Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA) research programme 2022-2027: mid-programme review report

Findings of the mid-programme review of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture research programme 2022 to 2027.

9. Theme E: Rural Futures

The Rural Futures theme covers topics rural economy, rural communities and land reform and has a combined total of 6 projects. The grant offer for Theme E projects in 2023-24 was circa £1.5m.

Impact resulting from the previous research programme (and indeed older programmes) continues to arise and be reported through current projects. Previous research has improved understanding of rural industry resilience in Scotland. For example, research insights on business resilience during the Covid pandemic helped inform officials of ongoing issues in industry and analytic capabilities helped deliver rapid assessments for officials.

9.1 Science Excellence and Reach

SAB members reported that the research appears to be internationally relevant and competitive. The focus on rural Living Labs is rare, important, and innovative. No obvious research gaps were identified for Theme E.

Theme E, Rural Futures sits closest to policy and the scientific method is largely data- driven and inductive, drawing lessons from spatial comparisons. This gives rise to a wide set of policy-relevant outputs which are clearly highly valued but raised the question how relevant and competitive this research is in an international context. SAB was reassured however during discussion that the researchers are aware of the need to advance theories and methodologies with respect to spatial and rural economies. The work on identifying local capital in the framework of natural and social capitals as an example of the theory development, and the implementation of living labs as a methodological development.

Members reported that the teams involved seem well integrated into both similar UK research and several Horizon EU programmes.

SAB agreed Theme E research does not duplicate past research and the projects in this theme seem to be quite different from those in previous SRPs. Members commented Theme E seems to be very responsive to changing policy demands and requirements, for example, the depth of the cost of living crisis in the past two years could hardly have been foreseen when the research programme was designed and yet the team has contributed valuable insights on this topic for rural communities.

Members commented that a focus on rural and remote areas is unusual and innovative, most research focuses on densely populated urban areas. Noting that agent based modelling is being used to understand behaviour change etc. Living Labs appear to be a unique enterprise and demonstrator of this.

9.2 Research Impact

SAB members agreed the evidence presented demonstrated Theme E has high research impact and there was clear policy relevance for the outputs being delivered.

Positive examples noted by members included involvement in the rural island and child poverty study and research to support the Agriculture Reform Bill. Members commented that more so than other themes, the outputs take the form of policy briefs and reports that

are accessible and seem to be well appreciated not only by policy customers but also wider stakeholders.

SAB agreed the significance and reach of Theme E outputs are high. The Theme has developed reach by establishing input and partners across the EU in large Horizon 2020 projects. These examine how policy can learn from better data and how policymakers and communities can use data better.

There is opportunity to have greater impact and reach by building on and diversifying the Living Lab approach into more areas. A member also noted that given the main objective of Theme E is to improve the wellbeing of rural communities, it is important to focus on the diet and lifestyle under rural contexts. In fact, this aim could be implemented through collaborations with theme B, which is on sustainable food systems.

9.3 Scottish Government Policy Priorities

The following highlights the policy priority categorisation and observations noted for research projects within Theme E. Other stakeholder priorities, such as industry, have not been reflected in the categorisation below but are considered key to a projects overall impact/importance.


2 projects 2023-24 spend circa £0.4m

Research which has been identified as critical to policy officials, centres around providing evidence to support the development of the Rural Delivery Plan, the Just Transition Plan and various Land Use Change policies.

This research includes understanding how future changes to agricultural support may impact on rural and island regions of Scotland, as well as research into the impacts of land-based financial support mechanisms on land values, landownership diversification and land use outcomes.


4 projects 2023-24 spend circa £1m

Research identified as important to policy officials includes projects which will provide insights including; economic scenarios overlapping with community and place based assets, change in remote rural and island communities, social theory on community empowerment and new/re-designed policy interventions to ensure sustainable, inclusive and just futures for rural and island communities.

Evidence in these areas importantly feeds into key policy delivery such as the Rural Delivery Plan, The National Islands Plan, National Strategy for Economic Transformation, Just Transition, Remote Rural and Island Housing Action Plan and Addressing Depopulation Action Plan.


0 projects

Theme E has not classified any projects as desirable.

9.4 Theme E Conclusion

Overall Theme E has demonstrated the research is delivering highly impactful and relevant outputs to Scottish policy and rural communities.


Email: SRF@gov.scot

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