Defra appoints next chief scientist

Henderson will succeed Sir Ian Boyd in October

Photo: Defra

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has appointed a geochemist and Oxford professor, Gideon Henderson, as its next chief scientific adviser.

Henderson, a professor of Earth sciences at the University of Oxford, will provide scientific input on policy matters and strategic oversight of science-related policy including air quality, waste disposal, biosecurity and disease and water quality.

He will also work to “ensure that science and evidence remains at the heart of Defra and continues to underpin its work” post-Brexit, according to the job advert for the £120,000-a-year position.


Henderson has been a professor in Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences since 2006 and was until recently head of the department. He has also been senior research fellow at University College, Oxford since 2012.

As of this year, he also chairs the Royal Society Global Environmental Research Committee and is a member of the Natural Environment Research Council, part of the funding body UK Research and Innovation.

Henderson said he was “thrilled to be joining Defra at a time when the environment is such a strong priority and there is an ever-growing public level of environmental awareness.”

He said he was looking forward to working with officials on challenges including climate change and helping the UK meet a net zero emissions goal, food security and implementing the government’s 25-year environment plan.

He will take over from Sir Ian Boyd, who has been the department’s chief scientist for seven years, in October.

Defra had been expected to appoint its next CSA in 2017 after Boyd announced his plans to depart the role. However, he delayed his departure after being asked to stay on by environment secretary Michael Gove following a snap general election that summer.

Last year Boyd first announced his plans to step down in 2017, but delayed his departure after being asked to stay on by environment secretary Michael Gove following Theresa May's snap general election.

Last year – several months before the delay to the UK’s exit from the European Union was announced – Boyd told CSW he planned to stay in the role until after Brexit, partly because of the disruption it was creating for Defra. More than 80% of the department’s workload is affected by Brexit.

Boyd said he would spend his remaining months in the department ensuring “the whole functionality of science in Defra continues on an upward trajectory with momentum behind it, so that when my successor walks in, they walk into a situation which is full of opportunity rather than just challenge”.

Announcing Henderson’s appointment, environment secretary Michael Gove said: “Sir Ian Boyd’s contribution to Defra’s work has been invaluable, and I am immensely grateful for all the advice he has provided over the past seven years, informing key government policies.

“I warmly welcome Professor Henderson to the role and look forward to working with him and seeing his positive impact on science in the department going forward.

“It is absolutely crucial that all our policies are based on sound scientific advice to ensure we are addressing the UK’s most pressing environmental issues in a targeted and innovative way, and Defra’s chief scientific adviser is vital to this process.”

Defra permanent secretary Tamara Finkelstein added: “high quality science is central to everything this department does… I am delighted that Gideon Henderson is joining us as the new CSA for Defra, bringing with him strong experience in geochemistry, ocean sciences and climate.

“I look forward to working with him as part of the Defra executive committee and as a leader of our superb scientist community.”

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