821  

Richards, K., Batty, M., Edwards, E., Findlay, A., Foody, G., Frostick, L., Jones, K., Lee, R., Livingstone, D., Marsden, T., Petts, J., Philo, C., Simon, D., Smith, S., & Thomas, D. “The nature of publishing and assessment in Geography and Environmental Studies: evidence from the Research Assessment Exercise 2008” Area, 41(3), 2009, 231-

Damery, S., Wilson, S., Draper, H., Gratus, C.,  Greenfield, S.,  Ives, J.,  Parry, J.,  Petts, J , & Sorell, T  “Will the NHS continue to function in an influenza pandemic? A survey of healthcare workers in the West Midlands, UK” BMC Public Health 2009, 9:142doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-142

Ives, J., Greenfield, S., Parry, J.M., Draper, H., Gratus, C., Petts, J.I., Sorrell, T & Wilson, S. “Healthcare workers’ attitudes to working during pandemic influenza: a qualitative study” BMC Public Health 2009, 9:56 doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-9-56

Petts, J. “Public Engagement to build trust: false hopes? Journal of Risk Research, 11(5-6), 2008, 821-835

Bull, R., Petts, J., & Evans, J. “Social learning from public engagement: dreaming the impossible?” Journal of Environmental Planning and Management , 51(5), 2008, 701-716

Petts, J., Owens, S., & Bulkeley, H. “Crossing boundaries: interdisciplinarity in the context of urban environments” Geoforum, 39, 2008, 593-601 (online from 2006)

Dalziel, R., Skelcher, C., Petts, J., & Damery, S. “Risk and the design of public spce: implications for local governments” Public Administration and Management International Journal, 12(4), 2007, 1-38

Petts, J. “Learning about learning: lessons from public engagement and deliberation on urban river restoration” Geographical Journal, 173(4), 2007, 300-311

Petts, J. “Managing public engagement to optimise learning: reflections from urban river restoration” Human Ecology Review, 13(2), 2006, 172-181

Petts, J, & Brooks, C., “Expert conceptualizations of the role of lay knowledge in environmental decision-making: challenges for deliberative democracy. Environment and Planning A, 38, 1045-1059

Owens, S., Petts, J. & Bulkeley, H. “Boundary work: knowledge, policy and the urban environment” Environment and Planning C, 2006, 24, 633-643 (editors of special issue)

Niemeyer, S., Petts, J., Hobson, K “Rapid climate change and society: assessing responses and thresholds” Risk Analysis,  25(6), 1443-1456

Petts, J. “Enhancing environmental equity through decision-making: learning from waste management” Local Environment, 10(4), 1-13, 2005

Petts, J. “Health, responsibility and choice: contrasting negotiations of air pollution and immunization information” Environment and Planning A, 37 , 791-804, 2005

Petts, J “Health risk communication and amplification: learning from the MMR vaccination controversy. Health, Risk and Society, 6(1), 2004, 7-23

Petts, J. “Barriers to participation and deliberation in risk decisions: evidence from waste management”. Journal of Risk Research, 7(2), 2004, 115-134

Petts, J. “Barriers to deliberative participation in EIA: Learning from waste policies, plans and projects” Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, 5(3), 2003, 269-293

Sadhra, S., Petts, J., McAlpine, S., Pattison, M & MacRae, S. “Workers’ understanding of chemical risks electroplating case study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 59, 2002, 689-695

Rivett, M., Petts, J., & Butler, B. “Remediation of contaminated land and groundwater: experience in the UK”. Journal of Environmental Management, 65(3), 2002, 251-268

Petts, J. “Evaluating the effectiveness of deliberative processes: waste management case studies”. Journal of Environmental Planning & Management,44(2), 2001, 207-226 ;

Petts, J. “Municipal Waste Management: Inequities and Decision Optimisation” Risk Analysis, 20(6),  2000, 821-832

Petts, J. “From public communication to involvement: implications for industry”, Process Safety and Environmental Protection, Transactions of the Institution of Chemical Engineers: part B,  78 (B4), , 2000, 270-279

Petts, J., "The Regulator-Regulated Relationship and Environmental Protection: Perceptions in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises". Environment and Planning C, 18, 2000, 191-206

Rocks, S.A., Schubert, I., Soanne, E., Black, E., Muckle, R., Petts, J., Prpich, G. & Pollard, S. (2017) Engaging with comparative risk appraisals - public views on policy priorities for environmental risk governance. Risk Analysis, 37(9), 1683-1692. Doi:10.1111/risa.12735