Sustainable Rural Futures (SRF)
The Sustainable Rural Futures (SRF) research programme is a coordinated set of research and knowledge exchange activities designed to help secure a sustainable future for the agro-food sector and land-based rural economic activities in Devon and the wider South West.
The programme is supported financially by Devon County Council and the University of Exeter.
The general objective of the SRF programme is to facilitate the development of a sustainable land based sector in the south west through social scientific research and related knowledge exchange activities. The focus is on enabling the agricultural economy to respond to strategic challenges of food, energy and environment.
The SRF programme is employing the framework of ecosystems services and assessment to synthesise its research and knowledge exchange activities. Ecosystem assessment is designed to provide a way of exploring the state and value of natural resources as the basis for more informed decision making.
This framework allows the programme to assess different trajectories of sustainability in an integrated way but it also places our research activities at the forefront of national debates about emerging approaches to sustainable resource management in a rural/agricultural context.
The geographical focus of the programme’s research activities is region wide though a particular focus of empirical inquiry is on the area of countryside located between Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor: the “land between the moors”.
Using the framework of ecosystems services and assessment a structured programme of research and knowledge exchange activities is being undertaken around four thematic strands. The approximate timings for these activities are summarized in the table below:
Food, fuel, and fibre
Managing water resources
Vocational and therapeutic benefits of land
Long term challenges and policy responses
An important base line element of the programme has been to undertake an extensive survey of farm enterprises in the region.
The research programme is guided by the principle of Ecosystem assessment. In general terms such assessments are based on number of core questions, namely:
- What are the ecosystem services associated with this place?
- Why are these services important and to whom?
- What is the current status and trends of the services provided?
- What factors are driving change in the provision of these services?
- Who will be the winners and losers?
- What are the necessary/desired policy responses?
Ecosystem assessment is therefore designed to provide a way of exploring the state and value of natural resources as the basis for more informed decision making. In the context of the "land between the moors" (LBTM) these questions provide an overall reporting framework for empirical work undertaken in the area and a way of pursuing in a co-ordinated way different specific strands of empirical inquiry and knowledge exchange activity.
Taking the ecosystems services framework as our starting point, the integrated vision for SRF activities is focused on three programme strands informed by the questions above:
Considering assessment questions in the context of products extracted from agricultural ecosystems – food, fibre, energy.
The focus of this work in the programme is on issues of food security. Find out more about the current outputs of the work in the briefings section. This work has included: a survey of the regional food economy; a programme of farmer engagement in the work of the North Wyke Farm Platform and a public dialogue with livestock farmers exploring their perceptions of food security.
Considering assessment questions in the context of benefits obtained from the control of ecosystem processes.
The focus of this work in the programme is on issues of water quality. Research has considered the issue of social learning among farmers in the context of catchment management and is designed to learn from, and augment parallel national level work being undertaken/led by Defra in three demonstration test catchments.
Considering assessment questions in the context of non-material service benefits.
Work on cultural services is currently ongoing and being conducted in conjunction with the North Devon Nature Improvement Area and the National Ecosystem Assessment Follow on. An overview of this work can be found in the briefings section.
In addition an important cross cutting element of the programme has been to undertake an extensive survey of farm enterprises in the region.
Alongside an assessment of current trends and processes, many applications of the ecosystem based approaches also include a scenario building element to think about management and policy over a much longer term. They also ask:
- How might ecosystems and their services change in the future under plausible scenarios?
- What are the future possible effects of changes in ecosystems on human wellbeing and who might be most affected?
- What are the policy options to secure and improve the continued delivery of ecosystem services under plausible future scenarios?
Empirical exploration of the three programme themes will therefore inform a stakeholder-led process of long term scenario building in latter stages of the programme, informed by these three questions.
SRP PhD Research - Land Use Futures - An Ecosystem Services Approach to the ‘Land between the Moors’
This research, which commenced in 2013 aims to apply an ecosystem services approach to establish the flows, states and trends of the services within the “Land between the Moors” and to develop models and ideas that may contribute towards the understanding of ecosystem services within the character area and the Nature Improvement Area (NIA) under potential future land use change scenarios, and in relation to the ongoing amendments to rural/environmental policy. Initial work has been based around an assessment of land use characteristics such as the major habitat types within the area, environmental variables, a basic understanding of the river catchments dynamics, the identification of designated areas in North Devon e.g. SSSI’s, SPA’s SAC’s and other spatially explicit elements using a GIS programme. This early research and the collation of other relevant information will provide a broad framework that in time will develop into a more holistic qualitative and quantitative account of the ecosystem services, the payments and benefits that are associated with them, and crucially the links between environmental/ecological systems, land use, policy and management, the local economy and society.
For more information contact: John Dixie
University of Exeter research team
PhD related researchers
- Phil Norrey - Devon County Council (Chair)
- Professor Michael Winter - University of Exeter
- Kevin Bishop - Dartmoor National Park
- Don Gobbett - Dorset County Council
- Professor Debra Myhill - University of Exeter
- Steve Turner - Devon County Council
- Nigel Stone - Exmoor National Park
News and events
The Sustainable Rural Futures programme has a remit to develop knowledge exchange activities alongside its empirical research. We also hold an annual event in conjunction with Devon County Council to inform stakeholders about latest findings from our research.
Annual overview events
|12 July 2010||Held at Devon County Council.|
|16 May 2011||Held at Devon County Council. Briefing for DCC staff 16 May (PDF)|
|19 November 2012||Held at the University of Exeter as part of a special CRPR symposium|
Spatial planning meets the Ecosystems Approach- Barnstaple
- Held in conjunction with the Ecosystems Knowledge Nertwork in September 2012
Food Security – Farmer Engagement – North Wyke Farm Platform
- Held as part of the BBSRC launch in May 2012
Food Security - Young Farmers Debate
- Held as part of the Devon County Show with Devon Young Farmers – May 2011
Food Security - Policy Makers Briefing Event
- Held atDevon County Council26th May 2010
Land Use and foresight
- Held atSouthgate Hotel 12th-13th October 2010
The SRF held a two day seminar on land use in October for an invited group of academics to inform further the evidence needs of the programme in the context of the recent foresight report.
The South West Uplands Seminar: A future for our farmed uplands?
- Held at Westpoint Friday29 October 2010
Food Security - Farmer Discussion Event
- Held at Hatherleigh Community Centre. The empirical data arising from this event has formed the basis of a research paper.
Fish, R.D., Lobley, M and Winter, D.M (2013) A License to produce? Farmer interpretations of the new food security agenda. Journal of Rural Studies
Copies of this can obtained from contacting Robert Fish
- Devon food - A Review of Devon's Food Economy
This review provides a current and accurate picture of the sector with an overview of trends and market developments and also examines the impact of the recession. A presentation on this work can also be found here.
- Uplands - Farming in the South West Uplands
The main purpose of this paper is to report on the findings of a survey of upland farmers undertaken as part of the Sustainable Rural Futures Research Programme.
- Food Security - Food security briefing note (pdf)
These briefings describe definitions that underpin policy framings of the food security debate and outlines some of the recent efforts of UK policy makers to develop strategic policy for fostering sustainable food and farming systems. The empirical data arising from this process has also formed the basis of a research paper. Fish, R.D., Lobley, M and Winter, D.M (2013) A License to produce? Farmer interpretations of the new food security agenda. Journal of Rural Studies. Copies of this can obtained from contacting Robert Fish.
This briefing synthesizes our recent work on food security. It draws out insights on the food security challenge arising from our extensive survey and deliberative polls of farmers in the South West, and a stakeholder event held with policy makers and land managers.
- Participants and Non Participants in Catchment Sensitive Farming.
Findings of a qualitative study of farmer attitudes and values towards diffuse pollution from agriculture and the Catchment Sensitive Farming project, taking as it focus north Devon and the area encompassing the CSF’s Taw Torridge and North Devon Streams Strategic Partnership” A presentation on this work can also be found here.
- Cultural Ecosystem services – overview of DCC/NEA work
Preliminary findings of the Cultural Ecosystem services strand of the programme to be published as part of the UKNEA.