James Rothwell

James Rothwell


  • The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Arthur Lewis Building

    M13 9PL Manchester

Personal profile


James Rothwell is Professor of Physical Geography at The University of Manchester with expertise in environmental pollution (legacy and emerging pollutants) and environmental hydrology. James studied Geography at undergraduate level, and completed his PhD in 2006 at The University of Manchester (under the supervision of Professor Tim Allott and Professor Martin Evans). His PhD investigated the storage and release of legacy heavy metals from eroding peatlands in the Peak District National Park, UK. He then held a 6 month fixed-term lecturing position in Geography at The University of Manchester before moving to Manchester Metropolitan University to undertake postdoctoral work. During this time he worked on a number of research projects, including nitrogen leaching from European forest ecosystems (with Professor Nancy Dise), arsenic contamination of peatbogs (with Professor Kevin Taylor) and water quality dynamics in NW rivers (with Professor Colin Neal from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). James then moved back to The University of Manchester in 2008 to take up a lectureship in Physical Geography - continuing his environmental research work. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2014, Reader in 2017, and Professor in 2019. He has held a number of departmental, school and university leadership roles, and is currently the Director of the MSc in Green Infrastructure. James enjoys teaching at all levels, drawing on his research expertise and external networks.


  • 2019 - present: Professor of Physical Geography, School of Environment, Education & Development, The University of Manchester.
  • 2017 - 2019: Reader in Physical Geography, School of Environment, Education & Development, The University of Manchester.
  • 2014 - 2017: Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, School of Environment, Education & Development, The University of Manchester.
  • 2008 - 2014: Lecturer in Physical Geography, School of Environment, Education & Development, The University of Manchester.
  • 2006 - 2008: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dept. of Environmental & Geographical Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University.
  • 2006: Lecturer in Physical Geography (Fixed Term), School of Environment & Development, The University of Manchester.


  • 2002 - 2006: PhD, Geography, School of Environment & Development, The University of Manchester.
  • 1999 - 2002: BSc Hons Geography, School of Geography, The University of Manchester.

Administrative duties

  • Director of MSc Green Infrastructure (2021-present)
  • Co-Director of Manchester Environmental Research Institute (2017-2019)
  • Deputy Head of Geography (2016-2019).
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies for Geography (2014-2018).
  • Director of Undergraduate Admissions for Geography (2009-2014). 

Research interests

James’ areas of research include: 1) the use of green infrastructure for tackling urban challenges, including surface water flooding, 2) understanding the sources, transport and fate of microplastics in the environment, and 3) heavy metal and nutrient cycling in peatlands. James has published over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and has secured over £15 million of research grants. James’ research has been funded by key organisations including NERC, the European Commission and the Environment Agency. Research projects have taken him to Africa, Asia, North America and across Europe. 


  • 2024: Manchester Sky Garden Challenge. National Trust. £25,829 
  • 2017-2022: GROW GREEN: Green cities for climate and water resilience, sustainable economic growth, healthy citizens and environments. European Commission (Horizon 2020). €11,224,058
  • 2018-2022: IGNITION: Innovative financing and delivery of natural climate solutions in Greater Manchester. European Regional Development Fund (UIA). €4,559,842
  • 2019-2020: Nature-based climate change adaptation measures for addressing future flood risk. NERC (NE/S016031/1). £97,437
  • 2016-2018: L100M. Safeguarding the last 100 meters of potable water provisioning to unplanned settlements. British Academy (Sustainable Development Programme). £359,976
  • 2016-2018: GREEN GROWTH: Increasing resilience in cities through the delivery of green infrastructure-based solutions. NERC (NE/N017498/1). £98,023
  • 2014-2018: Reducing flooding and urban diffuse pollution with street trees. United Utilities, The Environment Agency and Salford City Council. £62,500
  • 2013-2016: Institutions for urban poor’s access to ecosystem services: a comparison of green and water structures in urban Bangladesh and Tanzania. NERC (NE/L001616/1). £448,006
  • 2013: Arsenic speciation in atmospherically contaminated peatlands. Diamond: UK National Synchrotron Science Facility. Access to STFC facilities by a 'grant in kind'. SP8523-1. £11,500
  • 2012-2013: Roadside gully pots as hotspots of urban diffuse pollution. The Environment Agency. £47,586
  • 2010: Impacts of wildfire, erosion and restoration on sediment flux and pollutant mobilisation in the peatlands of the Peak District National Park. Moors for the Future Partnership. £1,935
  • 2007-2008: Predicting nutrient and heavy metal concentrations in rivers in Northwest England using watershed characteristics. Manchester Geographical Society. £610
  • 2006-2007: Metal transport and storage in southern Pennine peatlands. Access to NERC block funded ICP facilities. OSS/311/0206R. £10,200
  • 2003-2004: Flux of heavy metal pollution from eroding southern Pennine peatlands. Moors for the Future Partnership. £1,700 

Management of Research Staff

  • Ellie Barker (2021). Funded by European Commission (H2020)
  • Junyan Yang (2021). Funded by European Commission (H2020)
  • Lucy Hulme (2021). Funded by European Commission (H2020)
  • Vanessa Macintyre (2018). Funded by European Commission (H2020)
  • Jamie Anderson (2017 - 2022). Funded by European Commission (H2020)
  • Jacob Kahila (2017 - 2018). Funded by British Academy.
  • Pronob Mozumder (2017 - 2018). Funded by British Academy.
  • Nicholaus Mwageni (2014 - 2016). Funded by NERC (ESPA programme)
  • Andrew Speak (2013). Funded by the Environment Agency
  • Andrew Peet (2012). Funded by the Environment Agency


James welcomes inquiries from well qualified graduate students from physical geography and environmental science backgrounds, particularly those with an interest / experience in environmental pollution, water quality, hydrology, and soil science.

Current PhD students

  • Dylan Zhang (2016-present). The role of floodplains in terrestrial carbon cycling. Self-funded. With Prof. Martin Evans and Dr. Claire Goulsbra.
  • Jane Mellor (2015-present [part time]). Fluvial arsenic dynamics in eroded and restored peatland headwaters. Funded by a University of Manchester Presidents Doctoral Scholarship Award. With Prof. Martin Evans.

Completed PhD students

  • Jiawei Li (2022). Urban floodplain and river channel records of microplastic contamination. External Examiner: Prof. Ian Foster (University of Northhampton).
  • Oscar Kennedy-Blundell (2021). Formation, transportation and degradation of charcoal in fire prone ecosystems. Funded by a SEED GTA scholarship. External Examiner: Prof. Stefan Doerr (Swansea).
  • Rachel Hurley (2017). Metals and microplastics in the first industrial city. Funded by a SEED GTA scholarship. External Examiner: Prof. Des Walling (Exeter).
  • Danielle Alderson (2017). The fate of carbon in upland floodplain sediments: a combined geomorphological and organic geochemical approach. Funded by a SEED GTA scholarship. External Examiner: Prof. Fred Worrall (Durham).
  • Cecelia Medupin (2016): Impact of combined sewer overflows on an urban river: a case study of the River Medlock, Manchester. Funded by a National Open University of Nigeria Scholarship. External Examiner: Dr. Will Mayes (Hull).
  • Donald Edopka (2016): Dissolved organic nitrogen dynamics in peatland freshwater systems. Funded by a University of Manchester Presidents Doctoral Scholarship Award. External Examiner: Prof. Chris Evans (CEH).
  • Emma Shuttleworth (2014): Tracing peatland geomorphology: sediment and contaminant movements in eroding and restored systems. Funded by a SEED GTA scholarship, and the Moors for the Future Partnership. External Examiner: Prof. Jeff Warburton (Durham).
  • Andrew Speak (2013): Quantification of the environmental impacts of urban green roofs. Funded by a NERC CASE studentship sponsored by Manchester City Council. External Examiner: Prof. Virginia Stovin (Sheffield).


GEOG10161 - Green Infrastructure: Performance, Evaluation and Monitoring

GEOG64002 - Green Infrastructure: Principles, Policies and Practice 2, Field class

GEOG60662 - Dissertation Support

GEOG74000 - Dissertation [supervision]

PLAN60852 - Green Infrastructure and Sustainable Cities


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Urban Institute
  • Manchester Environmental Research Institute


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