Looking back, Brexit has provided a particular and multi-faceted context for CCRI work over the past year. Wherever we stand as individuals on the topic, it has stimulated a renewed focus upon the policies that have shaped the UK’s food system, rural communities and landscapes for many decades.
The CCRI, in evidence provided to Parliamentary Committees, Government Departments and independent Commissions, in events hosted and attended, in research reports completed and papers published, has been playing a constructive role in scoping what comes next.
Our focus on understanding the everyday lived experience of individuals and communities in varied social and environmental contexts has been central to that effort. At the same time, our contribution to policy debates and developments continues to grow beyond the UK, to include international collaborations and initiatives with the FAO, EU and OECD and in Asia, Africa, central Europe and the Middle East.
These developments make for a very dynamic research environment as together, we build, share and co-develop new bodies of knowledge with our partners. This mini-site show-cases some of our achievements in the year so that you can see the range of work accomplished and delve into more detail wherever you wish.
We were delighted to welcome four new colleagues to the team this year, enabling us to conduct more research, across a broader range of topics and in more countries than ever before. Our capabilities have grown as we add new skills and techniques to the mix, building synergies in our research methods between qualitative and quantitative disciplines and approaches within contemporary social science.
As a team, we are ever more aware of the immense challenges facing society, with a climate emergency now declared by Parliament and action set in train on plastics and air quality, but an ever increasing inequality in incomes and life-chances across much of the developed and developing world.
The ability to produce rigorous evidence and to present and discuss it openly seems now more important than ever.
Section 1: Policy & Governance
CCRI conducts agenda-setting research to aid policy makers who work at the interface of agricultural, social and environmental issues in the UK, Europe and beyond.
In 2018-19, we extended our hard-fought reputation for excellence in policy and governance advice on rural and urban development. We covered topics ranging from soil science and sustainable agriculture, to the culture of food, and the limits of the food system.
Brexit: a time for strategy
2018 proved CCRI is well positioned to contribute to post-Brexit thinking and policy formulation
The one thing we know for certain about the UK’s decision to leave the EU is that it will shape food, farming, environmental and rural policy for the next 20 years. “After a year of central government paralysis, with everyone worrying about the implications of the referendum result, 2018 was the year new thinking around Brexit started to emerge,” says CCRI Director Janet Dwyer. CCRI was consulted on current political developments – drawing on years of specialist knowledge – and worked on new projects focused on the ‘beyond Brexit’ agenda.
House of Lords – the Rural Economy
The report, entitled ‘Time for a strategy for the rural economy’, covers a broad range of topics – the rural economy, housing, service delivery and policies impacting upon rural areas. Janet Dwyer was interviewed as part of the consultation process. She spoke about the uncertainty that has been created in the farming community by Brexit and voiced concerns regarding the effects of austerity measures, which have had a disproportionate effect on rural areas.
Many small family businesses struggle to expand due to insufficient support. This is an important issue that must be addressed if government policy is to support a more sustainable agricultural economy.
Welsh Affairs Select Committees
CCRI gave evidence to two different committees in Wales on what Brexit might mean for Welsh rural areas and Welsh agri-economy, Welsh rural development and environment. Janet Dwyer was commissioned by the Public Policy Institute for Wales on the implications of Brexit for rural Wales.
The English context
CCRI provided radio interviews and other media commentary based on our knowledge of European policy and an understanding of the likely consequences of different Brexit scenarios. A CCRI press release highlighted the loss of rural development in the policy agenda. “Research has given us understanding of both what’s been difficult about money coming from Europe but also what’s been good,” comments Janet.
Damian Maye published a paper on Brexit and Agriculture in a special issue of ‘Brexit Geographies’. The paper reflects one of CCRI’s broad ongoing goals – to connect research on sustainable agriculture to live debates in the policy arena. The subject matter links to ideas incorporated in the EU-level SUFISA project (see below).
CCRI held five workshops in early 2018. Across all five there was a clear call for innovation both in policy, lines of communication and in the synergy between food and energy as well as land, water and biodiversity.
There is an urgent need for a new generation of entrepreneurs and knowledge exchange around different ways of working and achieving a resilient landscape.
Diversity is also key. We need to move away from a one size fits all approach to policy and regulation, and build on the excellent examples that exist in Gloucestershire and elsewhere in the country. The situation is complex but we need to value food and highlight the social value and well-being aspects of food and how it is produced.
Sustainable agriculture, food and fisheries policy
Last year saw us further improve our ability to support future policy for more resilient agricultural systems
Agricultural production sits at the heart of major societal concerns, spanning food security, nutrition and health; livelihoods and development; the environment; and animal welfare. By their nature, sustainable policies should support primary producers, but these producers exist in a context of multidimensional policy requirements, market uncertainties and globalisation. Much of our work was focused on improving, gathering and analysing knowledge and data around these complexities in order to aid policy decisions.
Inshore fisheries and dairy farms
2018 was the final year for SUFISA, an EU-level project, spanning 11 countries and 22 regions. CCRI’s primary role was to examine farmers’ and fishers’ perspectives on market and regulatory pressures on inshore fisheries in Cornwall and dairy farms in Somerset.
We also investigated the strategies used at farm-level, as well as collectively, to manage these pressures effectively. “We spent the early parts of 2018 finishing case study work and then translating the UK findings report – which was over 200 pages – into two short policy briefs outlining the relevant headlines about our findings,” explains Damian Maye, who coordinated CCRI’s activities on the project.
The team undertook a major cross-national comparison of agri-food commodity arrangements for a variety of case studies across Europe, drafting a large, highly detailed report for the Commission. “From a dissemination perspective, SUFISA is one of our most significant projects,” says Maye.
In 2018, we completed another major EU Horizon 2020 study called PEGASUS (Public Ecosystem Goods And Services from land management – Unlocking the Synergies). The work focused on new ways of thinking about farmland and forest management. The broad aim was to stimulate a long-lasting improvement in the provision of public goods and ecosystem services from agricultural and forest land in the EU.
The CCRI played a significant role in developing the evaluation framework and the approach to analysis of the project’s 34 case studies, including four in the UK.
“It’s interesting, Europe is now moving in the direction that the UK has been advocating for some time,” notes CCRI Director Janet Dwyer. The project has helped move the conversation beyond the rhetoric of neoclassical economics and its preoccupations with market failure and government intervention. “The reality of rural business is that policy comes in little silos,” says Dwyer. “You may get some money for heritage, some for environment or some for economic growth and development of jobs”. Businesses must try to juggle these different elements in a coherent way.
PEGASUS demonstrated that, if you want to deliver environmental quality through funding rural land managers, you need to think beyond targeting the environment alone. Decision makers can achieve cost-effective outcomes for the environment by including local social, cultural and economic factors in their policy design.
Quantitative policy analysis
Mauro Vigani’s work for the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) demonstrated just how effective CCRI has been in its capacity building efforts in 2018.
The CCRI has a long-standing reputation for producing rigorous qualitative policy-relevant research. Vigani’s supportive work for the JRC has applied our quantitative skills, ranging from estimating demand elasticities for countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, to investigating the production, markets and regulation of microalgae-based food and feed products in Europe.
The JRC is regularly charged with developing policy scenarios at the request of the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development in the European Commission.
Similarly, the UN’s FAO also relies on third-party research institutes for quantitative analysis. In this instance, Vigani analysed six farm support programmes run by the Ministry of Agriculture in Georgia. The project represents a new high watermark for CCRI’s quantitative evaluation impact.
Culture & Heritage
CCRI’s work here focuses on opportunities to integrate rural heritage into post Brexit rural development and agri-environment policy
Sound policy relies on reliable evidence. CCRI actively supports policy decisions by gathering and analysing data around key culture and heritage issues, including generational renewal, the built environment and land use. Making the case for rural heritage is reliant upon demonstrating not only the challenges it faces – but also identifying the scale of these problems and the socio-economic value that conserving it might bring.
Generational renewal in agriculture
Empowering a new generation of young farmers is really vital to the success of the rural economy at large. This has been a very active area for CCRI in 2018.
An EU-funded project for the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development looked at the issue across all Member States.
“To some extent, all agricultural policies impact upon generational renewal,” says John Powell. “Any measures that impact the wider rural economy can affect the number of young entrepreneurs and workers entering the market.” The study involved a wide range of different activities: analysis of EU statistical data and interviews with EU-level policy makers, as well as national workshops.
Seven in-depth case studies look at the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy on farm succession and generational renewal in very different countries and regions.
Through this work, we’re improving policy advice on factors that drive farm succession. “This work will significantly improve policy makers’ understanding of the local contexts that affect farm succession,” Powell notes. “Our findings will feed into the next round of agricultural policy.”
Natural capital and the historic environment
Currently there is limited understanding of the role of historic environmental assets in ecosystem services and natural capital approaches, and the monetary and non-monetary benefits they can provide to society. To fill this knowledge gap, Historic England has commissioned research to assess the benefits that the historic environment can provide to people’s health, wellbeing and prosperity. As part of this research, CCRI is undertaking three projects to develop a return-on-investment model to explore ways in which historic environment values can be incorporated into the four categories of ecosystem services.
As a result of this work CCRI has been able to set out in the language of ecosystem services what public and environmental goods and services the heritage assets provide. The CCRI has developed a research methodology for recording the public and environmental benefits arising from the historic environment, and specifically flowing from dry stone walls in the Peak District National Park, linear features in the Lower Severn Vale and historic buildings and their associated boundaries in Gloucestershire, Shropshire and the Peak District.
Farmsteads and Landscapes Statements
Historic farmsteads make a fundamental contribution to landscape character, local distinctiveness and a sense of place. They are also assets which, through agricultural or new uses, can make an important contribution to the rural economy and communities. Historic England has led national research on this subject and has produced guidance on the conversion and maintenance of farm buildings. However, further work is still needed to develop the evidence base, in the form of Farmsteads and Landscapes Statements.
Historic England commissioned Jeremy Lake and CCRI to create and publish a baseline statement for 159 of England’s National Character Areas. The Farmsteads and Landscapes Statements will inform decision-making by all those involved in the conservation, reuse and development of historic farmsteads and farm buildings. The Farmsteads and Landscapes Statements will provide, for the first time, an interpretation of the farmsteads and farmed landscapes of England to inform research agendas.
Peer-to-peer farmer learning
In 2018-19, CCRI advanced its reputation for delivering policy-relevant research on farmer learning and innovation. Our work on EU project AgriDemo-F2F identified best practice in providing on-farm demonstration activities, and proposed effective ways for policy makers to support these at local, regional and Europe national levels.
CCRI researchers have also been involved is the ‘Farmer-led Initiatives Network (FLIN). This is just emerging as a formalised network. It brings together NGOs, researchers and agencies with a common interest in supporting farmer-led initiatives in sustainable agriculture. The motivation for the network is to share experiences and to identify the best way to evaluate farmer-led initiatives. We’re looking for ways to find evidence that counts for policy makers and shows that such models work. This will be particularly important given the emphasis on rewarding collaborative provision of public goods post-Brexit.
An interview with Julie Ingram
“We’ve continued to develop ideas that have emerged in academic circles relating to learning and innovation. Our particular interest is understanding how knowledge processes operate in Agricultural Innovation Systems, the complex and dynamic system of producers, innovation support and advisory systems, commercial sector, supply chains, researchers and educationalists, and policy makers.
“This is a particularly useful area of policy-relevant research now the UK is thinking about its future as a competitive food producer outside of the EU’s CAP. I think we’re quite well placed to draw on our knowledge and experience from previous projects on this to inform policy makers.
“Working with partners (academics and practitioners) internationally has allowed us to explore a number of case studies and develop some innovative ideas. We really have been quite cutting edge in the work we’ve done.
“Many EU projects are now following the multi-actor approach which means project partners are drawn from farmers groups and advisory services, industry, NGOs as well as academics. The focus is very much on working together to solve problems and co-produce innovations that are relevant, practical and will deliver impact. These partners can act as gatekeepers for researchers to stakeholders in the agriculture community. So this is a great opportunity to really understand the realities of achieving innovation on-farm.
“Working with stakeholders also allows us to bring together our collective knowledge and co-create knowledge on topics that stakeholders identify as important. Whilst this can be rewarding for all involved, but it also has its challenges.
“The complexities of implementing co-production of knowledge is something worth noting. We have to take care to manage expectations and to understand that, while for researchers the research project is a top priority, for stakeholders it is just one of the many demands on their time.
“As researchers, we have to be reflective and think about our responsibility to the stakeholders, farmers and advisors we involve in these projects. That’s quite a progressive position that we’re starting to explore in more depth.”
Complex problems, such as effectively managing an ageing population or delivering sustainable mobility, are often specific to a particular region and encompass both rural and urban areas. Such challenges can only be solved by taking a collaborative approach, involving policymakers, researchers, businesses, service providers, citizens and other stakeholders. But it can be difficult to know what types of governance arrangements are effective in different scenarios.
This is why we have been contributing to the EU’s Horizon 2020 ROBUST project since 2017. ROBUST (Rural-Urban Outlooks: Unlocking Synergies) brings together 24 partners from 11 countries to advance our understanding of the interactions and dependencies between rural, peri-urban and urban areas; and to identify and promote policies, governance models and practices that foster mutually beneficial relations. A key element of ROBUST is exploring different governance arrangements in real-life settings. Therefore, 11 case studies called ‘Living Labs’ have been chosen to cover diverse territorial contexts, one of which is Gloucestershire.
Each Living Lab is a place-based form of experimental collaboration that emphasises co-creation in a real-world setting. The Gloucestershire collaboration partners CCRI with Gloucestershire County Council. “It’s a bit different to the sort of conventional way that you do research,” says CCRI’s Damian Maye. “Normally, if we were working for the Council, we would just go away and collect lots of data and come back with a report. In a Living Lab scenario we deliver co-produced innovation, working very closely together and identifying what we each want out of the process.”
“In 2018, one of our main jobs on the project was to develop a framework for how you do these Living Labs – how you run them – and then to develop a toolkit of methods that all the practice partners can then use,” says Maye. “We also developed a monitoring and evaluation framework to track the learning as the Lab goes through its stages so that by the end of the project we can provide evidence to the Commission and our peers of what this type of ‘trans-disciplinary research’ can actually achieve.”
Beyond developing a robust methodology, work centred on specific challenges in urban-rural governance. “To give you a real example, there’s a food strategy for Gloucestershire and within that we think we need to progress quite rapidly towards a plant-based diet,” says Dan Keech. The CCRI team is working with the Council to adapt their contracting for local food provision of school meals. To make this change, within ROBUST we are developing experiments that challenge existing conventions, linking the work we do on sustainable food strategies to inform the Council’s thinking. “That’s going to affect the profile of agriculture in the county and certainly the business models people might need to think about as change happens; so you can see how there’s a rural-urban relationship.”
In a Living Lab scenario we deliver co-produced innovation, working very closely together and identifying what we each want out of the process.Damian Maye
Environmental land management in England
The Exmoor Ambition is an initiative to design, trial and test future approaches to environmental land management in England.
At present, if farmers want financial support from the public sector, they can face extraordinary levels of bureaucracy. Consequently, some farmers have started to organise in various ways and build capacity to win back some control.
Exmoor Hill Farmers and the National Park had previously commissioned CCRI to survey Exmoor farmers, helping them to develop capacity to make a difference at a local level. Janet Dwyer then joined the steering group, developing the initiative and contributing ideas on governance based on her knowledge from other parts of Europe.
Dwyer also evaluated a small project called ‘Graze the Moor’. This focuses on understanding how to regenerate heather moorland. “We’ve realised that the traditional prescriptions of environment schemes weren’t working; particularly in the southwest,” Dwyer says.
Landowner Christina Williams took her moorland area out of the conventional agri-environment scheme and persuaded with Natural England to experiment with a different approach. This involved establishing a grazing cattle herd that would stay on the Moor in winter. “With centrally designed, top down schemes, the simple narrative about what works can become policy everywhere, when it was only appropriate to one context,” Dwyer says. “This project was about challenging that and building on valuable local knowledge.”
Future grazing management
In Norway, rural land is facing change from second home construction and residents who do not want to see agricultural activities taking place on their doorstep. In addition, some of those with hunting rights want to remove sheep grazing entirely to offer hunters a more ‘natural’ experience. There are also wider structural problems arising from the effect of state subsidies on sheep farmers, and declining lamb consumption among Norwegians.
Such change has led to concern about the voice and lack of power and influence that traditional graziers have in the mountain and forest regions of Norway, prompting the Norwegian government to initiate a three-year project called FUTGRAZE.
Beginning in 2018, FUTGRAZE investigates how the local common land associations are adapting to environmental, political and economic changes and why it seems that some are more able to adapt and avoid conflict than others.
“We’ve been chosen as a partner to look at some of the UK’s management of those spaces and look at traditional voices,” says CCRI’s Chris Short. “They’re looking to us in a sense because we’re more populated and we’ve got fewer of those areas, so they tend to be under more pressure.” CCRI’s knowledge of both legislation and local mechanisms of self-governance and resilience in the UK will help to shape future best practice arrangements in Norway.
Section 2: Research & Innovation
CCRI conducts and publishes world-class research that forms the foundations for a deeper shared understanding of rural life and leads to actionable insights on issues relevant to rural and urban development in the UK, Europe and beyond.
2018 saw us collect detailed evidence and grow our knowledge base in various key areas, including sustainable agriculture, fish and food; farmer influence; and culture and heritage.
Sustainable agriculture, food and fisheries policy
We have completed nuanced analysis of sustainable practices for building resilient agricultural systems in complex regional dynamics
Needing to satisfy a growing world population and demand from a wide range of industries, agriculture, fish and food systems are under intense strain. At the same time, these industries are facing pressure to abandon intensive practices that harm the environment long-term in favour of a more sustainable approach that manages natural resources effectively, all while contributing to equitable regional development. In 2018, we have been adding unique and valuable insights to the UK and European knowledge base that are helping to facilitate a sustainable food system.
Inshore fisheries and dairy farms
Primary producers—that is agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture—are the foundation of the food system. But that system faces many economic, environmental and social challenges as well as opportunities following socio-economic and technological developments, that are not equally distributed.
To make sense of this complex landscape, SUFISA was born. The EU-level project spanned 11 countries and 22 regions and ended in 2018. Its aim was to identify sustainable practices and policies in the agricultural, fish and food sectors that support the sustainability of primary producers in the context of complex policy requirements, market uncertainties and globalisation.
As part of this work, we examined farmers’ and fishers’ perspectives on market and regulatory pressures on inshore fisheries in Cornwall and dairy farms in Somerset. This analysis was conducted using a combination of methods, including focus groups, interviews and a survey of 200 producers (in the dairy case only) to understand the key market and regulatory conditions, and the strategies and arrangements that primary producers are utilising to manage difficulties and risks.The research exposed various conditions that influence food producers’ strategies and performances, and provided a unique insight into differing supply chain arrangements and mechanisms that are allowing farmers to deal with these pressures.
At a wider EU level, the CCRI team ran a producer survey across 22 regions of the EU, each of which involved up to 300 producers. From this, we compiled a large database which was then subjected to a comparative cross-regional econometric and descriptive analysis. “In order to develop a coherent understanding of the impacts of multi-dimensional policy requirements, market uncertainties and globalisation, scattered knowledge must be centralised and integrated with new insights,” says Damian Maye, who led the CCRI contingent. “In November 2018, the team delivered a number of very large qualitative and quantitative datasets to the European Commission, including the massive producer survey report, analysis of which made sense of a very broad dataset, reporting evidence of new arrangements emerging around contracts in commodity sectors.”
Can natural land-based measures be used to reduce the risk of flooding for communities? This is the question LANDWISE—a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)-funded project that ends in 2021—seeks to answer.
LANDWISE studies measures like crop choice, tillage practices and tree planting, that have been identified by people who own and manage land to have the greatest realisable potential of reducing the risk from flooding from surface runoff, rivers and groundwater in groundwater-fed lowland catchments. These natural methods can reduce the amount of water that runs off the land surface, while also improving soil structure to allow more rainwater to infiltrate below ground.
The LANDWISE research focuses on the West Thames River Basin area, where around 112,000 properties are at risk of flooding if rivers burst their banks, almost 10,000 are at risk of groundwater flooding, and many more are in danger of surface water flooding.
CCRI’s Chris Short is co-investigator on the project, led by Reading University: “Modelled data suggest that natural land-based activities on lowland agriculture catchments are useful for reducing risk in small-scale events but this tails off for bigger events to the point that they might actually become more problematic than beneficial,” he says. “There are a small number of people that say that’s wrong, but there’s no evidence – so, that’s why this project is really interesting.”
Alongside a paper on natural flood management highlighting the multiple social, environmental, economic and benefits, Short’s role heavily involves community and farmer engagement in the Upper Thames region. As Chair of the Upper Thames Catchment Partnership, he has encouraged a high level of farmer engagement, secured through various projects to learn about the benefits and drawbacks of flood mitigation measures these farmers employ. “I think it’s a real plus for a CCRI project to be involved in the sort of work in which farmer engagement produces new knowledge,” he adds.
Farmer learning and innovation
CCRI investigates farmer learning and innovation across a range of themes
Networks that facilitate farmer-to-farmer learning accelerate the uptake of knowledge and innovation to make the industry more competitive in the global marketplace. But to tackle the economic, environmental and social challenges facing the sector and their potentially complex interconnections requires a broader range of expertise.
Knowledge needs to be exchanged between farmers, researchers and other stakeholders to bridge the gap between academic findings and the farm. Knowledge co-creation fosters innovation towards keeping agriculture and food production competitive and sustainable, and rural areas vibrant in the 21st century. 2018 saw CCRI actively encourage knowledge co-creation by deepening understanding of the importance of farmer learning networks and how knowledge processes operate in agricultural innovation systems.
Risk management and resilience
“Policy analysis is a longstanding specialism of CCRI,” says CCRI’s Mauro Vigani. “But the focus on risk management and especially resilience is a rather new aspect of the policy debate.”
This new focus has required an equally new approach to knowledge gathering, requiring the consideration of more dynamic elements such a farmer behaviour around learning, risk management and resilience. “Some members of the Institute studied how farmers learn in the past, but perhaps not as intensively as we’re doing now,” explains Vigani. “We’re now in a very strong position in this area.”
A big step forward was made in 2018 by developing a more refined understanding of individual and regional farm resilience instead of relying on a single economic measure. “We’ve taken this dataset called the Farm Business Survey, which is a massive annual survey of about 3000 farmers in the UK,” says CCRI’s Robert Berry. “From this, we’ve come up with a number of indicators that we think demonstrate how resilient the economics of each farm is, and then mapped it out to show the difference in farmer resilience in different regions of England and Wales.”
A CCRI team has extended farmer risk and resilience knowledge further in the EU-funded project SURE-Farm. SURE-Farm aims to analyse, assess and improve the resilience and sustainability of farms and farming systems in the EU. “Part of that is understanding how important the farmer learning network is to farmers, particularly when they want to make changes on their farm,” explains CCRI’s Damian Maye. “So, it’s building upon the theme of farmer influence to understand: what are the kind of influences? Who influences farmers? What are the types of knowledge networks that they use when they’re making changes on their farms?”
The project aims to develop a comprehensive framework to identify the conditions that enable farming systems to become and remain resilient to a broad range of current and imminent stressors. It will address determinants of resilience, potential improvements of risk management strategies, drivers of farm demographics, and strengths and weaknesses of the existing policy framework.
Within the wider aims of the project, the CCRI team uses a mixed quantitative and qualitative analytical approach to focus on farmers’ adaptive behaviour and learning capacity, the enabling environment for farm demographics and farm labour, and the assessment of the capacity of the Common Agricultural Policy to enhance resilient and sustainable agriculture.
As part of this, the team is conducting one of 11 case studies across Europe. The case study involves co-creating knowledge with arable farmers in the East of England. Just like other farmers across the UK, these farmers face considerable challenges in terms of uncertainties surrounding Brexit, together with ongoing pressures of responding to consumer preferences, public perceptions of agriculture and balancing farm business performance with environmental sustainability.
This is a crucial time for British agriculture and a deeper understanding of what makes farms resilient will be important to safeguard UK farming and food production into the future.Mauro Vigani
Farm and forestry management
The EU-level PEGASUS project has taken a methodological approach that’s emerging from ecosystem services literature and the work of Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences
CCRI investigated initiatives that were trying to improve the provision of public goods and ecosystem services from agriculture and forestry. Each case study had a different approach to unlock the synergies between economic, social and environmental benefits for society. With case studies from all over Europe, we were able to showcase pioneering initiatives for sustainable management of farming and forest land that deliver public goods and ecosystem services using the concept of a holistic and sustainable system.
CCRI used a social-ecological systems approach as a way of analysing how these kind of actions work at the local level. The analysis showed clear links between the three pillars of sustainability –the social, the economic and the environmental – are needed to bring about beneficial change.
The CCRI’s work aids policy makers by looking beyond outcomes to understand the underlying processes that work. “Understanding the social process makes all the difference,” says CCRI Director Janet Dwyer. “Policy can too easily go wrong when people have bright ideas about what they need to achieve but a naive approach to designing ‘instruments’ to achieve it, without considering the social context.”
The way in which monetary support is offered or regulations are applied – and the choices made about who has the power to make decisions and tailor instruments for local needs – makes a huge difference to a policy’s success.
This research was completed in 2018. “We held a policy conference in Brussels followed by more discussions with commission officials arranged by an officer from the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development,” says Dwyer. New draft Common Agricultural Policy regulations propose a radical move towards a more flexible approach to delivering public goods and ecosystem services through land management beyond 2020. When the Commission was looking for ideas, our research was on hand. “The big message was: ‘if you want this to work, you give people at a local level more say over what happens; give farmers a stronger voice; and encourage collective action,’” Janet says, “these features should now all be stronger in the new CAP.
Co-producing social data
Here, the team at CCRI looked at the policy needs for social data. With fisheries, for example, this is limited to demographic data like gender, age, education levels in the fisher population. “Policy makers really want to understand fisher’s perceptions and attitudes towards regulation and policy, or what influences their behaviour,” explains Julie Urquhart. “The fisher stakeholders want a better understanding of things that directly impact them, like health and wellbeing.” Part of that social data is cultural, so we’ve also looked at the cultural identity of fishing communities,”
Tree pests and diseases is another area we’ve conducted some really meaningful, innovative work. This is quite a new area within research and policy. The social side of the tree health area has really only come to the force since ash dieback hit the headlines in 2012.
The team is working on a Defra project concerning policy options that support land managers to better deal with pests and diseases. This included workshops and interviews with a broad range of landholders. “The next step is to develop these policy options through a co-production process,” says Urquhart, “getting together with land managers to identify formats for support and a grant system that would help them.”
Since 2012, the government put a number of tree health projects under the health and plant biosecurity initiative that were a combination of science (such as genetics) and social dimensions.
A number of projects have come on the back of that. The biosecurity work we’ve conducted with the plant health social scientists in Defra has developed into an ongoing research theme. “This is quite a new area for CCRI because I only joined 18 months ago,” Urquhart says. “Damian Maye’s worked on biosecurity and animal health, and I’ve worked on tree health. So, we now have this biosecurity strand at CCRI,” she says.
Urquhart has been involved in setting up an international work of social science and tree health researchers. “In the summer of 2018, we published a book that’s the first international collection of work on the human dimensions of tree health,” she explains.
Peer-to-peer farmer learning
Networks that facilitate farmer-to-farmer learning accelerate the sharing and uptake of knowledge and promote innovation . Understanding this peer to peer learning has been at the centre of the EU H2020 project Agridemo-F2F. Building on our long history of researching how farmers learn from their own on-farm experiences and from other farmers, this project aims to deepen understanding of how on-farm demonstration activities can be more effective.
However, farmers don’t operate in isolation, they are part of a wider and more complex Agricultural Innovation Systems which both enables and constrains learning and practice through the activities of the many other players such as innovation support and advisory systems, commercial sector, supply chains, and policy makers). Understanding this system and its influences are key to our research.
Social media in an urban context is well studied. 2018 was the year we really started to establish some in-depth understanding of social media use in rural contexts. CCRI produced a paper on farm-to-farm networks on Twitter. We’ve observed small face-to-face networks of this type. This year, we were able to establish the types of networks that have evolved over social media. “Part of our success stemmed simply from having the awareness and relevant tools to analyse this phenomenon,” explains Matt Reed. “A lot of social media analysis is quantitative, based on big datasets; this work was principally qualitative analysis of a specialised network. That’s quite different from a lot of social science in this area.”
This work has very clear policy implications. “The work challenges perceptions that these rural groups aren’t sufficiently networked to use digital media,” says Reed. “From some of the surveys we’ve conducted, we know that’s emphatically no longer the case in many instances.”
The work challenges perceptions that these rural groups aren’t sufficiently networked to use digital media.Dr Matt Reed
The response from partners across Europe and the Commission has been really positive.Nick Lewis
Soil threats in Europe
Although there is a large body of knowledge available on soil threats in Europe, this knowledge is fragmented and incomplete, in particular regarding the complexity and functioning of soil systems and their interaction with human activities. This is why the EU-funded project RECARE was conceived: to save our soil.
RECARE, which ended in 2018, aimed to do this by developing effective prevention, remediation and restoration measures using an innovative trans-disciplinary approach, actively integrating and advancing the knowledge of farmers and land managers with those of scientists and other stakeholders in 17 case studies, covering a range of soil threats in different biophysical and socio-economic environments across Europe.
An important element of RECARE was dissemination and communication. Alongside running the RECARE final policy conference, a CCRI team worked on dissemination throughout the project, ensuring that project results were disseminated to a variety of stakeholders at the right time and in the appropriate formats to stimulate renewed care for European soils. “The response from partners across Europe and the Commission has been really positive,” comments CCRI’s Nick Lewis.
Already RECARE has reached those who directly manage the land and soil, enabling and encouraging them in sustainable soil management techniques. The hope is that RECARE results can influence the design of future European policies on soil protection too.
Culture & Heritage
CCRI’s work on culture and heritage doesn’t just provide a foundation for sound policy decisions, it’s pushing research boundaries.
Capturing social and cultural data related to changing rural and agricultural contexts is challenging. In 2018, CCRI built on its wealth of experience in this area to develop and apply a range of innovative approaches to cultural and heritage data. These include frameworks that allow policy makers to consider broader social value that is generally missed when employing traditional economic frameworks.
Paul Courtney has continued to cement CCRI’s reputation as a centre of excellence in social value.
Many definitions of ‘social value’ don’t conceptualise it properly. “That’s one task I’ve been working on,” Courtney says. “I conceptualised social value for the 3rd sectors; taking the idea of a research framework for psycho-social changes and making it more meaningful by looking at the different paradigms it draws on.” These paradigms include, among others, social innovation, a participatory deliberative democracy and localism. To capture the psycho-social changes that happens to people’s lives Courtney has been using a methodology called ‘Social Return on Investment’ (see below).
That work included an evaluation of the ‘Going the Extra Mile’ programme – an employment programme designed to bring socially disadvantaged, isolated or hard to reach groups closer to employment training or education. The programme, which is funded by the National Lottery and the EU, involves 70 organisations known collectively as the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust.
In collaboration with fellow University of Gloucestershire colleague Colin Baker, the CCRI produced an interim evaluation report. The report includes measurement of distance travelled in these psycho-social changes. The work helped the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust to win another £2.7 million to extend the programme for another two years (until the end of 2021). The work is important for the county and, in turn, CCRI’s role monitoring and evaluating the project from start to finish has been important for the University.
CCRI also evaluated the Bristol City Council’s physical health programme using this suite of social value tools, including SROI. “We’re capturing the physical health benefits but also the psycho-social benefits alongside from participating in the programme,” Courtney notes.
The Council understood the wider value created by the programmes. They’re aware of the indirect benefits – for example, participants can meet like-minded people, they’re less isolated, they join in with community more and so on. “We’ve provided a framework for measuring those benefits,” Courtney says.
CCRI provides each project with a bespoke social value framework, but the basic underlying framework is transferable between projects and even sectors: that’s vital. The team published a paper on the methodology in a journal called Research for all, an up and coming open access journal.
The team is also working with Natural England to develop indicators for environmental stewardship schemes. We work with farm level indicators but we’re also developing a robust, validated set of indicators for individual farmers. Organisations like Defra and Natural England can then use these indicators in conjunction with environmental and economic indicators.
This comes back to the fact that social indicators are difficult to capture, measure and value. Policy decisions are made on the basis of environmental and economic considerations, while important social factors are left out. Much of our current efforts focus on bringing social considerations further into the mainstream. The broader goal is to support more informed policy decision making.
Our work helped the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust to win another £2.7 millionPaul Courtney
Social Return on Investment
Social Return on Investment (SROI) allows you to capture, measure and financially value social change. CCRI has developed an accessible toolkit, so third sector organisations can capture and measure their own social value.
“SROI was initially developed so small organisations like NGOs could better measure the impact of their work,” says John Powell. “We’ve taken that model and developed it in several significant ways.”
Historic England funded 10 projects on methodologies for valuing cultural heritage. CCRI won three: one on dry-stone wall in the peak district; another investigating linear features in the Seven Vales; and a third on built structures.
Our team used an SROI model to place values on these features. For dry-stone walls, for example, we looked at the cost of maintenance, provision, restoration, etc., over a 50-year time period. We also consider the benefits from an ecosystem services perspective, i.e., what are the benefits of dry-stone walls? What are the benefits of sheltered habitat? Considering these questions purely from a cultural heritage perspective is very progressive.
“In one sense it’s not new: this idea of using proxies to measure values and non-market goods has been around for a while,” Powell notes. “But, the actual model for doing it is new.”
In Europe, interest is growing in using social value and SROI to capture psycho-social outcomes alongside economic or medical outcomes has big international potential. There’s growing appetite for social indicators and more meaningful ways to capture social value.
CCRI is in a really strong position because thanks to a long track record in this area. “The next stage is for us to develop the indicators and test them through a pilot survey and then get enough cases in the sample,” says Courtney. “If we can get 400 cases, we can validate the indicators, which would put us in a really strong position.”
2018 saw the arrival of a major framework contract from the European Commission. The goal is to evaluate the impact of the European agri-policy on ‘balanced territorial development’ – one of the three strategic objectives of the current CAP. We’re conducting evaluations over six years in partnership with two other consultancies; one based in Belgium, one in Austria.
The first project started in June 2018 and ended in July 2019. “That project is evaluating the impact of the CAP on generational renewal, focused mostly on farming but also looking beyond farming to rural areas more generally,” says Janet Dwyer, CCRI Director. “So, how do you encourage young people to stay in rural areas? How do you create the conditions that they can live and work by?”
These projects are an interesting prospect for CCRI. “We have to deliver a service contract where we’re working very closely with the policy makers,” Dwyer explains. “So, any criticisms of policy decisions must be based on robust evidence.”
Social indicators for environment schemes
We worked on a UK-based project for Defra and Natural England which started in October to develop social indicators for agri-environment schemes. The indicators are designed to help monitor and evaluate the schemes.
Normally, Natural England focus on monitoring the environmental impacts of a scheme. They now recognise that some environmental impacts may take a long time to reveal themselves and that farmers’ level of engagement with a scheme can be a good indicator of environmental outcomes.
Building on CCRI research undertaken over the last decade, we are developing a set of indicators that can be used to identify the quality of engagement a farmer has with their agreement and also the social outcomes that result from the agreement. Social outcomes could include, for example, increased social networks, increased confidence as a result of gaining new skills and knowledge, or increased stress due to demands on time. All these factors could have an influence on how farmers’ engage with any future agri-environmental work.
The work of a joint Natural England/CCRI PhD studentship undertaken by George Cusworth ‘Exploring the long-term social and land management impacts on participants of the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme’ has helped to inform this project.
Place and culture
CCRI continues to develop its cultural research of local distinctiveness with external partners. Building on work reported on in previous reviews, our collaboration with Otto-Friedrich University in Germany in the two UNESCO World Heritage Cities of Bath (UK) and Bamberg (Germany) has critically examined eco-technical potentials of urban horticulture. These include green space protection, water resource management or the potential of urban food production to improve household nutrition.
Such perspectives, often linked to the rapid urbanisation experienced in global cities, are driven by the need to make city food systems more sustainable in the light of climate and economic challenges ahead. But they can also overlook distinctive social details and long-established cultural traditions and knowledge about food in smaller cities, where the rural-urban divide is often blurred.
A better understanding of crucial social-cultural contexts may help avoid standardised approaches to urban sustainability and play a key role in multi-stakeholder decision-making concerning future land use planning.
Working with the School of Fine Art at the University of the West of England (UWE), we have analysed a mixture of lived and archival impressions of the severe floods in the Somerset Levels and Moors in the consecutive winters of 2012 and 2013/14.
Contrasting the responses to the flood emergency and the unwelcome consequences of the water, with small details of living through and with the flood water, revealed unexpected subjective feelings and experiences that have had little attention in climatological or policy-facing literature or news reporting from the area since that time. Again, we discern an eco-technical dominance, driven, of course, by the desire to avoid future inundation, but over-shadowing the multitude of different perspectives about what should happen in the area in the future.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) hold immense potential for gathering, managing, and analysing geospatial data in rural contexts.
Led by Dr Rob Berry, CCRI’s research activities are at the forefront of applied, open-source GIS for rural research. GIS techniques can be used to map processes and networks across rural areas. Through these maps, researchers can construct narratives that integrate qualitative and quantitative data, text, maps and multimedia to tell ‘stories’ of particular aspects of rural regions.
Assessing the heritage value of linear landscape with GIS
This project is aimed at developing a GIS-based methodology for identifying and calculating the public and environmental benefits (goods and services) arising from the historic environment, and specifically flowing from linear features in the Lower Severn Vale area of Gloucestershire. The methodology builds on existing techniques for valuing the benefits of market and non-market goods and services and a recently completed CCRI project on dry stone walls in the Peak District National Park. The method essentially brings together valuation approaches with ecosystem services and GIS analysis. The outputs are monetary values for ‘benefit streams’ generated over time by the ‘capital stock’ made up of the existing systems of boundaries and linear features in the Lower Severn Vale.
Natural Flood Management with GIS
Here, we developed and evaluated a Google Earth virtual globe tour for communicating spatial data and engaging stakeholders in the early stages of a Natural Flood Management (NFM) planning scenario. The project centred on a rural UK river catchment that suffered significant flooding in 2007.
With a range of diverse stakeholder interests to consider, early engagement and the development of trust before decision-making is essential for the long-term success of such catchment-wide projects. A local catchment group was consulted to identify key information requirements, and from this a virtual globe tour was created.
The process involved specialist skills and expert leadership, but the end result was accessible to a range of audiences. User evaluation indicated that the virtual globe tour was easy to navigate, and can be used to stimulate interest and engage stakeholders. The Google Earth tour was developed by CCRI MRES student Kate Smith, under the supervision of Robert Berry (CCRI) and Lucy Clarke (Geography).
Education & Communication
CCRI fosters a vibrant research culture that includes a range of training and intellectual exchange
In 2018, we broadened the Institute’s capacity as an EU-level dissemination partner and developed a range of higher education courses and modules. On the dissemination side, we’ve repeatedly demonstrated our ability to develop Dissemination and Communication plans for EU Horizon 2020 Framework projects, which ensure that the outputs of projects have a significant impact both on the ground and at policy level. Our course development work includes Rob Berry’s efforts to meet demand for GIS modules and courses, and a cutting-edge collaboration with the Royal Agriculture University in Cirencester.
Soil science communication
CCRI completed work on the RECARE soil protection and remediation project in 2018. The success of this and previous dissemination activities means we’re establishing a strong reputation in the field for facilitating knowledge exchange and managing dissemination packages. We developed an effective communications strategy for the project, including a website and social media presence. This work involves translating the science emerging from the project into a language that it understood by the end users, such as the farmers and policy makers. Beyond those established competencies, we took on responsibility for organising and presenting the final conference in Brussels.
Led by Jane Mills, CCRI is now managing dissemination activities for another EU Horizon 2020 project called SoilCare. “We recently published a paper on the use of Twitter for science communication,” Mills says. “Our research is interested in the various approaches to dissemination people take and how it really impacts audiences.” Analysis of the SoilCare project Twitter account identified UK farmers’ increasing use of Twitter and how active they are in using this medium to share knowledge and information between themselves.
Postgraduate GIS module
GIS is a framework for gathering, managing, and analysing data. For years, archaeology students have been requesting more GIS. At Masters level we now offer a postgraduate Geographic Information System (GIS) module. Students from applied Archaeology and Landscape Architecture have taken that module. We’ve now developed another four modules, creating a new course: ‘Conservation GIS’.
The Conservation GIS course gives students a Postgraduate Certificate qualification, opening the opportunity to progress on to study for a Postgraduate Diploma or a full Masters. Archaeologists and people researching wildlife conservation can be the first in the world to take a course completely focused on conservation GIS. “It’s all Open Source and won’t involve any proprietary software,” notes Berry.
Mixed Methods GIS
CCRI has taken on a PhD student specialising in Mixed Methods GIS. “That’s qualitative GIS,” explains Berry, “so we combine qualitative data in a GIS framework to help better represent people’s knowledge of their surroundings. So, how do you take an interview transcript or audio-visuals into GIS? And how do you map that to show people’s emotional experiences of the landscape: it’s quite cutting edge.”
Royal Agriculture University curriculum development
A number of staff at the CCRI are collaborating with the Royal Agriculture University in Cirencester to launch a new suite of postgraduate and undergraduate courses in sustainable, Brexit-proof agri-food futures in September 2019.
These aim to develop people with appropriate leadership skills to be creative and transform all areas of agricultural practice: rural leadership, entrepreneurship and sustainable land management.
The course will use blended learning, with a suite of novel online resources and teaching approaches. The first courses were launched at Masters level, and are recruiting well. The undergraduate ones will follow later, but we’ve been involved in development and thinking about new ways of doing things.
Undergraduate programmes include one in food, environment and society, the other in business management. Our contribution is to help develop new teaching tools and modules which draw on our research skills and knowledge.
The CCRI is one of the largest social science centres in the UK, working at the interface of agriculture, society and the environment on issues relevant to rural and urban development, in the UK, Europe and further afield.
Working with colleagues and partners in the natural as well as social sciences the CCRI has placed itself at the centre of a nexus of knowledge and innovation embracing soil science, sustainable agriculture, through to the culture of food, and the limits of the food system, community capacity and culture.
Our principal research interests are manifested in a rigorous, dynamic and inclusive approach to deepening our shared understanding of rural life. As we prepare for the technological and environmental challenges before us, we look to work with those engaged in policy, in agriculture, in food and environmental management as well as rural communities.
In addition to extensive research in the rural arena, our recent research has also considered the role of cities in the future of agricultural food production and has highlighted changes in the conceptualisation of the rural-urban continuum.
Emerging technologies such as renewable energies and universal broadband access are reshaping rural areas; our research is at the forefront of these topics. We have woven novel approaches to management, notably through common and participatory approaches, into our on-going commitment to investigating our shared resources.
The CCRI has benefited from considerable research investments from the EU through the Horizon 2020 programme, UK national agencies and departments, as well as third sector bodies and other change agents. Through our dedicated team of researchers and professionals, we are always looking to further our insights into rural challenges and changes which affect us all.
The CCRI plays an important role in shaping rural development policy and practice in the UK, Europe and further afield. For more information on specific services, please email the relevant team below.
Policy & Governance
If you would like more information on our policy and governance services, or wish to discuss a specific project, you can get in touch using the button below.
Research & Innovation
If you’d like to collaborate on a regional, national or international research project related to agriculture, society and the environment, please get in touch now.
Dr Robert Berry
Dr Jasmine Black
Dr Dilshaad Bundhoo
Dr Hannah Chiswell
Professor of Social Economy
Professor of Rural Policy and Director of the CCRI
Dr Peter Gaskell
Senior Research Fellow
Dr Julie Ingram
Reader in Agri-environmental Systems
Dr Dan Keech
Senior Research Fellow
Professor of Agri-Food Studies
Dr Nenia Micha
Senior Research Fellow
Reader in Agri-environmental Behaviours
Dr John Powell
Senior Research Fellow
Dr Matt Reed
Reader in Food Citizenship
Reader in Environmental Governance
Dr Julie Urquhart
Senior Research Fellow
Dr Mauro Vigani
Senior Research Fellow
Project Support Officer
Countryside and Community Research Institute
University of Gloucestershire
Francis Close Hall campus
Swindon Road, Cheltenham
GL50 4AZ, UK
Telephone: +44 (0) 1242 714122