Katherine Willis

Katherine Willis CBE is Professor of Biodiversity in the department of Biology and the Principal of St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford. She is also a Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords. Previous roles include Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a member of the UK Government’s Natural Capital Committee. Her research falls into two categories. First, she aims to understand how plant biodiversity responds, over time and space, from years to millions of years and from local to global scales, to climate change and other environmental drivers. Second, she researches the flow and extent of critical ecosystem services that we obtain from plant biodiversity, such as the drawn-down of atmospheric CO2, flood risk protection, clean water, soil erosion protection, and important spaces for enhancing physical and mental well-being. She is internationally recognised for her work on these topics and has led a number of initiatives to assimilate global knowledge on plant (and fungal) biodiversity change while in her role at Kew including State of the World’s Plants (2016, 2017), State of the World’s Fungi (2018) and more recently as a lead author on the 2019 Global Assessment of Biodiversity for the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

As well as writing and presenting to an academic audience, Kathy has always been passionate about the public communication of science. Her broadcasting work has included writing and presenting the 25-part BBC Radio 4 series From Roots to Riches, and presenting, interviews and appearances on, among other programmes, BBC One – Sir David Attenborough’s Extinction, The Facts; the BBC World Service two-part series Feeding the World; and The Life Scientific;. Most recently she has appeared on BBC One Greta Thunberg a year to change the world, BBC Four Nature and Us: A History through Art and the BBC World Service – The Evidence – the nature of mental health. Alongside academic papers, she has published three books for a more general audience: The Evolution of Plants (publisher Oxford University Press); Roots to Riches (publisher John Murray), based on the BBC series of the same name; and Botanicum (publisher Big Picture Press) which is part of a successful series of books for children. Later this year she has another book being published Green Senses: the science behind why seeing, smelling, hearing and touching nature is good for us. Kathy was awarded the Michael Faraday Medal for public communication of science from the Royal Society in 2015.

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