………………………………………………………………………………… 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.

House of Lords report on Brexit and UK agriculture

The House of Lords have published a report setting out opportunities and challenges for rural policy outside of the EU.

The report notes that, “In withdrawing from the EU the UK will withdraw from the CAP. Though in the first instance many elements of the CAP may be carried over into domestic law by the Great Repeal Bill, Brexit presents the UK with an opportunity to fundamentally review the objectives and design of its long term agricultural policy. At the same time, the UK agri-food industry trades major volumes of agri-food products, predominately with the EU, under the auspices of the Single Market.”

“Once outside the EU the UK must develop its own external tariffs, and may find itself subject to the high external tariffs applied by the EU to agricultural products—to the detriment of UK farmers and food manufacturers—unless a preferential trade agreement is agreed. The UK may also face non-tariff barriers when exporting agriculture and food products to the EU, resulting in delays at ports and additional administrative costs. Both tariff and non-tariff barriers could disrupt integrated supply chains between the UK and the EU, and pose a particular challenge for the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland.”

The full report can be downloaded here: https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201617/ldselect/ldeucom/169/169.pdf

Opportunities for Rural Development in a Post-Brexit Europe

Thanks to the Agricultural Economics Society, and particularly Prof. Janet Dwyer, for their kind invitation to present my thoughts on opportunities for Rural Development in the wake of Brexit at their annual conference in Dublin.

AES logoThe main message is that there are new opportunities for rural development once rural economies are viewed distinct from agriculture and seen as home to enterprising, mobile and diverse communities.

A summary of the ideas from my presentation can be downloaded here: Opportunities for Rural Development


jorwert churchjorwert













When you read about a place and then visit it, the reality is not always what you expect. However, with Jorwert, in the Friesland province of the Netherlands, and the subject of Geert Mak’s “An Island in Time: The Biography of a Village”, the reality was rather unsurprising.  Having travelled across a lot of the Netherlands, the view at the entrance to the village is much like many others.  The photo is taken from the village’s only bus stop, where the timetable showed 3 buses each way per day.  The Baarderadeel Arms has survived, the School appeared to have 19 pupils based on the images on the windows and the Church was hosting a musical group.

robotic lawn mower

The playing field was being maintained by a robotic lawn mower (above!), just one more indication that people’s labour was no longer at the heart of this community. This is not to say that there is no community, but the community is based around social and cultural factors and no longer inextricably connected to economic necessity.

For those who cherish notions of “rural idyll”, this might be a sad loss. But the reality for the people of Jorwert is that they have the opportunity to express a range of consumer choices, they can travel to the nearby city of Leeuwarden in 20 minutes and be in Amsterdam in just over 2 hours.  The decline of traditional rural services reflects modern consumer preferences and coincides with a higher disposable incomes for the majority.  The question for rural researchers and policy-makers is how to sustain villages like Jorwert as mixed communities that can provide an affordable, good quality of life to those with lower incomes, to both older and younger people and to those working in different types of employment.

Rural Images Experiment

Thanks to Saturday’s Geography “offer holders” for taking part in my mini-experiment, attributing certain quotations to different images that might be considered “rural”.  With 11 photographs of different rural scenes and 6 quotations, the purpose was to highlight a range of views where “rural” means different things to different people. 

Just from the 20 responses last Saturday, although the majority attached the quote “This is what I think of when I hear rural” to images of agriculture (either a combine harvester or some cows), others linked it rural community images or a shop or a church and some attributed to a photograph of a millpond surrounded with wild growing vegetation.  Whether “rural” means “farming”, “village communities” or “places that are beyond the immediate reach of human habitation” has major implications for how we should conceive rural development and rural planning policies. 

Other findings of note included the idea that “natural” only applied to images that at face value showed no evidence of human involvement (even thought the Friesian cows are an imported breed for agriculture and the Millpond was created as the result of human industry in the past).  By contrast no-one considered wind turbines to be “natural” which suggests more efforts are required to convince us that wind power is a natural source of energy!

Tradition was strongly linked to human perspectives of village life with a church, farm barn and village shop featuring strongly.  Some also saw agriculture as a traditional component of rurality – all of which asserts that “tradition” arises out of cultural meanings. 

The most “isolated” image according to the responses was of the Ribblehead viaduct straddling the Yorkshire countryside.  It is interest to reflect that this is part of the national urban infrastructure, linking Carlisle to Leeds and probably offering Wi-Fi access to all the passengers on board the trains!

While this is not a scientific sample and still just a trial run, I think it highlights some interesting pre-conceptions and disparate views about the characteristics of rural England that we should all pause to consider whenever we are making generalised statements about rural issues.

This experiment was first carried out at a book launch event for “Interpreting Rurality; Multidisciplinary perspectives” (edited by Gary Bosworth and Peter Somerville) and a brief resume can be seen here:


On the move: International migration to/ in rural areas

KrakowAs co-convener of a special session on international migration to rural areas at the 27th European Society for Sociology Conference, I want to thank everyone that submitted abstracts.

The range of submissions highlights the breadth of research that is taking place in this field, from economic migrants to refugees and across all parts of the EU and North America.  Moving forwards, the topics raise questions for the need to join up research between regions losing population and those gaining population.  Furthermore, there appear to different approaches towards designing policies that support different categories of migrants and that address social and economic challenges differently.

We look forward to bringing these conversations together in Krakow and further details of our session can be viewed here