………………………………………………………………………………… This blog follows our recent book of the same title published by Routledge. Rurality is interpreted in many ways depending on individual encounters with rural space. Debate should not be restricted to the pages of the book so please join in here.

Challenges for delivering rural broadband

On Tuesday 23rd January, Dr Gary Bosworth is representing the University of Lincoln at the Scottish Affairs select committee where he will draw on a range of past research projects to offer advise on the best ways to deliver better broadband to more remote rural areas.  The initial submission of evidence is available here:  Rural Broadband Call for Evidence – University of Lincoln

In particular, we highlight the need for policymakers to help to bring together enough demand to build an attractive package for private sector providers.  This requires significant engagement to highlight the potent opportunities that better broadband can provide to communities and businesses in rural areas.  To enable businesses to take advantage of the technology, any roll-out of improved technology must also be accompanied by training programmes, effective communication and opportunities for firms to try out new technology before making significant investments.  We also warn against approaches that assume “digital is best” which can risk marginalising people who are less comfortable with new technology whilst promoting opportunities for universities as well as the public sector to act as key facilitators in delivering the skills needed for rural areas to take advantage of increased digital connectivity.

The progress of the Select Committee can be viewed here: Scottish Affairs Committee and the panel can be viewed at: http://parliamentlive.tv/

Tom Heap visits the University of Lincoln

Tom Heap with the School of Geography

Tom Heap, right, with the School of Geography

As part of a full day of activities with the Schools of Geography, Journalism and Life Sciences, Tom Heap spoke to us about some of the challenges of balancing rural development and the environment.  A key message was that we must be careful not to view rural affairs solely through the prism of the environment because rural places are homes and workplaces too.

From this basis, Tom shared a number of interesting ideas about how to reconcile the needs of food production with the needs to safeguard the environment.  He took an optimistic view with respect to the role that human innovation can continue to play in increasing food production and overcoming threats associated with diminishing natural resources. However, this was tempered by the fact that food consumption continues to “deify the natural” and view scientific or non-conventional farming practices with suspicion. One particular example was a salmon farmer in Scotland who is rearing salmon in tanks on the land.  Arguably this is better for the environment as it avoids polluting the seas and it also allows the producer to have complete control over inputs and outputs to the system, but, in a consumer world, this is only feasible if people will be happy to eat it.

Therefore, perhaps we need to think about whether there are ways to influence public opinion and demonstrate the safety and environmental benefits of scientific innovations or whether the agricultural sector should be looking for innovations that are more aligned to conventional views of “natural” food production.


What is Rural?

With thanks to Lincoln Minster School, The Kings School, Grantham, and Christ’s Hospital School for coming into University today.  Here are the results of your experiment…

Overall, there were some strong areas of agreement with the Mill Pond and its wild flowers being overwhelmingly viewed as the most natural (24), the village shop being the most traditional (14), the Ribblehead viaduct considered the most isolated (14). For the other quotations, the scores were closer with the timber-frame house (9) and the windfarm (8) being most “Unwelcoming”; the Land-rover in the street being the most desirable place to live (9) and “the most rural” being the cows at the edge of the river (10).

So what do we learn from this? There is no clear agreement on what makes rural places special, attractive or unappealing. However, some common trends emerge including the fact that people would like to live in places with evidence of community rather than in more isolated rural areas where nature dominates. Also, it is interesting that a Lincolnshire audience associates cows rather than combine harvesters with “rural” – and six people found the combine harvester image to be “unwelcoming”.

Only one person considered a windfarm as “natural” – perhaps echoing the public debate windfarms being undesirable in the landscape whilst also providing a renewable source of energy. The most “natural” image of the mill-pond was created as the result of the construction of a water-mill across the River Nene which might make us think more about the ways in which we can capture energy and resources from the landscape in ways that leave a positive legacy.

Picture I’d Like to Live here This is Traditional This is What I think of when I hear “rural” This looks most natural This looks isolated This looks unwelcoming
Farmyard & Church 5 1 6 0 2 0
Mill Pond 0 0 1 24 1 0
Churchyard 0 7 1 0 2 4
Cows in river 1 0 10 4 1 0
Maypole 6 3 3 1 0 0
Wind farm 2 0 2 1 7 8
Harvesting 0 1 4 1 4 6
Timber-frame house 1 0 0 0 1 9
Viaduct 2 1 3 0 14 2
Village Shop 6 14 2 0 0 0
Land-Rover in street 9 4 0 0 0 2

Whilst there really is too little data to draw firm conclusions, I hope that the exercise opens up some important questions about how we all perceive the places around us. In particular, I hope it will encourage us to be more aware of the fact that different parts of society will attach different values on the landscape, on nature, on community assets and on cultural traditions connected to places.


Rural Landscape Businesses

Hanne Bat Finke, from the Danish Centre for Rural Research at the University of Southern Denmark, Hanne talkgave a seminar to the University of Lincoln Rural Research Group as part of her visit this week.  Reporting the findings from her PhD, she gave a number of examples of new rural enterprises on the Danish island of Funen which used and enhanced local landscapes in a number of ways.  As rural places continue to change, this offers welcome optimism for the future of rural economies based around small-scale entrepreneurship and innovative enterprises.

SALFAR kicks off in Lincoln

SALFAR interreg logo

The University of Lincoln hosted delegates from 7 countries to launch a new European Union Interreg funded project to investigate potential developments in saline and salt-tolerant agricultural systems. The project, SalFar, sees Lincoln International Business School, Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT) and the University’s new School of Geography teaming up to provide economic and market analyses as well as to run a series of crop trials to explore new opportunities in coastal agricultural production.

The consortium will look at new ways of understanding flood risk and defence, and explore opportunities to grow new types of salt-tolerant crops to help farmers adapt to possible future climate change scenarios.

The SalFar project builds on preliminary research from the University of Lincoln, which combined novel satellite imagery analysis, economic modelling, and field sampling to place a value on the agricultural land in flood risk areas. Dr Iain Gould (LIAT) and Martin Collinson presented these findings to the international team.

During the conference, discussions centred around the likely demand for different types of crops (from growers as well as consumers), the potential to create niche brands and the potential for new entrepreneurs to capitalise on emerging economic opportunities.

Delegates also visited farmland around The Wash, which gave our European partners an insight into the landscape and agricultural systems in the south of the county.

Dr Iain Gould presents  preliminary research from a University funded study here in Lincolnshire

Dr Iain Gould presents preliminary research from a University funded study here in Lincolnshire

The project addresses one of the future challenges of agriculture in the North Sea Region – how we can adapt to an increased deposition of salts in our soils (salinization), a process caused by seawater flooding, rising saline groundwater and the use of brackish water for irrigation.

More details of the project and its progress can be followed here: http://northsearegion.eu/salfar/.