Abstract This paper outlines five principles for effective practice of knowledge exchange, which when applied, have the potential to significantly enhance the impact of environmental management research, policy and practice. The paper is based on an empirical analysis of interviews with 32 researchers and stakeholders across 13 environmental management research projects, each of which included elements of knowledge co-creation and sharing in their design. The projects focused on a range of upland and catchment management issues across the UK, and included Research Council, Government and NGO funded projects. Preliminary findings were discussed with knowledge exchange professionals and academic experts to ensure the emerging principles were as broadly applicable as possible across multiple disciplines. The principles suggest that: knowledge exchange needs to be designed into research; the needs of likely research users and other stakeholders should be systematically represented in the research where possible; and long-term relationships must be built on trust and two-way dialogue between researchers and stakeholders in order to ensure effective co-generation of new knowledge. We found that the delivery of tangible benefits early on in the research process helps to ensure continued motivation and engagement of likely research users. Knowledge exchange is a flexible process that must be monitored, reflected on and continuously refined, and where possible, steps should be taken to ensure a legacy of ongoing knowledge exchange beyond initial research funding. The principles have been used to inform the design of knowledge exchange and stakeholder engagement guidelines for two international research programmes. They are able to assist researchers, decision-makers and other stakeholders working in contrasting environmental management settings to work together to co-produce new knowledge, and more effectively share and apply existing knowledge to manage environmental change.