Reflections on CRE’s visit to the House of Lords

Dr. Ruth McAreavey, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Newcastle University, writes about her recent visit to Westminster as part of a delegation from the CRE. 

While walking down Milbank with colleagues from CRE in December, it really felt that we were at the heart of the action. Westminster was buzzing, demonstrators were out in full force, space on College Green was at a premium as the media pitched their broadcasting tents. This happened to be the first day of Teresa May’s 5-day Brexit debate extravaganza to allow MPs to debate the ins and outs of her deal. It was also the day that Lord Cameron was hosting academics from across the UK to discuss Brexit. Jeremy Phillipson, Guy Garrod, Mark Shucksmith, Fran Rowe and I were part of that delegation, representing the CRE. We had been invited to help present the key findings from four papers published by CRE that discuss the rural policy implications of Brexit for the four corners of the UK – Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.

Before we were allowed to do so, we first had to navigate Westminster’s rather chaotic security system, which felt like something out of a Mr Bean movie rather than a genuinely effective measure to prevent acts of terror. Indeed, it was reminiscent of security at Marks and Spencer’s in Royal Avenue, Belfast, during the 1980s. Our detention in a rather small and stuffy waiting area gave my colleagues just enough time to raise my anxiety levels, stoking the fear that someone might ask me to explain the Irish backstop (which, thankfully, I didn’t have to do)! We eventually made it into the elegant committee room, with time for a bit of small talk before we got going. Notable from the outset are the different politics: Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, while England and Wales voted to leave, with geographic pockets of leave/remain existing across the UK.

As well as important political divergences, there are significant geographic differences between and within the four nations. This is especially the case for England and Scotland. The fragile upland communities of Scotland are remote and much less connected than the borders of that country. Meanwhile, according to the OECD, England is not remote, as the countryside has ready access to urban populations. Similarly, Northern Ireland has no remote rural categories. Anyone familiar with its geography will know that it’s easy to drive across the region in a matter of hours.

Not only do the four nations diverge on politics and geography, each nation has a number of unique Brexit-related concerns. Devolution is a particular issue for Wales given the areas of retained UK government powers that have direct impact on rural Wales, such as immigration. This has implications beyond agriculture, affecting food processing, manufacturing and health and social care. In Scotland, within the food and drink industry there are very real concerns that the specialised export markets, including for Scotch beef, farmed Scottish salmon, whisky and other fish, will be overlooked in trade negotiations that are likely to focus on larger sectors such as financial services or car manufacturing. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, the ‘Border Problem’ probably needs little elaboration. It has been the major blockage for the progression of May’s Brexit negotiations. Spanning 300 miles and encompassing 275 border crossings, the border is quite porous, and it lies at the heart of complex food supply chains, raising serious challenges for managing exports post-Brexit.

Rural planning varies across the UK. For example, the bounded nature of the English village has given the English countryside its idyllic character, but it has also led to challenges of rural housing, as locals often cannot afford to live in the places where they grew up. Rural communities themselves have changed a lot since the UK joined the EU in 1973. They continue to change, representing diverse traditional and cosmopolitan interests, all of which need to be carefully considered within future rural policies. Investment in sustainable infrastructure is essential to achieve rural economic growth in all nations through the mechanisms specific to each jurisdiction. For example, empowering and enabling English Local Enterprise Partnerships will be an important part of that process. Generally, the value of rural economies is often not fully understood, and the considerable public goods they produce are regularly overlooked. Going forward, and in the absence of the Common Agricultural Policy, it will be increasingly important to recognise these public goods to ensure their continued creation in the longer term.

The question of how to govern rural areas most effectively is shared across the four countries. While the context for doing this differs in the different jurisdictions, questions remain: Is a targeted rural policy desirable and/or effective? Can a single policy serve both urban and rural areas? Connected to this is the issue of funding. Both Northern Ireland and Wales have been net recipients of EU funding, but this level of funding is not guaranteed in the future. Who might champion rural needs in each of the four countries? Should funding be ring-fenced? Is there a role for rural proofing?

These and many other themes were picked up in the course of a lively Q&A session, during which it was noted that policymaking occurs in silos, even after decades of this recognised weakness. Someone provocatively asked ‘What’s the point of market towns?’ The intent of course was to stimulate debate rather than write off market towns outright. Many seemed to share the viewpoint that they have an important role, connecting both with their rural hinterland and with urban centres.

And that was the end of the formal proceedings, which were followed by some light refreshments and further chat. Walking out of the House of Lords, we took a detour through the Commons, extending our walk through the splendour of the buildings, marvelling at their wealth and sophistication. I couldn’t help but wonder about the juxtaposition of that grandeur against the shabbiness of the democracy that led to the Brexit vote.

The United Nations’ inquiry into poverty in the UK, and the importance of nurturing networks

The United Nations and networking are an unlikely pairing for a CRE blog entry, but my recent meeting with Professor Alston from the United Nations came about because of network contacts I had made earlier.

Post-graduate research can be a lonely business and students can feel that others are not especially interested in their work. This is clearly a case of faulty thinking but can be seriously demotivating and demoralising, and one of my strategies for managing it has been to develop networks with others working on related issues. On one of my frequent internet trawls to find these people (who must surely be out there?), I came across Lydia Medland [1], a PhD student at Bristol University whose research is about seasonal agricultural workers in Morocco and Spain. The obvious similarities between our research interests means we can commiserate about the research obstacles and challenges we have in common and constructively debate what we’re doing and what we think we’ve found.

But to return to the United Nations bit of this blog’s title, Lydia was instrumental in my invitation to present evidence about rural poverty to Professor Philip Alston, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur (SR) on extreme poverty and human rights. Professor Alston carried out a fact-finding visit to the UK in November 2018 to investigate government policy and actions around UK poverty and to determine whether the government is fulfilling its international human rights law obligations.

Dr Tomaso Ferrando presents to Professor Alston Credit: Dr Tomaso Ferrando

Lydia’s local network includes Dr Tomaso Ferrando [2], a lecturer at the Bristol Law School, who was tasked with hosting one of many sessions held across the UK for various individuals, communities and institutions to present evidence to Professor Alston. Dr Ferrando wanted someone working with UK farmworkers to contribute to the session to be held at the Bristol Law School, which was specifically about rural poverty, and this led to me being invited.

Initially I wasn’t sure I could make a valid contribution. My research participants are not representative of most rural residents in poverty, because they are highly transient. However, I was assured that the complexities of rural poverty needed to be illustrated, and that the EU nationalities of my research participants would highlight the additional spanner in the works that Brexit might bring. In addition, the SR had by this stage identified thematic areas of interest including Brexit, austerity and digitalization as well as rural poverty more generally, making my own research seem rather more relevant.

Members of the UN expert panel present to Professor Alston Credit: Dr Tomaso Ferrando

The United Nations expert panel meeting was held in the Wills Memorial Building, a Grade 2 listed Gothic style building, built in the early 1900s by a family of tobacco merchants. It houses the School of Law and the Department of Earth Sciences and is used for degree ceremonies and examinations.  The panel meeting took place in a room as impressive as the building’s exterior, but which also felt as formal as a courtroom. Eight people including representatives of foodbanks formed the panel and a small number of students and academics attended as a ‘silent audience’. We each had a few minutes to introduce ourselves and our work, and make brief points about our understanding of rural poverty in relation to the SRs thematic areas of interest. This was followed by a question and answer session, after which Professor Alston flew to Newcastle for his next fact-finding meeting.  The whole event, which was strictly scheduled by Dr Ferrando and the two UN staff accompanying Professor Alston, lasted less than an hour which meant our contributions had to be brief and focused. However, we were also invited to submit written summaries of the points we wished to raise about rural poverty, and those I highlighted included the following:

Seasonal farmworkers:

  • Often have extremely limited access to shops, healthcare and public services. Farms’ rural locations can make mobile phone reception and internet access unreliable, so regular contact with friends and family at home, arranging homeward travel, looking for other work and transferring money becomes difficult.
  • Prefer farms where they are known as an individual by their employer. This increased the likelihood of them being ‘looked after’ which helps reduce the sense of precarity inherent in seasonal farmwork.
  • Sometimes work whilst ill or in pain. Their commitment to sending money back to their families at home discourages them from spending money on prescriptions and dental care whilst in the UK, or from taking time off work to seek healthcare.
  • Prefer farms where the practicalities of their lives are considered, including having the use of a minibus which means workers can socialise off the farm, shop, attend church and access healthcare autonomously.
  • Sometimes have inadequate bathroom, kitchen and sleeping facilities. This is often related to cost savings on a farm being prioritized over workers’ comfort and wellbeing.
  • Feel their wellbeing is compromised when their personal identity becomes obscured by their economic value. This makes them less likely to return to that farm to work.

In summary, being given the chance to contribute to the United Nations inquiry into poverty in the UK arose from the willingness of people to connect with others in the research community. Contributing to this event was a valuable and enlightening experience in itself, but one which also served as a reminder that poverty is not simply about lack of money, and that poverty in rural areas can be especially challenging. My visit to Bristol also provided an opportunity to meet with and make further connections with new contacts who have expertise relating to my own research interests.

Find out more about Professor Alston’s inquiry, including a very enlightening video clip, here.


[1] Lydia Medland is an ESRC funded student on the Global Political Economy interdisciplinary PhD programme.

[2] Dr Ferrando’s work is concerned with the links between food and law, especially around international trade, investment and rights to food.




New Networks for Nature Gathering 2018

Malcolm Green works with Newcastle University students as a storyteller, and for the last few years has been attending the New Networks For Nature Gatherings on behalf of the CRE.  Here he describes the most recent Gathering, held 15th – 17th November.

This November was the 10th anniversary for the New Networks for Nature Gathering, held at the Stamford Arts Centre. The event was a hubbub of environmental artists, scientists, writers, musicians, and politicians sharing their disparate responses to nature, all wondering at one level or another how to approach the calamity of the rapid loss of British wildlife that has happened over the past 50 years.

This loss is something Michael McCarthy calls ‘the great thinning’.  Creatures common a generation ago are now in danger of disappearing from these lands, including the curlew, the turtledove, the hedgehog and the seabirds of international importance on the British coastline.Euan Dunn, head of marine science for the RSPB, talked about the challenges facing seabird populations. Food stock decline brought on by climate change is thought to be the main factor in poor seabird breeding success, but this is exacerbated by over-exploitation of the seas. He outlined measures that may be taken to alleviate the problem, including controlling the excesses of the Danish sand eel fishery, which removes huge quantities of the birds’ main food source, and extending the marine protection area around the east coast of Britain to Bempton cliffs in Yorkshire.

Adam Nicholson, author of the brilliant ‘Seabirds Cry’, talked about the need to see these birds afresh, in light of the extraordinary information gained from recent work in radio tagging. One kittiwake was shown to have gained a knowledge of the oceans far beyond what one might have expected in its thousand-mile search to find food for its offspring. A quite humbling and breath-taking feat.

A core theme of the gathering was the question: ‘what is nature, and what is it value when pitted against economic growth?’  This theme was raised by Mark Cocker, when talking about his book, ‘Our Place’. He asked the question, ‘how is it that a nation of nature lovers, with huge membership of wildlife organisations, allowed itself to preside over this catastrophic collapse in biodiversity?’ A part of the answer is that our consumer-oriented culture has inveigled itself into everything. Nature, instead of being a part of who we are, has been objectified.

This has inevitably affected the big nature conservation organisations (exemplified by the RSPB’s new logo, ‘Giving Nature a Home’). These organisations compete with one another for funding and for membership, and thus find it a challenge to speak with one voice. They also fear that negative stories will not be popular with their members, so tend to shy away from telling the more difficult truths. Lawrence Rose, who worked for the RSPB himself, said that they expect loss and are continually lowering expectations of their members.  As such, they are complicit with the politicians.

Labour peer Baroness Barbara Young lamented the lack of any holistic thinking in government.  She also highlighted the need to challenge the idea of ‘growth at any cost’, and the need for a radical new approach to children’s education – one that puts our place in the environment at its heart.

Following on from this, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas talked about the lifestyle changes that are needed to enable a sustainable environment, and how we should think of these as gains as opposed to losses: gains in peace, clean air, diverse wildlife, and mental and physical health, rather than a loss of consumer goods. For example, research has shown that 13 ½ mins a day spent amongst trees reduces by half the risk of depression.  She also highlighted the fact that  despite the obvious need for government leadership, the clout of environmental protection bodies within government have been eroded year on year, illustrated by the fact that 400 staff have been taken from Natural England to deal with Brexit.

There were so many rich offerings at the conference that it is not possible to do justice to them here. Central was the contribution of artists:

Three visual artists – Kate Foster, Rose Ferraby and Tom Baskeyfield – presented their work on soil, peat and stone, where there was an impetus to speak from the place of the material, rather than that of the artist.

Mark Cocker and Miriam Darlington, representing New Nature writing, talked of the current wave of enthusiasm for the genre, which marked itself out by stitching together ecology, cultural and personal experience.

Poets Jos Smith, Isabel Galleymore, Ben Smith and Luke Thompson talked about poetry and environmental activism, and explored topics including: working with scientists, the predicament of eels, and the need for vulnerability in our present climate.

There was also much discussion about engaging with nature through new technologies, in particular, the use of social media to reach out, and the various apps which help you know what you are encountering in the field.

The gathering culminated with the amazing saxophone music of Paul Winter, responding to wild creatures.

A note of significance: the Network’s ‘old guard’- Mark Cocker, John Fanshawe, Jeremy Mynott and Tim Birkhead, who set up New Networks for Nature 10 years ago – are stepping aside. Mark has already stepped down, Jeremy announced he was leaving this year, Tim will go next year and John the year after. They are being replaced by a new younger generation, who are increasingly taking on the role of organising future gatherings.  This is a testimony to the sustainability of the concept and to the solid ground put in place by its founders.

In parallel to this, future gatherings will move to different venues in the country, thereby increasing the Network’s reach and influence. In 2019, the gathering will take place in York.

What role for public-private partnerships to deliver public goods post-Brexit?

Place-based Payments for Ecosystem Service schemes are broadening to new land uses, habitats and services. The Woodland Carbon Code and Peatland Code already successfully source private funding public goods delivery alongside public funding. Now Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs) are pooling funds from multiple private investors to deliver public goods across a broader range of land uses and habitats than ever before. In this blog, Prof Mark Reed summarises existing evidence behind the LENs approach, and considers the role of public-private partnerships in post-Brexit agricultural policy.

What are Landscape Enterprise Networks?

LENs builds coalitions of businesses around shared commercial interest in how landscapes function to drive investment and innovation around strategic assets like soils, aquifers, access infrastructure, habitats and tree cover.

For example:

  • Supply chains serving Nestle’s Dalston plant (where they make their cappuccino range of products) are under threat from climate change (which will bring new animal diseases and limit water supply to dairy operations) and unsustainable agricultural practices (threatening the long-term health of soils and biodiversity)
  • United Utilities share interests in improving the sustainability of agriculture in the area to enhance water quality and mitigate future water shortages
  • Working with 3Keel, Business and the Community, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, FirstMilk, the Rivers Trust, Woodland Trust and others, Nestle and United Utilities are pooling resources to deliver landscape scale public goods that benefit their businesses
  • Dairy farmers supplying Nestle in the region have access a milk premium if they adopt measures designed to enhance public goods including animal health, welfare, water quality and biodiversity

Why do we need the LENs approach now?

Private place-based schemes:

  • Are not subject to the same WTO constraints as publicly funded schemes
  • Can be co-designed with land managers, including different and/or additional more attractive options
  • Enable payments to be made more flexibly, at more competitive rates that are not tied to declining rates of public funding for agriculture post-Brexit
  • May be more attractive to farmers, based on experience in Cumbria where LENs farmers have adopted LENs scheme options over agri-environment schemes, and gone out of milk at a lower rate than the rest of the sector without a single farmer moving to a competing co-operative
  • Can be paid to land managers (as an alternative to landowners where appropriate)
  • Can be paid whether or not they are active farmers, opening the opportunity for schemes to prioritise ecosystem services that cannot easily be delivered alongside the production of food or fibre

 Do LENs deliver public goods?

The Resilient Dairy Landscapes project is assessing how the LENs in Cumbria is working and will provide evidence on how the LENs:

  • Deliver ecosystem services, including climate change mitigation, water quality and flood mitigation
  • Affect a range of common livestock disease dynamics

The LENs approach builds on decades of research into Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), and more recent UK-based work to develop a place-based approach to PES (Reed et al., 2017). LENs follow this place-based approach, where multiple ecosystem services are delivered in the same landscape in a voluntary transaction between buyers and sellers of services, as part of a schemes that is developed and governed by partnerships of relevant stakeholders who hold shared values for the landscape.

The UK’s Peatland Code is the first regional carbon market to be developed following this approach, following from the success of the Woodland Carbon Code. Both Codes build on a rich evidence-base showing the multiple benefits for society of woodland planting and peatland restoration, enabling the schemes to provide guarantees to investors and safeguards to landowners and managers. Validated and verified projects from both schemes show that this approach is able to leverage private investment alongside public funding to deliver public goods that would not have been delivered through public investment alone.

How do LENs work?

Place-based PES schemes like the LENs approach typically look like this:

  1. Intermediary identifies public goods valued by businesses in a landscape, that without action may be under threat
  2. Evidence-based actions identified to protect/enhance those public goods
  3. Fundable projects developed (may be validated by independent body as likely to deliver expected benefits)
  4. Businesses individually or collectively fund projects, paying farmers or working with charities or others to deliver outcomes (may be governed by contracts for delivery of goods protected by pooled buffer of unclaimed goods shared across projects)
  5. Key natural assets and public goods are monitored (and can be verified by an independent body)

The Peatland Code and Woodland Carbon Code are restricted to two habitats and tend to focus on climate mitigation benefits. The Landscape Enterprise Network approach is now broadening this place-based approach to draw in a wider range of organisations to fund the delivery of a wider range of public goods from more varied landscapes and habitats.

Policy idea

Here is the big idea: Government could encourage and co-ordinate with private place-based schemes alongside publicly funded schemes.

The UK has led Europe in the development of private schemes for the delivery of ecosystem services, pioneering the development of the Woodland Carbon Code, the Peatland Code and the LENs approach. These approaches have particular value in a post-Brexit policy environment where there may be greater scrutiny of compliance with WTO rules.

Further information

The Resilient Dairy Landscape project is funded by the Global Food Security’s ‘Resilience of the UK Food System Programme’ with support from BBSRC, ESRC, NERC and Scottish Government. Find out more at:

The Landscape Enterprise Network approach was developed by 3Keel and Business in the Community with Nestle. Find out more at:

Reed MS, Allen K, Dougill AJ, Evans, K, Stead SM, Stringer LC, Twyman C, Dunn H, Smith C, Rowecroft P, Smith S, Atlee AC, Scott AS, Smyth MA, Kenter J, Whittingham MJ (2017) A Place-Based Approach to Payments for Ecosystem Services. Global Environmental Change 43: 92-106

The full policy brief can be accessed here.

For more information contact Mark Reed ( or Jenny Gilroy (


A Bluffer’s Guide to Brexit and the Rural Economy: Can You Tell Your Customs Union from a Free Trade Area?

Christopher Ritson is an Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Rural Economy. This blog was developed from a briefing paper he wrote for the Mid-Northumberland University of the Third Age Brexit Discussion Group.

Image credit:

Go back three years and I doubt whether many of us had heard the term “Customs Union”, never mind knew what one was. I did, because on my first visit to Cyprus to advise the Government there on their agricultural policy relative to trade with the (then) EEC, I was confronted with the statement “We want to establish a Customs Union with the EEC”; and the question “Does this mean we will have to adopt the Common Agricultural Policy?” I was vaguely aware that somewhere in the Treaty of Rome (Article 9 as it happens) it says “The Community shall be based upon a Customs Union” and that (Article 38) “The Community shall extent to agriculture and trade in agricultural products”, but I had to find out what that really meant.

I lay out my findings here, in an attempt to help demystify the current political situation we find ourselves in. As far as I am aware, the idea of presenting these alternatives as:


is my own, although probably others have done likewise. The reason is that each “level” absorbs those that precede it. Here goes.


An agreement between two countries, or one country and a bloc of countries, which regulates trade between them. This would usually involve the reduction or elimination of tariffs (taxes) and quotas (quantitative restrictions) on imports from each other on a list of products specified in the Agreement. Sometimes there will be tariff quotas – that is, the tariff reduction will apply only up to a specified quantity, often based on historic trade flows. For some agricultural products there are also tariff calendars, where the tariff reduction applies only during the out of season period for domestic production (e.g. EU citrus fruit).


What it says on the tin. The member states of the Area eliminate tariffs and quotas on trade between them. The best known is EFTA- the European Free Trade Association, known originally as the “Outer Seven” (as the countries involved, including the UK, more or less surrounded the six original Common Market countries). Another example is NAFTA-the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has recently had his knife into.


In a Customs Union, the member states agree, in addition to free trade between them, to impose the same tariff on imports from outside the Union (called in the EU the CET– the Common External Tariff, or in official EU documents the CCT – the Common Customs Tariff). This means that once a product has been imported from a non-member country, it can move about within the Union without restriction – known as Free Circulation. In contrast, in a Free Trade Area, individual member states have their own arrangements for treatment of imports from outside the Area. In that case it is still necessary to monitor trade within the Area; otherwise if country A has a zero import tariff on apples, and country B imposes a tariff of 50%, then all imports of apples destined for country B would flow first through country A. This can become complicated; Rules of Origin have to be set, whereby for processed products there will be a maximum proportion of the product (say 10%) that can originate from outside the Union. With the apples, country B will allow free trade for apples grown in country A, but impose a 50% tariff on any apples originally imported by country A from a non-member country.

       The Irish Border

This distinction between a Customs Union and a Free Trade Area is at the heart of the problem of the Irish Border. If the UK continues to belong to the EU Customs Union, then it will continue to impose the CET (or anyway a tariff which is the same as the CET) on imports from non-EU member states. So Australian apples can continue to be imported into the UK and then move freely into the EU. However, in this hypothetical example, if the UK “does a deal” with Australia which includes free trade in apples, then Australian apples would be subject to an import tariff if they move across the Irish Border.


The Single Market seeks to extend the free movement of goods to encompass free movement of Capital, Services, and Labour, and to eliminate member state regulations, which, either by accident or design, discriminate against imports (known as non-tariff barriers). The intention is to create equal conditions of competition – “a level playing field.” The main method of avoiding discrimination has been that member states are obliged to recognise goods which can be legally marketed in another member state, unless they can show some good reason (e.g. consumer safety) for not doing so. This followed a famous ruling by the European Court of Justice, known as the Cassis de Dijon case (finding against Germany that then had a law which said that fruit spirits must have a minimum alcohol content of 25%- all German made fruit spirits of course did have, but Cassis was around 15-20%). The alternative is harmonisation of product standards – which originally was mainly applied in the case of health and safety (e.g. food labelling law), but now covers approximately 50% of products traded within the Single Market.

Another important feature of the Single Market is the control of State Aids aimed at advantaging domestic producers. Where state aids have been widespread and agreed to be required, then a Common Policy is introduced – e.g. the Common Agricultural Policy. From its onset, the CAP has been based on three Principles consistent with a Common Market: Free intra-Community trade in agricultural products, Common Financial Responsibility, and “Community Preference” –member states give preference to agricultural products produced within the Common Market. Until quite recently, something like three-quarters of the entire EU budget was expenditure under the CAP, although it is now closer to 40%.

       The EEA (European Economic Area)

This is a separate treaty. The EEA member states are all the EU states, plus three of the four current EFTA countries –Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, and when a country joins the EU, it does not automatically join the EEA, but has to apply. However, in practice what the EEA amounts to is a mechanism that allows Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein to belong to the Single Market, in return for an annual fee, but excuses them from participating in the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies. (The fourth EFTA member, Switzerland, has a separate treaty which provides a similar arrangement.) So when the UK leaves the EU, if it nevertheless remained in the EEA, this would be the so-called “Norway Option”. (The “Canada Plus” option is a trade agreement with an ambitious coverage of goods and some services.)

          The WTO (World Trade Organisation)

The WTO is the successor organisation to the GATT (The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) one of the many international organisations established after 1945. Its objective is to reduce tariffs and other restrictions on international trade. It works on the basis of “Rounds” in which the participating countries, and county blocs, negotiate down tariffs on a reciprocal basis.

In its early years the GATT was quite successful in bringing about reciprocal reductions in import tariffs for manufactured products, but singularly unsuccessful with agricultural trade, for which many other forms of trade distorting policies were common (e.g. subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy). To deal with this problem the GATT (which was in the process of changing its name to the WTO) introduced the concept of tariffication in which the participating countries had to express their various state aids to agricultural in the form of the tariff that would provide the equivalent benefit to domestic farming.  This produced some very high “tariff equivalents” for agricultural products. The negotiation then involved reciprocal reductions in these, which are then “bound” in the Agreement. There are variously coloured “boxes” which dictate the extent to which agricultural supports have to be incorporated into the measure of support, which forms the basis for reciprocal tariff reduction. But with Brexit, the important point is that it is these bound tariffs which would confront UK exports. This is what is implied by “operating under WTO Rules.”

A problem that would confront the UK operating under “WTO Rules” is what is known as the Most Favoured Nation Clause. This says that a country which offers a lower or zero import tariff for a product to one country, must do so for all WTO participating countries, unless the reduced tariff is part of a Trade Agreement. Thus the logical thing for the UK to do without a Brexit Agreement, would be to adopt the same import controls as under the CET, which it could then offer reductions on in Trade Agreements (which are, however, notoriously lengthy to negotiate).

(The following complete the hierarchy:)


Here, responsibility for macro-economic policy (e.g. money supply, interest rates, exchange rates) passes from member state Governments to the supra-national authority. The most important element in this is probably the adoption of a common currency.


At some point the degree of control exercised by the central authority (and its elected parliament) is such that the “Union” of member states begins to be thought of as a country, – the United States of – – -, or the United Kingdom of – – -. This can of course subsequently go backwards (Devolution).

Learning about Rural Sociology in Taiwan

Professor Mark Shucksmith, Director of Newcastle University’s Institute for Social Renewal, discusses his recent visit to Taiwan, where he was a guest of the Taiwan Rural Sociology Society.

Last month I visited Taiwan, as a guest of the Taiwan Rural Sociological Society, to speak at an international conference in Taipei, to lecture at the National Taiwan University, and to visit rural communities and hear what they were doing. I also met the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Lin Tsung-hsien, and rural champion, Dr Frida Tsai MP. Before my visit I read that the people of Taiwan are renowned for their kindness, and I can confirm this: everyone I met was extraordinarily kind and thoughtful. But I also learned from my visit, I hope, so here are a few reflections.

The concept of networked rural development is well known in Europe (now repackaged as Smart Villages). Taiwan, I learned, has also started to pursue this approach, with government support since 2010. A rural regeneration programme offered funding to villages and community development workers, usually under the name of community development associations, at least in its first phase. A second phase from 2017 has provoked some controversy by restricting payment for people’s time and requiring voluntary effort instead. The government recently announced a major research programme, Social and Cultural Survey of Rural Taiwan, to further inform its enabling state role. At community level I saw examples of asset-based community development and social innovation (an eco-village, a ‘paper dome’ wedding/tourism venue, authentic Haka cuisine), institutional capacity (a network of agricultural marketing, training and financial services organisations) and learning through networks. It was especially interesting to observe how the networked rural development approach might operate in the context of a weak civil society, hampered by patriarchy and clientelism, and where mistrust exists between villages and government to the extent that rural activists formed a Taiwan Rural Front. Often crisis was the catalyst for rural regeneration efforts, whether earthquake destruction or the impact on farmers of joining the WTO.

I was interested too to discover that attracting and supporting young people to move to villages, often to engage in farming, is a major interest not only in Taiwan but also in Korea and Japan. Indeed the theme of the international conference was ‘new rural returnees’. We heard from numerous young people, not just dissatisfied with urban life but looking for alternatives to neoliberalism incorporating more utopian values and a better work-life balance which left time for family and relationships. Governments sought ways to support these young people to move and pursue their dreams, seeing them as vital to the social sustainability of ageing villages. In one example, a group of young people had formed a cooperative social enterprise to farm with ageing farmers who find it increasingly hard to work their land but could not give up their holdings. Some of these experiences and ideas might resonate also in Britain.

There is indeed an appetite from my hosts and others in Taiwan to compare their experiences with ours in Europe and for us to learn from one another. In a short visit I was only able to gain a very superficial insight into Taiwan’s approach to rural policies and regeneration activities, and there is much more to learn. I encourage colleagues to continue this process of knowledge exchange and dialogue: apart from mutual learning, you will be greeted with great kindness.

The potential of rural economies

Credit: North Pennines AONB

Frances Rowe discusses the potential of rural economies, in the context of the ongoing House of Lords enquiry into rural economies.

I have often observed how policy for rural economies seems to be caught between agricultural support on the one hand, and measures to encourage urban growth on the other.   Yet as the House of Lords enquiry into rural economies has been finding out, neither perspective is sufficient to unlock the potential of rural economies.    As Professor Jeremy Phillipson reminded the committee in his oral evidence that rural businesses are worth an estimated £250 billion per annum to the national economy in GVA terms, the equivalent of the 10 largest cities outside London. The problem with policy is that it regards rural economies as an offshoot of primary production to be catered for by farm support, while urban growth policies fail to take account of the distinctive needs of rural economies that are dominated by small businesses, and where growth and employment may be steadier.  Yet as research by Newcastle University’s Rural Enterprise UK has shown, rural businesses are frequently innovative and have the potential to grow – for example, through exports – while making a valuable contribution to the resilience of rural places and communities.  With many policies in a Brexit-induced state of flux, including domestic policy for industrial and clean growth strategies, there is the opportunity for rural economies to ‘come in from the cold’ and for their distinctive needs to be recognised. For this to happen several commitments need to be in place. These were spelled out by Professor Phillipson in his evidence to the committee, and in written evidence submitted by the Centre for Rural Economy.

Credit: Frances Rowe

The first is for policy support for rural economies to be decoupled from agriculture, as the OECD was advocating more than 10 years ago.  I do not see this as denying the value of agriculture to  rural economies, for example as an input into downstream activities such as food processing, the indirect value of farming to tourism, or the innovative potential of farmers to tackle the challenges of a changing climate. Rather, a sectoral focus on primary production in policy terms fails to capture the diversity and potential of the wider rural economy and the needs of non-farming businesses. Second, we need a universal commitment to high speed broadband and mobile infrastructure as an essential underpinning to rural business growth and future rural service provision. It is said we are entering a ‘fourth industrial revolution’.  This is an umbrella term for a range of new technologies that are revolutionising the ways in which we live and work, and as a recent workshop as part of the Northern Powerhouse business summit highlighted, it is vital that rural businesses and communities do not miss out.  Third is a drive to more effective rural proofing, not only of national government policy, but critically, sub-national policies and programmes, such as the local industrial strategies being developed in England. Not only must policy contain the right words, it must also be designed for rural as well as urban businesses, and evaluated for its rural impacts. Research by Rural Enterprise UK has found that there are distinctive barriers faced by rural businesses in accessing skilled labour and developing the training needed to create high quality jobs and growth. However, with inventive and flexible policies these barriers can be overcome. Finally, policy must be joined up across national and local government so that longstanding structural barriers to rural growth can be tackled, such as the lack of affordable housing and transport. These barriers are not new, but they remain inhibitors of rural business growth.  Policy that is calibrated to local needs and opportunities, within an overarching national framework that calls delivery bodies to account, may be the most effective approach all round.  I await the Committee’s recommendations with interest, and the government’s response.

Visiting researcher Philip Roberts reflects on his time in CRE

For someone who has been mainly a tea drinker I leave CRE with a well-developed coffee habit, but that’s a small price to pay.
I’ve come to CRE from the University of Canberra, Australia (but I like to point out I live in a small town halfway between Sydney & Canberra).  For the past ten years I’ve been working in what we call ‘rural education’ in Australia and an area referred to as Curriculum Inquiry – the study of knowledge in the curriculum and its role in promoting & limiting equity. I mainly teach the sociology of education and curriculum theory in our undergraduate and graduate programs.
We have recently developed the Rural Education and Communities research group, situated within the Faculty of Education. This program of research, and the way the research is framed, is unique in Australia.  Parts of my travels are geared towards thinking through the directions this research group will take, and hopefully building some connections to collaborate with in this work. The group is deliberately named as per the group at Penn State, with their agreement, as we have strong relationships with them.
I’d stress that the conception of education I’m using here is a broadly defined one and not delimited by appending ‘school’. Indeed I sit with the Australian Institute for Sustainable Communities (AISC), and much of my work has been the role of education in communities and how rurality is engaged with in education.   AISC is essentially the remnants of the former ‘community studies’ part of the faculty, and much AISC work is related to development, and located in ‘developing’ contexts.
Rural Education
It’s a space that has a similar community in North America and a growing community in Europe.   There are two journals in this community, the ‘Australian and International Journal of Rural Education’ (I was Chief Editor for the last 3 years) and the ‘Journal of Research in Rural Education’based at Penn State.
I’ve been reflecting upon the nature of the field for a while, as I’ve been feeling that it is increasingly narrowing itself, becoming self-referential and overly focussed on preparing teachers for rural areas.  My initial analysis of the international field reveals a persistent focus upon the different educational outcomes and achievement levels of rural, regional and remote students.  Typically this revolves around issues of access to a full curriculum, access to further education and training, the attraction and retention of staff and the socio-economic composition of rural populations and regions.
Arguments in these areas are usually predicated upon notions of equity for rural regions, economic development of regions, and the human capital development of rural populations. Problematically, these positions have tended to emanate from within education studies and often only draw on the broader fields of the humanities and the social sciences in a limited sense.
Notably, arguments about the levels of rural achievement and development are usually framed in comparison to a metro-centric norm.  As such the ‘rural’ has been defined by major centres of power in this research and not in its own terms.  Rural education research has begun to problematize this construction.  However, these arguments are often couched in romantic or nostalgic notions of the rural and the nation’s past.
Interestingly (well I think so), there are a group of scholars who call themselves rural educators who come from ‘Comparative and International Education’. These scholars appear to draw from sociology and are equally as likely to be located in humanities and/or social science faculties as education faculties. They tend to study education in countries other than their own and no, they don’t know anything about the other rural education folk (or visa versa) or draw on rural studies. However, they have a number of high ranked journals, much higher ranked than the two ‘rural education’ ones.
Recently, a couple of us have been arguing for a greater engagement with the parent disciplines and related rural fields.  Gaining a better understanding of these disciplines and fields is what brought me here to CRE and Newcastle University.
It seems that while rural education is somewhat ambiguously placed it theoretically draws primarily from the traditions of sociology and geography, with broader engagements with the non-education fields of rural sociology and rural geography (Roberts & Cuervo, 2015).  It seems to me that sociology, and the sociology of education, does not engage significantly with the rural – hence the development of sub-fields of rural education and rural sociology.
Consequently, scholarship is necessary in order to bridge these divides and enhance the quality, and breadth, of scholarship in all related fields. Currently, there are a number of moves to strengthen these connections, for instance the emergence of the area of study of ‘rural literacies’ (Donehower, Hogg & Schell, 2007; Green & Corbett, 2013) and ‘rural social space’ (Reid et al, 2010).
I came to CRE then with the broad intent to explore these relationships further.  At this moment in time it seems that the key issues are the different philosophies/theories/methodologies, the UK/Europe/USA differences in rural studies, as well as coming to recognise the recent developments in the fields – so as to start linking with education (broadly defined).
One outcome of my visit has been the positive response to my, perhaps outsider, analysis of the fields.  This has encouraged me to frame a project on ‘mapping the rural fields’. It seems there is a potentially useful project here in mapping the various rural sub fields.
A first project
This is a more formal approach to the broad plan of my study leave, and I’ve kicked off an ethics application. The broad plan is to survey/interview leading scholars in the various rural sub fields about theory, methodology, key works etc. and map the relationships. It would also involve examining the reference and citation links of the key works and theories they cite.  The aim would be to present this at the world congress in 2020 in Cairns, Australia. I’d be more than happy to involve a CRE collaborator…
An even more exciting development (for me at least)
While I’ve been based here at CRE and met with colleagues here, I’ve also met with others at Newcastle University, and Durham.  Through these conversations I have been exposed to a much more exciting development.
(and here I digress for a moment) I’ve just started working on the initial draft of a major research grant application for back home – a 3 year project.  In that project I wanted to look at rural knowledges in education and how they are, and are not, engaged with and how this relates to issues of equity and social justice.  This would involve working with communities and schools, and seeing how teachers can bring in other knowledges in a standardised curriculum framework. In my draft notes I had this term ‘local knowledge’ and in the past have referred to ‘rural knowledges’ – something I’d argued pertained to knowledges emanating from a rural standpoint as distinct from the metro-normative knowledges of the global metropole. Hence the need to understand rural studies better as the possible site of the theory I’ve been looking for. Until now I could only gesture theoretically that there were ‘rural knowledges’ and make analogies to knowledge ala class, gender and so forth.
Until now I say because I discover that CRE and the Centre for Learning and Teaching (CFLAT) have established research programs that together bring the two pieces of the puzzle together in a concrete fashion – around my issue of engaging rural knowledges in education.  The work of the CFLAT, especially that related to community curriculum development, articulates well into the local knowledge, stakeholder engagement and knowledge transfer work of many CRE researchers and projects (esp. the Rural Economy and Land Use program (RELU)).
Consequently, I’m very keen to continue to develop possible collaborations into the grant I am developing and further related research.
Learning about interdisciplinary and knowledge exchange
The rich interdisciplinary traditions here at CRE, and the work on interdisciplinary research, stakeholder engagement and knowledge transfer, are certainly areas the institute I sit with (AISC) can learn a lot from.  We’ve had some experience in a related space, but after discussing the work of CRE and the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme (RELU) I’ve come to gain further insight into how we can progress in this area.
One of our projects ‘Towards Place-Based Education in the Murray-Darling Basin’ was part of the Murray-Darling Basin Futures Collaborative Research Network (MDBfutures). This network was funded by the Australia Research Council.  There were minor similarities here to the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme (RELU) in the idea of an interdisciplinary design and its rural focus. However, it lacked key elements and was nowhere near as influential as RELU.  The power of leadership, interpersonal skills, and the interdisciplinary framing of projects seem critical – whereas ours was discreet projects around interdisciplinary themes.
Our project explored the ways in which sustainability is understood in Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) communities (including Indigenous, rural, small towns, regional centres, local industries, co-ops and so forth).  The project then examined how local understandings are, and can be, engaged within education to achieve more collaborative outcomes. To achieve these collaborative understandings the project explored approaches to place-conscious education as a vehicle for social inclusion and community representation. By surfacing various understandings of sustainability, the project aimed to help educators, in both the school and community sector, engage more effectively with ideas around sustainability in their work.
Following this project, we were funded to look at the aspirations of rural students for agriculture sector careers. The project identified a lack of understanding of the nature of modern rural industries by many students and teachers in rural schools. Many students, and teachers, did not understand the relationship between school subjects and careers in modern rural industries.  This then discourage students seeking places in university. Similarly rural industry leaders did not understand the language of school subjects, and consequently were not able to link their industry needs and the subjects students study at school. Bringing this together the projected illustrated a significant language gap between students wanting to pursue rural careers, teachers and rural industries – now we need to bridge that gap!
It seems a lot of what we have been doing is inherently interdisciplinary and linked somewhat to issues of knowledge exchange and stakeholder engagement. My time at CRE has helped me understand how we can better position these in the wider fields of rural studies – not a bad outcome considering it wasn’t part of the initial plan.
What next?
From here I head to Aberystwyth and then spend a month in Tromso, Norway with the Space, Time and Education research groupin Tromso, Norway, and specifically the RUR-ED program on spatial inequity and spatial justice. This group are doing some innovative statistical and ethnographic research into spatial, mainly rural, inequities. Oh, and there is a bit of a holiday in between these stops.
Is this goodbye?

By no means, and maybe next time I’ll come when it’s not holidays and subject you all to a seminar…  In the meantime, I’m very keen to develop collaborative research, generally, and specifically for the two projects noted above.

Looking after farmers as well as the land: research with farmers in North Yorkshire's Cornfield Flowers Project

Examining flowers in North Yorkshire Cornfield Flowers Project (CFP) margin. Image courtesy of CFP 

Do farmers derive any personal benefit and well-being from their Agricultural Environmental Schemes (AES) work?

Being a volunteer grower and seed guardian for North Yorkshire’s Cornfield Flowers Project (CFP) made me aware of how this project functioned differently from other, mainstream AES. The CFP capitalises upon farmers’ personal interest in arable flowers [1] Participating farmers are not paid for the work, do not sign contracts, and are not obliged to adhere to prescriptive cultivations methods imposed by an external agency. Unlike most AES, the project is also restricted to a relatively small geographical area of North East England.

Research shows that most AES are considered by farmers to be bureaucratic, time consuming and onerous. They are organised so that they can be applied generically across the whole country and prioritise process over outcome. Central administration is easier, but farmers cannot easily modify the schemes to local conditions such as land type and weather patterns. Farmers’ own skills, motivations and interests are not optimised, and AES work can become a chore rather than a satisfaction.

For my dissertation for a Food and Rural Development Research MSc in Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy, CFP became my case study. I found that this drew my attention to social processes within the project which I had largely overlooked within my role as a volunteer. These included the ways that alliances were formed amongst farmers because of their interest and expertise in arable flowers, differentiating them from other, local arable farmers with no interest in or even a disdain for what they saw as weeds. CFP farmers’ social networks provide opportunities to consult, advise and receive advice about cultivating arable flowers, share seed and plant material otherwise difficult to obtain, and indulge in competitive banter about growing the most extensive range of, or the best examples of flowers. On a local and individual level this appears to contribute to their sense of belonging and identity, but it also performs a practical function in that the farmers have become a unique community of expertise now sought out by agricultural and environmental professionals wanting to know how to manage arable land for biodiversity. The farmers relish this role reversal; outsider experts seek their advice instead of telling them how to manage an AES.

Garden growing CFP plants for seed production and saving. Photo by Heidi Saxby. 

My own volunteer status and capital within the project benefited me whilst I was planning and doing my research fieldwork. Being a seed guardian may have reassured farmers of my genuine interest in the project and their work, so that they were sanguine about the time my visits took up and receptive to my endless questions. And perhaps my (limited) knowledge of arable flowers gave me a head start when discussing propagation methods. The farmers took great pride in showing me around their farms, carefully diarising my visit according to the forecasted weather and crop maturity, in order that I would enjoy a ‘good show’ of flowers.

When visiting their flowering field margins I was especially struck by farmers’ pride in ‘their’ flowers, and the meanings they attributed to them. One farmer speculated about his grandfather seeing these beautiful weeds when ploughing with horses; slow work giving farmers closer proximity to arable flowers than is afforded by modern farming methods and mused about his current conservation efforts enhancing the chances of his grandson and potential great grandchildren seeing them on the same land in the future. For this farmer, as for others, the arable flowers represented permeance, place attachment and his family’s history on that land, with the flowers elevated to a status more complex and personal than that of being ‘just’ a pretty weed.

Each flower had a story associating it with its particular farm or farmer’s family. Abundant Cornflowers create a blue haze on the headlands of one farm, yet refuse to grow on another nearby CFP farm. Gowland Lane, near to a different CFP farm bears the local name for Corn Marigold, indicating it once grew profusely there. Venus’s-Looking Glass thrives on yet another farm at the extreme north of its geographical range. All the Corn Buttercups now flourishing on CFP farms were originally propagated from the tattered, post-harvest remains of one solitary plant located by chance. Such stories and the manner of their telling suggest that the farmers become emotionally invested in the flowers and the process of caring for them, and demonstrate the flowers’ symbolic and well as their material value. Farmers spent considerable time hunting for, ‘good examples’ of elusive, especially rare or beautiful flowers to show to me, with some visiting their flowering margins shortly before my planned visit to stake out particular plants for my appraisal. I spent hours walking around field margins where farmers grow their flowers, listening to their gleeful stories about other CFP farmers and photographed the flowers that they carefully displayed. I was shown to places regarded with especial affection because of their flora, fauna and tranquillity, and heard explanations about the meanings these things had for them. It would be intrusive to relate those here, but they illustrate how farmers’ efforts to look after the natural environment brought satisfaction, and motivated ongoing CFP (and AES more generally) work.

Blue-flowered form of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Photo by Heidi Saxby. 

My research contact with CFP farmers has ended, but my ongoing seed guardian role gives a legitimate reason to revisit them. These visits are opportunities to share stories, seeds and updates about developments in both the CFP and in research outcomes. On one visit I informed them about recent publication of our co-authored academic paper [2] from the research. They were interested to hear how their conservation efforts are perceived by outsiders and proud that the research was being positively received. This led me to recall our fieldwork conversations, and the remark of one farmer, who said: ‘well, as I say people like yourself who come; it pleases them that there’s something, something special to them so, you get a satisfaction out of knowing that you’ve helped’


[1] ‘Arable plants are the most critically threatened group of wild plants in the UK. Identifying sites where these rare species remain is essential to ensuring their conservation through sustainable management’ (Plantlife. Threatened arable plants. Identification guide. Sailsbury, Wiltshire.)

[2] Saxby, H., Gkartzios, M. and Scott, K. (2017) ‘‘Farming on the edge’: Wellbeing and participation in agri-environmental schemes’, Sociologia Ruralis.